EDITING 101: 31 – Referring to Technology in Your Writing…

Referring to Technology in Your Writing

Technology is everywhere in today’s society, so it’s practically impossible to keep out of our writing. If we have cell phones and computers, then it’s likely our characters do, too. How far should you go in talking about technology in your writing, though?

If you’re trying to write a story in a certain era, then technology can be a great way to date your story. A fictional piece written in the 1970s wouldn’t be complete without talking about eight track players and HiFi stereo systems complete with record albums, turntables, and 45s. A car radio would have push buttons to set the stations and nobody had a mobile or cell phone. A phone was a phone, after all, with no differentiation between what type of phone it was. Most people had a rotary dial, and we didn’t even have cordless phones back then (that I know of). Most people had a camera but it took film to use it and the film had to be developed in order to see the pictures.

In the 1980s, some people had pagers, which you then had to answer using a telephone; we had cassettes for music, and fancy cars had cassette players in them. Rich people and people working for the government had mobile phones, which sometimes had to be plugged into the car and an antenna placed on the roof in order to make a call. Normal, everyday people didn’t have mobile phones (at least in the early eighties), but cordless phones were making an appearance, and push button phones were becoming common. Almost everybody had a camera and some cameras developed the film automatically, but you still had to buy film. Few people had computers, as they were large and very expensive, and the Internet was just getting started in the late eighties.

Nowadays we have smartphones that take pictures that you can see instantly and then send them to your friends over the phone connection or a wireless connection. Fewer and fewer people have what we call a landline, which is a phone attached to your house. Almost everybody has at least a mobile, or cell phone, and smartphones have become commonplace. Computers are dying out, replaced by smartphones and tablets, which are portable and have more computing power than the most powerful computers of the eighties and nineties.

Technology is evolving faster and faster, and in your writing, it is best to be as basic as possible in describing the technology used if you want your book to stay fresh and contemporary. If you specify brands and types of technology—perhaps in an attempt to show how rich and up-to-date a character is—you run the risk of dating yourself before the book is even published! So call a cell phone a cell phone (or a mobile), not a TracPhone or a Samsung or an iPhone. Call a tablet a tablet, not an iPad or a Hewlett Packard. And call a television a television, ignoring whether or not it’s LCD or high definition. Stick to the basics and you won’t go out of style!

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Sentence Length’

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This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

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If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





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42 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 31 – Referring to Technology in Your Writing…

  1. Another great post Susan. I really enjoyed it. It was great to be reminded of the technology or rather lack of it that I grew up with… and your idea of a few well placed references in an historical piece is great as they really set the tone without the reader even realising it. I have recently been watching some of the X-files reruns on TV and it is amazing to look back now and see how Mulder and Scully’s cell phones changed over the seasons. In early episodes you find yourself thinking…. why doesn’t he just ring her,,,, and then the penny drops…. that’s why!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Time to put our thinking caps on and utilise the expertise of Susan Uttendorfsky as she reminds us that cell phones were not available in the 1980s (they were bricks) and that in the good old days we have to do things like get up off our backsides to change channels.. Nothing says lack of research than misplacing your technology in the wrong era. Head over to the Story Reading Ape and check your technicality.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Such an important post, Susan, thank you! I won’t have to worry about technology yet. I’m writing historical fiction in the Old West. I have read some historicals from newbies, and they sometimes have something in there that is historically out of place. That will throw the reader out of the story like a cannon! I know I will need to be especially vigilant to keep it true to the time period. It would be easy to make those type of errors. I grew up in the 70s. It was interesting to note that there weren’t any push button phones then. I had forgotten that. There also wasn’t caller id, call forwarding and the like. We couldn’t screen the calls. We had to actually answer the phone to find out who was calling! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people


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