September 19th, 2012


Cell Phones and Fantasy

I am attempting to function today without the scary cough syrup. My brain is clearer, but there's still some coughing. I'm really sick of being sick. I am, however, enough on the mend to tackle the laundry that I let get totally out of control. Now I just need to do dishes, put together a lesson plan for choir tonight and bake some cookies.

I opened the floor for questions about the Enchanted, Inc. series, and here's the first. I think I've addressed one like it recently, but I'll take it again:

Why doesn't Katie have a cell phone? As somebody who just left her 20s and with most of my friends in their 20s still, I cannot imagine living without my phone. I know Katie is pretty technically challenged, but even my most technologically inept friends have phones. I understand not having the latest and greatest smartphone, but why not at least a regular one?

The short answer is that it's a character trait. The fact that most people do something doesn't mean that everyone does, so it is still possible to have people out of the mainstream. Getting deeper into the whys, first of all, I mentally set the series in 2005-2006. The first book takes place in September through early November of 2005, the second in November through mid-December of that year, the third one mid-December through just after New Year's 2006, the fourth in April/May of 2006 and the fifth in May/June of 2006. When I was writing the first one, I assumed that if it got published, it would be in 2005, so I used 2005 calendars to keep the events and days straight, and then I've continued with that, trying to keep it consistent on that timeline. It was a little easier at first, since the first two books were in the future for me, and I wrote the first draft of the third book at almost exactly the time it was taking place. You don't have to read them with that in mind because I don't think there's anything that specifically dates them, but when I'm judging what technology to use and what pop culture to reference, I'm trying to keep out anything that isn't consistent with that timeline.

That means that while cell phones were pretty ubiquitous at that time, they weren't quite the "pry it out of my cold, dead hands" thing they are now. The first iPhone was released in 2007. So, if you keep this timeline in mind, it's less shocking that a twenty-something person could live without a cell phone.

Getting specific to Katie, one of her traits is practicality, which often comes through as frugality. She really struggled financially her first year in New York, and although her situation has improved, she still hasn't shaken off that mindset of saving every penny. If she was either at home or at work or out with the people who'd be calling her, she wouldn't pay all that money every month for a cell phone she'd never use. Even now, she's usually either with the people who'd be calling her or with someone who has a phone, so she hasn't really bothered with it, and it's become something of a stubborn resistance. I'll admit that's based a bit on myself. I cringe when I pay my cell bill every month, since my phone mostly lives at the bottom of my purse. It seems like such a waste of money. When I got my first cell phone, I was doing PR for a cell phone company, and I was still resisting. I came to work one morning to find a phone on my desk chair (a not-so-subtle message from my boss), and then a co-worker drove me to the AT&T store to activate it. When/if Katie gets a phone, I imagine it will be a gift from someone who's tired of her not having a phone.

What's funny is that I don't think I've really used this in a plot. Cell phones have made plotting suspense things more challenging because there's that constant connectedness and access to information. If you want to keep someone in the dark about information someone else has, you have to come up with something like a dead battery or a dead spot in coverage. A character who avoids having a cell phone would be ideal for that, but I don't think I've ever used her being out of touch as a way to build suspense. When she's needed a phone, she's always been with someone who had one.

In book six, there is an actual discussion about her lack of a cell phone. People do comment on it.