When did smartphones become so addictive? I can tell you when, about 30 years ago, or so it feels. But in reality, we all know when it started to happen. Just over a decade ago.

And we also know what has happened to most of us in that time. We can’t go without it for a day, or let’s be honest, no more than a few hours.

When you really think about it, do you really want to? I have a semi-good reason at least (al be it bazaar), for not wanting just that.
We have almost become the exact humans in those man-vs-machine films where the machines are really calling the shots and the humans go on with ordinary things, completely unaware.

Truth is, I don’t often leave my phone at home by accident, but when I do, OMG (that’s right, I also wouldn’t have used that acronym 10 years ago). Actually, forget I used it now.

When you do go out in public without your phone, you can forget about feeling connected at all – Not because you don’t want to be in the moment, smell the roses or interact with a real human, but I really think it’s the option of having all-information-ever at your fingertips and the potential need to use it at any point, that gets you.

You would have no idea whether the train is actually going to be on time, what has happened overnight or what is going on in the world right now (through actual news or otherwise), and how anyone is going to contact you.

If this was the 90s, fine. When you had no other option, waiting for a friend to show up and hoping that you gave them the right info, was all you could do.

And when you eventually get back home to find your phone, which, let’s face it, was probably happy for the break and its battery almost fully charged, how many texts and instant messages are really waiting?

Wait, don’t answer that.

But It is what it is.

Google it. Or not.

How else do you solve arguments these days?

The information age has shed light on pretty much everything, in ways that are often great… and ways that are perhaps not very effective.

How many times have you consulted with Doctor Google, semi-freaked yourself out, only to eventually be told by a doctor that it’s probably nothing. Super reassuring, but not worth dwelling on too much, probably because if you believed Google, you’ll definitely believe a medical professional, right?

And it’s not like we didn’t survive before the internet. In fact, we did perfectly alright to not think about some things that only have a 1/1000 chance of happening.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

And it’s not just professional opinions either. We’re relying on strangers’ reviews of pretty much anything. No longer is a praise or complaint a private matter, or a letter to a newspaper/magazine at worst, but a public display of good and bad (al be it justified or not).

But it’s not all like that.  No other time have anyone and everyone’s written thoughts been so accessible, to anyone who chooses to read it.
Sometimes, the absolute privilege of reading someone’s thoughts online, whether in a blog or otherwise, would not have been possible before. Previously confined to a hard copy or lost, these have never been as straight forward to share – most of the time a great thing, and other times, less so.

I, for one, am happy to be part of it… most of the time. And I don’t think I’m alone this.

  1. You won’t be the friend someone has known for ages, for literally ages. And until you are, you’ll be an outsider. But one day, all of a sudden, you won’t be new anymore.
  2. You’ll meet some wonderful people
  3. You will be forced into independence
  4. You’ll need to do the hard yards when it comes to entering a foreign workforce, especially as a graduate. But it will become a lot easier when you’ve had the chance to prove yourself
  5. You will be doing most of the ringing and texting friends and arranging to go back home a great deal more than you’ll be welcoming visitors, until after about 15 years, even going back won’t necessarily guarantee that childhood friends remember you’re coming (I can say that because we’re friends that have known each other for ages and it is what it is).
  6. You’ll be using different terms for everyday things, e.g. safety belts become seatbelts overnight (but not in your head), circles: roundabouts, green peppers: capsicums and the one that gets the most looks – robots, which you know as traffic lights. See, told you… looks.
  7. You won’t be able to get the same stuff in the new country and substitutes will have to do, until you find a store that charges double or triple for something that had to be imported
  8. If you grew up with more than one language, you’ll start to think in the main language of the country you’re living in and when this happens, your native language will start to suffer. However, you’ll forever be translating maths into your native language first before making the calculation and appear to have stage fright when this occurs (with your university math major and all)
  9. You’ll still discover that there’s a different way of doing something (the way everyone else is doing it), years later
  10. You’ll come out the other end and be stronger for it

Have you ever heard someone say ‘let’s have a normal amount of perspective’ or ‘let’s look at the bigger picture’?

I have, many times, and I now try not to cringe every time I hear that, in response to just having been engrossed in the detail of something, because that just happens to be the trademark of my (first) thought preference.

This in itself, is both an advantage and a challenge for any writer… When detail is required to provide the reader with the ins-and-outs of a story-line, it can be your friend. But when you’re required to see the bigger picture, whether story specific or just keeping your spirits up, it can be either a friend or part-time friend, depending on the writer’s effort to ‘have a normal amount of perspective’.

And I’ve come to appreciate it and see it as a strength (most of the time), though perhaps less so when your thoughts are also never without reflection…

I was driving Simon from one winery to the next in the Yarra Valley a few days ago (part of his birthday week) and we were listening to the first decent radio station we could find, as you do when your pre-programmed stations won’t work, being out of range. And I was singing along to a song with my own made-up lyrics, just because I had never bothered to learn the proper ones (too focused on the melody), which I soon realised, shaped my perspective of the song, al be it warped.

As I was pondering that for a few moments, I then caught the last part of a news segment, talking about the ‘future’ of virtual reality changing your perspective of the house you’re living in, whenever you wear the goggles. It sounds ridiculous right now, to alter what you see when you’re in your own home, but will it be as ridiculous in decades to come? Not unlike rock music that was once ‘alternative’ in the nineties and became mainstream and commercial, as soon as ‘they’ said ‘this is pretty good’.

And I couldn’t help but wonder – what will influence the way in which we read and interpret fiction when everything around it changes? Perhaps something to explore in another blog post.

But if one’s general perspective is so unique and influenced by whatever you consciously or subconsciously decide, at least we’ll have some control over it, right?

I’m sure that the relativity of time has been pondered many times. It isn’t a new idea. I believe Einstein had something to say about it?

In my experience, the perception of the speed at which time passes, seems to be directly corelated to your current position in a given week, which is completely absurd, especially when your job is an enjoyable one. But it just seems to be built-in, somehow.

And then when the weekend (or holiday) comes, I’m in a constant state of needing to enjoy the time I have off. And this is why: I suddenly have time to write, to play the piano, to plan my next holiday, to cook up a storm or whatever else I ‘didn’t have time to do during the week’, which is ridiculous in itself. But unless I actually do at least one of these things, I’m not enjoying the inevitable ‘nothing’ I end up actually doing and always at the expense of not writing, not planning… You get the idea.

And when you have to get up at a certain time the next morning, time seems to become the biggest clock-watching constraint, restricted by thoughts of all the things I hadn’t done yet – not in the ‘left your homework until Sunday night kind-of-way’, but annoying, all the same.

But when I’m overseas or in a different state, and I’m doing the things I planned for on the weekends I managed to plan, I almost always try to stop time, which obviously doesn’t work, just to take it all in. The moment when you’re standing on the Great Wall, or snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, or pretending to be in the Sound of Music, while skipping around Salzburg, is so impossibly great, that time feels irrelevant.

Can you believe that Daylight Saving is coming? That day when another hour disappears, without the burden of doing-nothing can make it so…

I have to go now. I have other things to write, to do, to plan… or clean the house and exercise. *sigh*

The other day I heard a startling statistic, al be it elaborated, which claimed that technology doubles every 18 months. 

Frightening.

It’s true that we have dealt with a lot of change in the last couple of decades, and I wonder whether there has been a generation that has had to put up with more progress.  I suppose there had been over the past century or two, but it’s hard to imagine. 

Do you remember a time before social media?  I can, and it wasn’t that long ago.  Remember your first smartphone and the three or so apps you needed to run your day?  Today, I’m updating apps on a daily basis and it’s ridiculously annoying.

Would you have believed 10 years ago that technology would enable us to get into a different stranger’s car (without a taxi sign on top) on a regular basis, to travel from A to B?  And would you have believed that we would almost solely rely on strangers’ reviews of restaurants and accommodation and tourist sights?  It’s almost as though they really are not strangers anymore, but a different type of semi-acquaintances.    

In any case, it seems that it’s not just general technology which is doubling, but the pressure to change, to keep up, on us, on industries.  

How many physical bookstores can you walk into these days?  We’re now purchasing books with one click and reading it as soon as it’s downloaded on a device.  

I’m starting (perhaps not persisting with) a new big budget television show almost every month, delivered to a smart television via the internet, for a relatively small monthly subscription fee.

So, what will the world look like in 18 months’ time?  Who’s to say. 

What does ‘double’ of ‘frightening’ look like? 

On Monday night I had a dream within a dream, within a dream.

  • I dreamt that I was sleeping. (1)
  • I woke up thinking that no. 1 was a real night’s sleep and that it was 11:30 am on a workday. I had overslept. (2)
  • What felt like a few moments later, I woke up, realising that no. 2 was just a dream and that I was still on time. I got up, went through the motions of my normal routine and walked to the bus stop. Next, I met a colleague on the bus (which in itself, is unusual) and I told him about the dream I had just had. (3)
  • Moments later (or so it felt), I woke up for the last time (I am convinced) and went about my day as normal, telling this story to colleagues. (4)

I was writing the start of this post at the end of no. 4.

I could ponder this for days.  But I won’t, just in case it’s a waste of time and I wake up again (kidding).

The most interesting part, was that each dream-version felt both real at the time, and like a dream, as soon as I progressed to the next dream and eventually, reality.

Now, as I consider the rewrite of a scene of my FINAL draft (those who know me will know that I hate all-caps), I’m considering my editor’s comments about the fact that this scene, which happens to be a ‘dream’ scene, seems too realistic.

Wait a minute… Provided the point-of-view allows it – if we would like the reader to experience whatever the protagonist experiences, and the protagonist doesn’t know the difference between dreaming and reality until she wakes up, why is this an issue?

I get it. We don’t want to confuse our readers.

But doesn’t a little confusion encourage curiosity?  And if what is perceived as realistic to one reader is not necessarily realistic to another – where is the inception of reality and where does it end? And who decides?

In fiction, it’s the writer.

In life – I think I need to sleep on it.

Communication is so often overlooked and taken for granted.  It’s probably one of the most overused words in an interview setting and the most neglected in practice, by some.  Is it in part, because the way in which we communicate has changed so much?

Face-to-face communication aside – I don’t even begin to imagine what it was like to wait for a messenger or postman to bring you your letter by horse; I can’t really remember a time when my family received a telegram; and I’d be racking my brain to remember the last personal letter I received.  But I can remember texts containing letters only… before emoticons came about and photos and gifs came with everything. 

Has the last decade and a half done a real number on us? 

Remember when you created your first email address? The majority of emails I received at the time was from people I knew well, not your run-of-the-mill subscription.  These days, I can’t leave my personal email inbox alone for a day without it being swamped by things I may have signed up for that ONE time, or as a result of the time I had given my email address to receive a service, which somehow became an open invitation for socially acceptable spam. 

The ratio of subscription emails vs. personal emails today, is well… shocking.  How did this happen so quickly? Is social media the only culprit?  – That thing that allows someone to know what you’re doing without actually having to communicate with you at all.  And instant messaging, the phenomenon that allows you to send little packets of data without it hurting your wallet, so much so that on a lot of mobile plans, texts (as in SMS messages) have become free of charge and in some instances obsolete. 

And what does this mean for contemporary fiction?  I’m not sure, but give it a few years, and we’ll have this conversation again.  Characters communicate, and how they do this is very telling.  Technology is aging at a remarkable speed and we will just have to find a way to adapt, somehow.  This is not really a big deal for my first novel, which takes place in a specific time, but what about others?  We’ll make it relevant.  I didn’t major in technology for nothing. (I feel like I would have liked to include a smiley emoticon here, but I resisted, out of principle).  

On a different note, this post reminded me of something really peculiar.  You know that I have been living in Australia for 14 years and speaking predominantly English, apart from talking to family and friends overseas.  And as we all know, technology has moved along particularly quickly during this time.  What this has meant for me, is that some things technology-related that had been communicated (for the first time) in the language I used full-time as a child, I cannot converse in.  I have only experienced it in English.  I find it really funny that I can translate pretty much any other sentence in Afrikaans, apart from something along the lines of ‘I browsed a website and clicked on a link, before printing the page.’ 

Here’s hoping that I don’t ever have a need to write a technology-filled book in a language other than English. 

Yeah, sorry.  I haven’t done this in a while.  I am still writing, don’t worry.

And reading, A LOT.

Regardless of how hectic real life can get, and I say ‘real’ life as, let’s face it, writing fiction has long been considered an acceptable grown-up version of imaginary friends – fiction is where it is (for me anyway), whether it’s writing or reading.

At the moment, I’m ankle deep in Book Three of a nine-book series (at last count).

And if the aim of a writer is generally to give the reader an emotional experience, this author has met her objectives.  As she makes you turn the page, she pulls you in with obstacle after obstacle, until something happens that annoys all patience out of you, so much so that you don’t pick the book up again for weeks.  But when you summon the courage to start reading it again, you’re more than happy to stay up too late to read it, when you really should be sleeping, at the risk of being annoyed all over again.

A very successful writer once said that to be a good writer, you must keep reading.  And since I’ve started writing fiction myself, I definitely read books differently too.  I often have moments where I’m bowled flat by an unexpected technique or beautiful prose, and other times I’ve all but abandoned a book because the author had disregarded the standards which some writers consider untouchable.

By the way, I’ll admit that it was actually a comment on one of my blog posts that gave me the metaphorical push to write this post: ‘When are you going to post again?’ It read.  ‘You really entertain a lot of people.’

(Are you browsing the net with an alias now, Ma?)

No seriously, I get a lot of spam comments – too many to count – and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between real comments and spam.  But if you are real – it was very ‘glass half full’ of you and thanks!

If you are a spam bot (and I’m not condoning spam whatsoever), I’ll try and write more blog posts anyway.

It’s really difficult to understand how it can take 30 minutes to write a post today, and how on other days, I don’t have any inclination to write anything at all.

But with my current novel as close to ‘complete’ as it has ever been and my editor’s notes slowly being answered, I finally write this post in anticipation of my next trip to Vietnam in a few short weeks.

You see, writing (fiction or otherwise) and editing in one’s spare time is a challenge at the best of times, if sometimes a welcome one. Cycles of inspiration and the lack thereof, becomes the norm. However, I know that one such cycle will be in a few weeks’ time, when I go back to Vietnam. And I take some comfort in the thought, that there is something quite fitting about working on the final stages of my book in far-away places, just like I planned my novel while being overseas at the start.

I think the statement I’m about to make, is an obvious one. I love travelling. But the preparation, the painstaking preparation – I can take or leave… Someone once said that travelling overseas is as stressful as moving house or… I’ve forgotten the other something… In any case, you’d think it gets easier after all these years, but I still have things that are only sorted out at the very last moment, I mean 11 pm-on-the-night-before-we-go moment… Just two minutes ago I realised that we probably need more insect repellent, the strong kind.

But in reality, as long as your passport, visas, tickets and travel insurance are sorted, the rest will just happen, somehow.

I do love the feeling you have when you jump on to the plane at the beginning… usually accompanied with the prospect of a set amount of time that is your own, to do whatever you like… together with the thought of experiencing amazing cultures, food and living in shorts for three weeks, while moving from one place to the next.

Likewise, the feeling I have when we come back is always exactly the same. At this point, I’m looking forward to going back to work and normality, I am missing vegies and dying to cook a roast, I am tired of insect repellent and moving from one place to the next.

But the memories always stay and hopefully this time, I will have fixed another chapter – for good – ready for a trusted friend’s opinion.