Out there in the digital junglescape of industry articles, I’ve been running across literary agents–yes, more than one–irritated with submissions of near-historical novels. Specifically, they’re annoyed at what they interpret as authors’ reluctance to write cell phones into their stories.
Since reading about this, I’ve been quietly fascinated by the phenomenon … I mean, why are writers choosing to go back just a few decades for the settings of their work? I wrote a book set (mostly) in the 1990s, because part of it was based on my childhood experiences. Maybe other writers are doing the same. Maybe today’s authors are burned out from the onslaught of availability and they long for the days when somebody had to leave a message on the answering machine, with its little tape turning to imprint magnetic signals. We’re tired of being interrupted by pushes, notifications, the constant assumption that we’ll see and answer every text, email and call that makes this little, square ball-and-chain light up. So, writers everywhere are going back (but just a little) to a simpler time, when televisions and telephones stayed tethered to the wall, and the internet was just a novelty. Maybe all of us hope that by doing so, we’ll cast a collective spell of peace and quiet.
Or, maybe we’re afraid that describing today’s tech in our stories will outdate us faster than the latest, shunted-aside headline screaming on the social media platform du jour! After all … cellphones were definitely normalized when Harry Potter was written, but they never show up at all in the series. And look how relevant the books remain!
Could it be that describing cell phones (and other tech) makes us feel like we’re dipping our feet into science fiction, when we don’t want to? The reality around us would almost certainly look like scifi to our great-grandparents’ generation. I’ve been here for the recent evolution of tech as we know it, and sometimes I think we’re living in a scifi world. Some days I think it’s great, and others, well … maybe I just want to go back to 1990, when Nerf guns were the coolest invention anyone could possibly aspire to.