Technology and fiction writing

I was recently editing a scene where a teenage girl is using her iPod.

The iPod scares me to death.

I have a horror of writing a piece of contemporary fiction that becomes dated too soon. Back in the 1990’s, I wrote a novel in which the event that set everything in motion took place at an airport. While 90 percent of the story is still usable, anyone remotely familiar with contemporary airports would immediately recognize that the triggering event that sets the plot in motion simply could not happen now. If I were to revive that novel with an eye to publication—I’ve thought about it—I would have to completely re-write a significant portion of the novel.

That’s why the iPod in my story scares me. I’ve lived through several turnovers in technology, and I know how fast things change. God knows what electronic musical devices kids will be using five or ten years from now, when it’s possible, if I’m very lucky, my book might still be in circulation. I know how easily obsolete tech can date stories. Anybody remember the Walkman?

(On the BBC web site recently, I saw a video about how a group of modern kids in their early teens reacted when shown computers from the early-to-mid 1980’s. This happened in a school context, so the kids were nicer about it than they might have been otherwise. Polite amusement was the typical response. I learned to type on a manual—non-electric—typewriter nearly twenty years before the now-antique computers that amused those kids were the latest hot tech, so the video made me feel old.)

Besides the problems of technological obsolescence in fiction, technology with which we write creates problems of its own.

I write my first draft of a chapter on a yellow legal pad. I can scribble, draw pictures, and be playful with the text in a way I can’t with a computer because the paper doesn’t intimidate me the way a blinking cursor does. (Okay, I’m neurotic.) However, eventually I must transcribe it into a computer, which is where I do most of my editing.

It is at this point that my troubles begin.

The world has evidently decided, for reasons I don’t understand, that Microsoft Word is the weapon of choice for writers. I made very heavy use of Word in my old job for many years. I am not a fan. (Although, to be fair, I found the suggestions of the grammar checker to be a wonderful source of comic relief.)

When Word would suddenly, for no apparent reason, crash and take hours of work with it in such a way that my work couldn’t be recovered—even though I had tried to save my files—our IT department found it amusing.

Amusing. I am so happy to be a source of joy to others.

I now use Libreoffice. I use it very heavily. The best thing about it is that I have never had it suddenly freak out, crash, and develop amnesia. Not once. Not only that, but its designers made it easy to find the functions that non-geeks actually use instead of burying them among 200 microscopic buttons and menus.

(By the way, if anyone reading this writes code for a living, it might interest you to know that not everybody is a twenty-something with 20/20 vision who thinks you’re a god when you take a piece of usable software and make it unnecessarily clumsy and likely to crash so you can add a feature to give your hamster a pedicure. Hard as it is to believe, there are those who actually have work to do and need solid, straightforward tools with which to do it.)

At some point prior to preparing to publish, I will probably be forced to run my work through Word. I’ll get back to you on that one.

What I as a writer need is essentially a good typewriter that can (a) produce a digital file in a format I can submit somewhere and can (b) also speak nicely to my printer. That’s it.

Due to the epidemic of useless clutter in software, technology, more and more, just gets in the way of writing.

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