Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Spies among us

Rick's Monday post was sobering. Not only because of the many ways we can be monitored and tracked and spied on, but also because this technology changes and evolves all the time. So even if we writers do include the most up-to-date gadgetry in our latest opus, by the time it has wended its way through the glacial publishing process and arrived on bookstore shelves, the technology will be out of date. And some astute reader will call us out.

But we can but try. Technology has facilitated the job for our characters in many ways. How many times has one of our characters looked up needed information in the middle of a case, or Googled someone to find out background? How many times have they used alerts, GPS, and whatnot to guide them through their day. But technology has also made plot twists more challenging. We can no longer make our characters lost in the wilderness (either urban or rural), when a reader would just say, Turn on your map app, idiot! We can no longer place our characters in peril without a reader yelling Why don't you call 911? Or your mother? We writers have to go to great lengths to get around this instant world-at-our-fingertips. Batteries have to die or the phone has to be dropped in water, both of which make the character look inept, or the character has to be in a dead zone, of which there fewer and fewer. At least in Canada in the dead of winter, batteries seem to have a life of about five minutes, so it's still possible for a character to be caught out unexpectedly.

Back in the mists of time, when my eldest was a newborn and neither cellphones nor personal computers were around, we bought a marvellous new-fangled gadget called a baby monitor. (Aside: look this up on Google and you'll find the first baby monitors were developed in 1937 in response to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping). We placed the recorder by the crib and took the receiver downstairs with us. It had two channels, A and B. We selected one at random and were delighted to be able to monitor our daughter's every breath. One day, being daring, I switched to the other channel, and suddenly, out of the blue, we were listening to a ferocious argument of our neighbours down the street! Ummm, talk about too much information. As a crime writer, however, I immediately saw the potential of this device for a crime story.

Since then, technology has intruded further and further into our lives, with some of us preferring to hide under our bed to stay out of the digital spotlight, and others embracing each new invasion. Today, that same daughter lives in a "smart home" where everything is wirelessly connected. She can sit in Ottawa and watch the Uber Eats driver delivering her family's food to their house in Toronto. She can play with the temperature in their house and add items to their grocery list. Clearly, most of us don't mind being ruled by that little round gadget on the counter that seems to know every aspect of our lives. No chance for sneaking around behind your spouse's or parents' backs with this home!

This summer we were up at my cottage, where life is still pretty simple. We bring our smart phones and laptops with us to stay connected on the mobile network, but there is no wifi and we waste very little time online. One day we were all sitting in the living room, glumly watching the rain pour down the window panes, and I wistfully remarked, "What's the weather going to be tomorrow, does anyone know?" And my two year-old granddaughter, sitting on the sofa beside me, pipes up "Why don't you ask Google?"

In a flash I remembered that baby monitor that watched over her mother all those years ago, and I thought, what a change in one generation. Could anyone have imagined it? And can we imagine what the next generation will bring?

That, of course, is the landscape of science fiction writers, not crime. 


Anna said...

This is exactly why my WIP (if I ever finish it...) is set in 1993. My characters need to be out of communication for a week in a remote place. (Oh, there are other reasons too, like snail mail, and cameras that use film.) Should we look for a slow drift to historicals?

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps alternate histories?