Technology Changes the Story

A phone ringing in an empty house when no one is there; a darkroom assistant spots a figure in the distant background of a negative; a terrified woman stumbles and drops her car ignition key in the snow; a bike messenger waits for a signature; a student spends hours in the library squinting and cranking a handle as pages of old newspapers on microfilm fly by; a train cuts the distance between two cities; and a fake subway token drops into a coin slot.

All of those could be, and more than likely were, pivotal moments in stories set in earlier times. Technology changes big and little things. Friends don’t argue for hours about the name of an actor in a famous movie—one of them will check the IMDb on a mobile phone. Argument over.

I remember getting my first answering machine. It was fabulous. No sitting around waiting for a call or worse finding out the next day, or the next week, that I’d missed an invitation or an opportunity. For my first outgoing message I used ‘There Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens’ by Asleep at the Wheel. Everyone wanted to be creative with messages. It feels like a millions years ago and those years were filled with rapid changes in technology some, like the fax machine, rose and fell quickly to other innovations.

Those changes have altered storytelling. Fingerprints were critical in mystery fiction. Now, writers must have some grasp of DNA, mitochondrial and individual, in order to create credible police detectives. It’s a great deal harder for a killer to choose an untraceable poison today, than it was back in Agatha Christie’s day because toxicology has become much more sophisticated.

Technology makes information readily available. Some of it is incorrect and some of it is useful. For writers, even the incorrect information can be source material. But the STUFF of our lives today and the STUFF of just yesterday changes the game for storytellers in fascinating ways. I remember going to a ‘spy store’ about 20 years ago. It was a visit out of curiosity and not need. The miniature cameras and tape recorders were mystery story “toys.” Now, there’s an APP, right?

I wonder how science fiction writers feel as reality overtakes futuristic fiction.


I had a typewriter, but this one was before my time.


  1. I reading The Hate You Give right now, and the protagonist’s mind set is definitely a good example of how technology can be effectively embedded in a story. She even thinks in hashtags. Sad, but true! The Good Wife was also a good example of a TV show that really started to incorporate modern technology into shows more so than in the past.

    • Candy Korman

      How technology threads through stories in different times, always comes to mind when I’m watching old episodes of Law & Order. Mobile phones and computers crept into the series, then social media… I read an old story that I wrote (about 10 years ago) and noted how I would have to rework it with contemporary references to make it work today.

      Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest are massive “storytelling” machines with millions of participants creating, reshaping, and distributing stories. Most of them are not worth much, but some are fascinating, inspiring, infuriating, and informative. There’s a constant flow of instant information. People thinking is hashtags fits into that frame.

      I remember when, back in my ad agency days, we got our first fax machine. It took up an entire table and a cut the time between versions of copy and design down. No waiting for bike messengers! Yesterday, a client needed “100 more words” for an article promoting her event. She’d cobbled together something from what I’d already written, shaping it to fit the needs of a particular online outlet. At 12:20 she texted me, asking to talk. Emailed her too-short draft at 12:25. I talked to her for a few minutes, letting her know I had to leave at 1 for an appointment and that I’d be back at 2:45/3. “Oh… I have to send this to them by 2!” … Needless to say, I wrote the 100 extra words and sent it to her before 1. Back in the pre-email, scanning, texting, faxing days, the timing would have been very different.

      Of course the online magazines demand for word count, and a last minute article that she’d cobbled together would have been different too. It would not have played out that way. None of it… the speed the technology inspires brings new kinds of deadlines and panics.

      And all of this changes the stories we tell!

  2. Anyone remember the old ‘telex’? For a month every summer for about 3 years, I’d be sent to cover for a PA who was on holiday. Her main job? Sending telexes all over the world. Now that tech may as well belong to the Dark Ages.
    As for sci-fi…-face palm- Feels like every week there’s a new tech story about something I imagined happening 50 or more years in the future. Instead it’s happening /now/.
    No one, but no one gets the timing of the tech right. Can be a wee bit frustrating. :/

    • Candy Korman

      Wow! The Telex…

      About 17 years ago I wrote a mystery (my then agent failed to find it a publisher) that took place in the wake of 911. The detective had lost too many friends that day and stopped watching the news. His TV was tuned to an old movie station and the major advertiser was an anonymous payment system that people could use on line to protect their identity and financial information when shopping——or joining online dating clubs. You can imagine how I felt when real life caught up with me and then went further… The serial killer is able to remain anonymous because of the online payment system. I hadn’t thought about that story for a while. Maybe I can update it?