Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A Great Yawning Schism Has Opened in the World of Fiction

I'm reading Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman. It managed to hold my attention quite well up until I got to the part where the main character is given the offer, “I will help you if you give me your medulla oblongata.” And the main character replies, “My medulla oblongata? Sure, I don't possibly see what could go wrong with a deal like that!” I'm paraphrasing a little here, but the point is, its hard to feel sympathy for a character who fecklessly does the equivalent of bartering away his own brain stem. But it's not actually my intention to talk about the story. I want to talk about the date of publication.

The date of publication has become an important thing. It used to be I could just pick up a novel and roughly work out from the context when it was set and read away. For a long time the exact year or even the exact decade didn't matter. Whether it was the 60's or the 90's guns went bang, phones rang, cars had four wheels, men were men, women were women, and in some of the more fascinating novels the men were ladyboys.

But this lackadaisical approach no longer suffices. Now when I open a book I need to look at the publication date. I forgot to do it with Anansi Boys and kept getting my attention derailed by questions such as, “How did he take the wrong exit? Doesn't he have a GPS navigation system in his car or on his phone? Why doesn't he text her when his call doesn't go through? Why doesn't he look it up on the internet?” These questions vexed me to such an extent I stopped reading and looked up the publication date. The year 2005. Not that long ago, but long enough to make quite a difference.

It used to be that writers and their audience had a deal. They'd ignore things like mobile phones and the internet and we'd let it slide. Like the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her Scooby gang really would have benefited from some cell phones, but we tried not to ask why they never got any. You see, the writers grew up without them and so did the audience. But now that the audience has grown up with them, or at least has had them become as familiar as their dentures and support underwear, we can no longer let it slide. A schism has appeared. All fiction is now divided into pre smart phone and post smart phone. The singularity has arrived.

Now a lot of complete garbage has been written about the singularity, the point at which technology advances so far that there is a compete break with the past. Unfortunately, instead of involving immortality, robot companions, or even jet packs, it is simply ubiquitous smart phones. Personally it's not what I would have chosen, but in literature, and quite possibly life, that damned singularity that has been following us around for so long has finally caught up.

And of course the amusing coda to all this is that I don't even have a smart phone, but I have gotten used to living in a world where most people I interact with do. From now on I think I'll need to check the publication date for every piece of contemporary fiction I read, because if I try to guess and I'm off by just a year or two it can be confusing. And this schism is still growing. It is yawning like a Tongan shift worker when you knock on his door on a Saturday morning to talk to him about Jesus. We won't reach the other side of this chasm until there's an app for everything. For example, I watched the first season of Sherlock the other day and it seemed positively stone aged. You might say that's not surprising seeing as Sherlock Holmes is a 19th century character, but I'm talking about the one that was filmed and set in 2010. This series made of point of incorporating the latest in information technology and that made it worse, as it is now obviously technology that is two years out of date.

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