One of the most obvious changes in my lifespan has been the introduction of the mobile phone and the utter dependence that most people put on them to better “engage” in their lives. When I was a child, phone booths were everywhere, public pay phones were the only way to communicate with your parents to say that you’ll be staying out a little longer, and in many ways life didn’t seem to be all rush rush rush. But perhaps that was because I was younger.
In Canada around the turn of the millennium, not that many of my peers had mobile phones except maybe for work. My own reticence to carry one around with me was simply because I didn’t like the idea of constantly being “on call” to whatever business connections I had at the time. Oh sure, you could chat with your friends but if like me, your phone was also your work line, it was highly likely that something would come up that you’d have to deal with ASAP while you were out shopping or in a pub or whatever. At least with home land lines, one’s day could be enjoyed without the pressure of people ringing up wanting things, and whatever messages you had when you got home could be dealt with that evening or the following day – everyone accepted those parameters and I liked that way of living. Even now I’m annoyed when I’m in the middle of something and someone “dares” ring me because it takes me out of the moment I’m in and has me focusing on something that I’m still powerless to do anything about until I get home. But, being a sensitive person, I then have to carry around the knowledge and anxiety that I now know something has to be done, until I go and actually do it. Technology is very unfair. The more it connects us to others and makes us feel less lonely, the more it also robs us of our privacy and relaxation.
This argument is of course, not new. Countless people have put forward more succinct rationalisations than me, but I was thinking the other day how much my reticence for mobile phone culture has showed up in my writing, especially in Flashback. In fact there wasn’t a single reference to a mobile phone for any of my dozen or so main characters despite the fact that everyone now – regardless of whether they live in the UK or in North America – everyone uses mobile phones for some part of their busy lives.
You see, I was happily writing my stories as though I were living in early 90s, when mobile phones weren’t really so mobile. I was perhaps regressing to a time when people needed to stay at home and wait for that important phone call, rather than just go about their lives until their cell rang. I was thinking that mobile phones are a too easy plot device and all dramatic characters should somehow be written as just having lost or broken their phones before they’ve even been placed in any sticky predicament. Drama needs to build up and the stakes need to increase exponentially. Having a psychotic killer cut the phone line to the creepy old house somehow loses it’s terrifying edge when all the potential victim needs to do is use her/his mobile to ring the cops, or log on-line and look up “six year old children who have murdered their siblings and are now on the just escaped from a loonie bin list” on Google to confirm the killer’s real identity. Somehow the mystery becomes harder and harder to keep secret when there’s a mobile phone, an iPhone or a Blackberry kicking around the plot.
So in the spirit of innocence, I wrote most of Flashback without any thought that a character might actually have access to this “modern” technology. Silly me. It was only when I got to episode nine and I was in the middle of a scene and someone rang me on my mobile that it twigged. Of course… Belinda would have a mobile phone and simply get out of such-in-such a predicament, wouldn’t she? Well, most people would. How much easier would it be if your car broke down in the middle of a deserted highway some dark and foggy night, to simply dial for assistance instead of having to trudge miles down the eerie old road where potentially anything could happen Evil Dead style? Of course all writers would simply say there was no signal for the character’s mobile phone, so they’d have to trudge down that road and check out the abandoned ski chalet or whatever. Problem solved.
But what if, as in Flashback, signal strength or network availability shouldn’t be a problem? After all, it is set in the big city. I can’t imagine a more lame excuse in writing those scenes than Belinda saying, “Oh damn, I can’t call the cops because I’ve not got a signal” just before she’s attacked by a rabid killer daisy on her way to the hairdressers. (Okay that is not one of the plot points, so you can breathe a sigh of relief… unless of course you’d find that plot point funny, to which I’d say let me know and if there’s ever a second series, I’ll be sure to include such a scene. Besides, I’d love to hear what JoAnne would do with the dialogue between her and a killer rabid potted plant.)
So what have I done about the dreaded mobile phone issue in the scripts? Well, for starters Belinda doesn’t like them. She finds them useless and won’t carry them because she’s a snob and likes her butler Hargreaves to take her messages for her. It is only in the last few episodes that we discover that she’s even got one and that is only because she was told it would improve her bitch-factor – sorry, you’ll have to wait and see what that means.
And the other characters? Well, I figure we don’t have to mention whether they have phones or not. They just don’t talk about them. And besides, there are a number of weird things that are “not of this world” in the story which makes a listener think, “Hmm, I wonder if the Earth these characters are on is in fact our Earth or is it too, just a parallel planet?” And that might be the truth in a nutshell. Perhaps instead of our characters opening a vortex to a parallel world, the story is about what happens between two completely different parallel worlds to our own? That might be more fun I think and I could see the potential for more humour if say, when Belinda does pull out her mobile phone we describe it as in the shape of a lobster or the size of a fig roll or maybe it has a rotary dial on it but still fits in the palm of your hand. Those kinds of ideas appeal to me. I’m a bit of a Steampunk thinker anyway, so I’d be all for corrupting technology so that it fits the kinds of stories I’d like to tell.
As for me and wondering if I’m easy to get in touch with? Try ringing my mobile and if I don’t answer, well, just leave me a message and I’ll get back to you that evening or maybe even the following day…
For more on Steampunk technology check this out: http://www.gizmodiva.com/mobile_phones/steampunk_mobile_phone_is_bulky_and_useless_and_we_love_it.php