Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Technology Affects Writing

Developments in technology inevitably affect the course of our writing. Computers and cell phones are just two of the more visible advances that come to mind. I wrote my first manuscript on a small portable typewriter that would get the type bars stuck together if you typed too fast. That was 1948 when I was a journalism student at the University of Tennessee. I turned out the second novel manuscript in the sixties using an up-to-date Royal typewriter. It wasn't until I retired in mid-1989 that I started my current fiction-writing career with a computer.

I used an early word processing program with a limited file size, meaning you had to keep creating new files with each few chapters. Then I switched to Microsoft Word in the early nineties and have had no problems since. The characters in my books have grown with the computer, too. In Beware the Jabberwock (written circa 1991), my protag Burke Hill doesn't use a computer, but he gets a bit of education on the subject in the next book, The Poksu Conspiracy (currently under revision for release in a few months).

On the subject of telephones, at the time of those early books there were pay phones and phone booths everywhere. One of my writers group colleagues says "he hung up the phone" is passé. Not in those days. Most people used the familiar dial instrument. There were cell phones, but people didn't carry them around in a pocket. They weighed a pound or better. My characters had no use for them in those first books.

You couldn't just dial or punch in the number for an overseas call. You had to place it through an overseas operator, and the call quality wasn't always the best. Now you just enter the international code and number and there's your party.

For communication on the go back then, investigators used hand-held portable radios. That's the scenario in Beware the Jabberwock when an FBI agent needs to talk with another colleague at the Atlanta airport.

The digital age for photography hadn't arrived yet, so all photos were taken with film. I opted for the latest film development, though, producing unbelievable images using Kodak's Tmax 3200 film pushed to ASA 25000. It would make a license plate readable from two blocks away. In a 2011 book I updated the technology to use a NASA system for enhancing moving images.

Since 1991-2 was prior to the World Wide Web, information searching was done mostly at the library. My character Burke Hill looks up information at both a public library and a newspaper library. My research for the book took place primarily at the Vanderbilt University library, using both books and magazines. Now I get the same sort of data on my computer with a Google search.

So it's obvious that technology has a big impact on how we write as well as what we write. Let me know how your work is affected by other technological developments.

Incidentally, Beware the Jabberwock is now available for the Kindle here and will be published in paperback in a few weeks.