Technology's a funny thing, especially when people and their minds are thrown into the equation. Of course, without people, many things technological couldn't exist. That begs the question, then, how do people function when technology is so prevalent in our world?
As a writer, I interact with many technologies every day. I write on paper with a mechanical pencil. and I type and blog on a laptop. But, why those choices, and, perhaps, why in that order? Am I making those choices consciously, or are the technologies I'm using doing the choosing?
Let's look at the latter, as it is probably the more provocative of the two. Before you were able to read this piece as it stands now, on a computer screen, I wrote out these thoughts in a notebook. Could I have moved right to my laptop? Sure. So, why didn't I?
There are many writers who, like me, spend a substantial amount of time using paper and pencil. 'But,' you say, 'I haven't used paper and pencil since I was in grade school! If I have an idea, I just Tweet it or text it.'
Ah ha! Seriously, though. We've all done it. We use technology like our smart phones, PDAs, or Twitter and we're instantly connected to the rest of the world, clones of the 24-hour news world, bent on informing everyone of EVERYTHING, and expecting much the same in return for our troubles.
So we like to keep in touch with people. Big deal, right? Let's consider, though, how often we may (or may not) completely stop what we're doing and check one of our many mobile devices for a text, to look something up on the Web, or some other minute activity. Moments later we go back to our business and, uh oh, we've lost our mental momentum. Seems like technology owns us as much as we own it.
For a writer, the conscious choice of paper and pencil to begin our work represents more than just an aesthetic or tangible medium. Yes, it feels productive, but the payoff is that oftentimes it is productive. Think about it. Technology like the Internet, or even writing on a word processor has its limitations. The Internet is everywhere, yes. But, more often than not, in order to do anything constructive with it, we must be physically connected to it.
By becoming so, we are, in a way, bound by its rules. And we haven't even done anything yet. Twitter users are bound, in the thought process, by the program's 140-character limit on posts. Yes, it helps wordy people, like me, be precise. But what Twitter doesn't allow for that paper and pencil does, is a sense of freedom for the mind to move around. Paper and pencil, the most basic technology a writer has, doesn't often have to worry about space, or lack thereof. If it can be written on by graphite or ink, we'll scrawl all over it. But if we adhere to a limitation like that which exists on Twitter with a 140-character wall, we start limiting ourselves, censoring our thoughts. And we stop pursuing them, like the text we recieve while we're working on something else. For only a moment, the person on the other end of that text is somewhat valued in terms of whether or not we want to take the time to use our technology to reply. That's unfortunate.
What's worse? We may limit the characters in our stories in some of the same ways. In Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, the main character depended on the simple technology of a "Stop" button on a Walkman to almost stop the momentum of the moments of pain and truth he did not want to hear, nor face. What power he yielded! What control! It sounds like he was in charge of the situation and his feelings, doesn't it? But, was he? Couldn't he have stopped listening at any time? According to him, he could not.
In some ways, we suffer the same fate as our characters. We say we can do without our technologies, right? Sure, no problem. But, how often do we actually sit down and write a letter? Or, do we instead let the moment pass because we either don't have a computer to use, or we have too much to say to write an email, or too little to send a text. How often do we turn around our cars to get our cell phones at home where we left them? How many younger people actually talk at parties or other social events? They don't, they often text. Sometimes across the room. Technology wins.
In our stories we write, how many of the plots function without cool gadgets, or familiar things like social networking sites? Probably none. How many of those stories (or ones we read) have similar person-to-technology relationships like the ones I just posed? I know my stories do. My characters, especially my teens, are just as dependent on their connections to their gadgets as I am, and they're both positively and negatively influenced just the same. Can our characters only express their feelings publicly, through something like social networking? No, not only. But, that's the trend. Can we express our feelings other ways? Most likely. But, we often don't. It seems we have trouble expressing thoughts beyond what our technologies can say for us.
Sure, technology (and our relationships with it) make good, believable stories, which is what we're ultimately after. Technology isn't evil. It won't kill us. But, we have to take some time to think outside the boxes our computers and other gadgets come in, and let our minds find some real estate of their own.