Writing Technology Across Timelines

I recently stalled out on the Saturday Serial because I was looking at Travis’ tech versus Metis and Dani’s tech, and it didn’t feel sufficiently advanced. But I started looking at tech in my own lifetime and across the various places I’ve lived and across generations…and started wondering if maybe I’m making a mountain of a molehill.

One of the problems is that I really hadn’t sat down and worked out timelines. Travis’ grandmother makes a comment at one point that clearly indicates she was a young adult when Sumisu was assassinated. Assuming standard/average generational spans of twenty years, that puts Travis’ teen years a scant thirty-five or so years later.

Having survived at least thirty-five years of technology change, I can wrap my mind around that. I can remember rotary phones, push-button phones, cradleless corded phones, cordless phones, “brick” cell phones, flip cell phones, small cell phones, and the whole range of smart phones. When I started elementary school, my family had a rotary phone land line. When I was in college fifteen years later, my roommate and I had a push-button cordless landline and were trying to figure out where to put a splitter so we could go online without cutting off the phone. By the time I finished college, I had a cell phone because my parents were worried about me because I was constantly driving all over Texas. These days, my parents still have their landline, but I live off my smartphone and can’t even conceive of having a landline again.

And that’s just kindergarten through today. That’s just the change in phone technology. We could talk about computers (which we had when I was eight, where I drew bubble pictures in a pixelated paint program, and today I have my own computer where I produce voiceover, graphic design, and video projects), or media storage (If you ever want to have fun, try explaining a 3.5″ floppy disk to a teenager. If that wasn’t enough fun, explain punch cards, which my grandfather programmed with.). We could talk about cars, which is kind of a huge exploration of change as consumers’ needs and wants have changed over time. We could talk about appliances. We could talk about so much.

While we’ve had these amazing changes in the technology we work with in our daily lives, there’s so much that isn’t different. I sit in my parents’ house, the house I lived in during middle school, and I think about just how little is really different in this house between then and now. Eleven-year-old-me could walk into this house and generally recognize the world around her. She would look at my computer and phone and wonder if she walked into a real life/M.A.S.K. mashup, but otherwise there’s little she wouldn’t know and understand. While the technology has changed, the world really hasn’t.

Part of my concern arises, not from the level of technology present, but from the level of technology present in each character’s life. Metis is a journalist in a high-tech company, and she netruns in her free time. Her lifestyle involves high contact with technology. Dani, who is maybe fifteen years younger than Metis, is a student who does part of her advanced studies through a distance learning program she accesses through a tablet, and then goes to her netrunning internship, and then spends her free time in the virtual world. She doesn’t know what it means to function without technology. It’s as common to her as clothing.

Travis, roughly twenty years younger than Dani, designs technical art and animation, and then she comes home and reads e-books and listens to music through her tablet. Because of the nature of her family life, she studied exclusively through distance learning programs on her tablet. Technology is a tool, but Travis sets it aside to gaze out windows, to go out with her grandparents and friends. She has a different mindset toward technology than Metis or Dani, and so it feels like I’m presenting a lower level of technology in her time than I do in earlier times, when really I’m just presenting a character who’s less engaged with technology than characters in those other times.

It’s really interesting to think about, because we feel like living in the future should feel distinctly futuristic to our younger selves. And yet, barring major innovation or disaster, progress moves on at a certain rate. And that’s something to keep in mind while working on worldbuilding for a world that spans generations.

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