This is an article that was just published in the LARA newsletter for January, 2015. Hope you enjoy it!
The future, or how did it get to be 2015 already?
I was crushed when I realized it was unlikely we would ever have flying cars, at least as a method of common commuter transportation. As a kid I had loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the thrill I got when the car unfurled its wings and sailed out into the sky. Who hasn’t wanted to do that? Lift their car out and over the crawling traffic and wing free to their next location? The only problem with that was, that it is one car, one lucky person (me) flying over the rest. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of cars clogging the roads every day and it becomes something more like the opening scene of Revenge of the Sith with dizzying lanes of air vehicles speeding toward their destination. You would take your life in your hands even more than you do now. You would have to be watching not only what is in front, back and to the sides of you, but above and below as well. Thinking in 3D while driving is a challenge I don’t want to try. I will leave that to The Jetsons.
Visionaries like Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, John W. Campbell and others were limited only by the power of their imagining and the technology of their time. Even with that, they did an incredible job envisioning what could have been. On the balance, their predictions were right, in some form, and amazingly future forward. When you look at Star Trek, at the giant computers on the bridge and realize that microprocessors and other advances in technology have rendered that obsolete does not take away from what Gene Roddenberry created. The only difference is that these days our personal computers could calculate the value of pi while still performing its other tasks.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the early drafts of my contemporary stories. These range in age anywhere from twenty-five years ago to seven. In starting the rewrite process with modern sensibilities, it’s easy to see the rapid change. My first characters did not have cell phones, nobody had heard of tablets and the work many of them did has lost its shine in the digital age. There was little or no social media, and people didn’t IM and text the way they do now. My writing reflected older thinking and needed to be brought into today.
I thought that by the year 2015 we would be in a far different place. It’s only by looking back that I realize what has been accomplished. We have no flying cars but we have technology leading us to self-driving cars. When I was a kid we never started out on a long drive without maps. Now GPS is free with any SmartPhone, and my car’s nav system would put the aforementioned Star Trek computer’s voice to shame. Does anyone remember dialing the time and hearing “at the tone the time will be…?” I used to try and dial in when it was flipping to a new minute so the time would be such and such “exactly.” I Googled this phrase, curious if it was still in existence. The “Time of Day” service, as it was called, was phased out in Southern California in 2007, so up until a short time ago, you could still call for the time.
Nothing has changed my world more than the Internet. We have 24/7 access to more information than anyone my age would have dreamed possible. In my microcosm as a writer, what took days of research at the library can now be accessed within minutes. Before when I was researching a country I would pore over books and look for pictures to guide me. Now I can go to any number of sites and pull up an image. For instance, I wanted to have a pretty location in Europe near the water for a story I was writing. It took very little time to come up with a suitable place in an area of France known as the Calanques. A month ago I had no idea this region existed. Of course nothing takes the place of visiting a spot – you can’t smell or touch websites, but it does a fine job of getting you close.
The industry I work in embraces new technology. We are quickly replacing our so-called “physical” media with digital counterparts on computers/ tablets/phones, or stored online. I am old enough to remember 5 1/4” floppy disks, which became 3 ½” drives, then thumb/flash drives and now online storage. Consumers no longer necessarily have to own the DVD; they have it in their cloud. Digital technology has profoundly changed entertainment, down to the way we distribute our books. I am currently self-published and I love the freedom and also the responsibility of that choice. It was not an option when I was first writing, convinced Harlequin would come calling at any moment.
I have to be careful to use the past correctly. I had written a story in college that had a main character take the cross country train as a plot point at the end of the book. There was no way to communicate unless you intercepted the train. That would be unthinkable now, barring the person being offline by design. My characters are most often too young to recognize things from my childhood, such as the mimeograph machine. They don’t know that was the way teachers made copies when I was in grade school, nor have they ever smelled the unique scent it creates. Reading the notebooks of my early writing, I am surprised at how far my sensibilities have come. Women were rescued, not rescuers and my casual sexism was a surprise since I’d always thought of myself as enlightened. In looking back I can see how much I’ve changed along with the industry. Today we have strong heroines courtesy of such writers as Kim Harrison and Patricia Briggs, ones that remind us that women, too, can kick ass. These days the comments on my contest entries have been “make the woman stronger.”
In the end, I fight a losing battle. As soon as I commit something to paper, it becomes out-of-date. It’s the same principle as how your brand new car loses value the minute you drive it off the lot. I stay as current as I can, but technology will keep changing and I will always be behind the curve. Much like the futurists of the early part of the last century, the thrill is in the vision, not in the exactness of getting it right. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, even if it won’t include flying cars.