Dial M for Technology

“Dial M for Murder” is a classic. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most popular films, starring Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings; it’s hard to forget. But I’m not seeking it out to see again. This time it would be a period piece. The technology has changed too much.

Communications technology has been changing very quickly. We’ve gone from a few tech heads with big clumsy cell phones to ubiquitous smart phones (with cameras, video, email) in nearly everyone’s hands. All the stories that begin with a flat tire or overheated engine on a lonely road at night are completely altered by mobile phones and subscription support and navigation systems in new cars.

The premise, the very idea, of being completely lost and alone and out-of-reach is getting harder to achieve in a credible setting. I lost power for five days after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last October. I became acutely aware of how tied together we are by technology. The cell towers were down in my part of the city. My friend Brigitta found me by walking to my building, climbing up the four flights and leaving a note because I wasn’t there. I’d walked over to my parents, climbed up the six flights and that’s where brilliant Brigitta found me — yes, she climbed up the six flights, after the four flights…

After sunset, it was really dark!

Darkness made it very spooky. New York is never that dark. The situation was ripe for mystery, mayhem and even murder, but the city remained calm. New Yorkers were too busy trying to get bars on their phones to even consider anything more nefarious. Still, I’m not looking forward to a repeat — but if it comes I have a crank-up radio, a super bright long-term battery lantern and a cool collection of mini flashlights.

I’m ready to face the darkness.


  1. It’s funny how much technology has changed it all. We had a tornado watch going a few weeks ago. The fire alarms had even gone to tell us it was serious time. So my wife and I are in our room in the basement, with my girls and all camping out the storm. The DSL was still working so I had wifi for my Ipad. Cell towers were still up so my daughters android phone was still working.

    Instead of huddling around the radio listening for news, we had our weather apps going.we were able to watch the passage of the storm on weather radar. Such a different experience from how I grew up.

    • Candy

      These changes have made it much more difficult to create a credible scenario of isolation BUT when all the gizmos are cut off we’re even more isolated and vulnerable because we’re less prepared for the “ordinary” emergencies.

      Power lines went down so often where I grew up — my block would go out during nearly every thunderstorm — that a black out was no big deal. Now… we quake at the thought of not being able to recharge our laptops. LOL… Updating Dial M for Murder would be an interesting challenge.

  2. Bill Dowling

    Interesting bit of trivia- “Dial M” was filmed in 3D, (Hitchcock was not pleased about it!) but by the time it was released, the fad had passed, so it wasn’t released in 3D.

  3. Where I live on the outer fringe of Melbourne, blackouts are a common experience as well so we’re well stocked with candles, windup torches, long life battery powered lamps etc as well. I think a bad blackout in a big city would be far, far worse.

    The problems with technology are something I grapple with as a writer too. As a science fiction writer I try to extrapolate from today’s tech to tomorrow’s tech, but things never turn out quite the way we expect them to. We have all been focused on transport and communications technology, but the 3D printer is poised to have far reaching effects that none of us imagined. We are starting to get glimmerings of what those effects might be but I predict this 3D technology will change our world almost as completely as computers!

    • Candy

      I think you’re right and the challenge for science fiction writers may be as big as the scary story dilemma.

      Where do we go from here if Google eyeglasses are here already, as are 3D printers,phones that talk to us and more. It certainly raises the stakes for science fiction.

    • Interesting comparison to think about. The printing press changed the world dramatically. Books became cheap expanding the world of knowledge. The power of a 3D printer could very well have a similar impact.

      Is it possible that are future is shaping up to Gene Roddenbury’s vision. We have phones that appear much like the communicators from the original series. When you look at Next Generation, tablets look very much like tri-corders and data pads that they use for quite a bit of their work.

      • Candy

        And the bridge of the Enterprise, in the newest movie, now has seat belts!

        Yes, I think that science fiction and science reality are getting closer together. This will be a challenge for storytellers of all stripes.

  4. I’ve specifically set Lost Girl Road in a time before cell phones. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be the same story. Though the specific location in Montana where I’ve set my story still gets no cell phone service, I still didn’t want to set the story in modern times because even when I can’t talk on my iPhone, I can still use some of its other features. When I go to my family’s property in Montana, it truly is off-grid. There is no land-line, electricity, or running water. Yet, it’s always just for a few days. I would never choose to live that way on a regular basis. I did get lost once in Yellowstone on the Specimen Ridge Trail, which was pretty scary, but at least it was light out!

    • Candy

      The pre-mobile phone setting is a good idea. Sometimes it is the only way to tell the story.

      Someone posted a question on a LinkedIn writers group today, asking if you could survive for a year in a different time. It’s tough. But since I’ve just written some cozy mysteries set in 1924 NYC, I decided I could — for a year. I’d have to be a woman of that time. So I posited a job in the ticket booth of the Ziegfeld Theater or in my own grandfather’s bakery. The technology of a time, as much as the customs, can dictate the roles and rules of the game.

      No land-line, electricity or running water would KILL me. I’m so urban. LOL… You sound more outdoorsy than me.