So there you are, writing your historical novel, and in your book it’s 1735, and your hero has to take a poo, and you stop: have they invented the toilet yet? So you leave the poor bastard grimacing while you get out Nell Du Vall’s Domestic Technology, and you read:
The toilet, or water closet at the English call it, had several false starts. [...] Sir John Harrington, a man ahead of his time, installed a toilet of his own design in his country house at Kelston [...] in 1586. Harrington, who bathed every day, was considered a bit eccentric and his invention did not become popular.
And before you know it, your allotted writing time has gone down the crapper, because Nell’s book is so fascinating. But you know a lot more about the technology of your chosen time.
If you’re writing only about your own current time, no sweat--you’re swimming in the technological sea your writing is about. But you step out of now at the peril of your work’s verisimilitude. If your brain is as erratic as mine, you probably don’t even know your own technological past as well as you think. Quick: when did Walkmans become ubiquitous? Hell if I know, and I had one for years. Did the iPod come before or after the iTunes store?*
Fortunately we have Nell’s book (1988), and Wikipedia (2001). Facts can be ferreted out. And speaking of Wikipedia...
Think about what a change it’s made. Before Wikipedia, you had to find your car keys or bus pass, go to the library, bug the librarian, find the correct reference work, and hunt through it until you found (or gave up on) your targeted fact... now you just have to “go” to Wikipedia. If you know what you’re talking about, you can even add facts to Wikipedia. We have infinitely more facts at our disposal than even those poor slobs half a generation ago. Are you, you monad, any different? And how has that technology changed society?
Technology shapes us just as much as we shape technology.
And Facebook! Oh, admit it, you’re a FB junkie. You now have access to intimate details about the lives of perfect (six degrees of separation) strangers, sometimes whether you want to or not. Has it changed you? What interactions has it brought to your life that were unthinkable before 2004?
And Nutrasweet! Viscose (the fabric formerly known as rayon)! The cotton gin! MRIs! GPS! Aibo! Man, the list goes on forever. Every one a death knell to Natural Man. But if you’re writing, you’d best know when they showed up, and what they did to that innocent creature and society.
Unless you’re worldbuilding sf. Then you have to make them up, and they have to be convincing.
*2001 and 2003, respectively. The Walkman, for the terminally curious, launched July 1979.
ryandake is currently plotting the downfall of the United States of America, and how Northern and Southern California will split the sheets, via her sf novel Tulare Lake, to be published sometime before we all get our brains uploaded to AwesomeMommy, the giant AI in the sky.