Friday, 5 October 2012

Tomorrow's World - Tamsyn Murray

In the future, people will wear adverts
on their heads...
I read a short story last weekend. It was called The Subliminal Man and was written by J G Ballard in 1963. If you don't know the story, it's a futuristic tale in which subliminal advertising has taken over our lives, so that people buy products they don't really need and end up working all the time in order to pay for them. Apart from putting me in mind of all those people who've just bought an iPhone 5 they didn't really need, the story got me thinking about whether it's possible to future proof your own writing. J G Ballard referred to the man in his story buying a ridiculous four television sets (modern households could easily have four TVs) and three record players (eh?), which immediately dated the story, although other aspects were surprisingly fresh (prescient, even) in words written almost fifty years ago. I'm painfully aware when I mention social media in my own books that those platforms might not be around in five years' time (MySpace, anyone?). And yet it's hard  to avoid them and other technological references if you're writing contemporary fiction, or even science fiction. The replicators on Star Trek seemed far fetched once and now we're making 3D printers, not a million miles away from a replicator.

I don't have any magical answers on how to avoid dating your stories and am open to suggestions. Maybe we should all write historical fiction, where the technologies are known quantities, or dystopian tales where there are hardly any gadgets at all. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to try and predict what games console kids will be using at the turn of the decade, or what mobile phones will look like. It's hard enough keeping up with things as it is. Now, where's my iPhone 5?

3 comments:

John Dougherty said...

Maybe it's best to be vague! That said, it's not just gadgetry - there must be SF stories written 40 years ago that assumed we'd still do our own manufacturing rather than shipping it overseas.

I remember reading one story - still prescient in its way - in which the production of consumer goods was so vital to the economy that the meaning of 'wealthy' had changed to "so high-status you are no longer obliged to buy stuff you don't need".

Katherine Langrish said...

It's pretty difficult! Sometimes a crystal ball would come in handy. But will future readers mind? Sometimes it's cute to see past assumptions with the eye of hindsight.

Tam said...

John - or invent your own versions, I do that with bands. Love the idea of minimalism being the new black.

Katherine - point taken but I think kids may not think so...