What a difference 10 years make to a manuscript

I’m currently taken an online class for administrative assistants and today’s class was about office information management and the tools we use to that end. The first chapter was all about how information management changed over the years, for instance 10 or 15 years ago we used the phone book instead of Google to find a business.

I thought it was interesting how this relates to novel-writing. Every writer I know has a manuscript or story in a drawer somewhere, or rather in a file saved on the computer, that never managed to see the light of day. Having recently started to overhaul an old manuscript of mine I found it shocking how outdated some of it is. Not the story or the characters, but the way they communicate and the things they do/use throughout the day. I never thought that in the space of 10 + years a book could become so outdated. A few examples of things my characters do in the original version that they’d never do today:

  1. Use a phone booth.  Phone Booths! I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Yet my 10-year-old characters frequent phone booths with alarming regularity.
  2. Still own a landline phone. Characters run for the ringing phone and trip over cables like its 1995. Not one cell phone in sight.
  3. Use a map. A real hand-held map, not the Google kind.
  4. Leaving notes for each other in central places in the apartment, and not just sending a text like we do now.
  5. They social network by tagging along when their friends meet people to widen their ‘network’ of friends and ‘be social’.

I can actually tell which sections I revised a few years later, because a character is contemplating getting a MySpace page for promotional purposes.

In the span of just a few years those parts of the novel have become outdated, and, unlike a fine wine, age has not made it any better. It’s ok in this case because I was planning on making a lot of changes anyway, and those changes will bring the novel into ‘modern times’, but it’s made me think. When writing a novel set in the here and now, is it better to go light on the references to modern conveniences for fear of dating the story too much? Or does it not matter as long as the story is good?

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