Hello, Mythcreants! I’ve been working on a futuristic adventure project, and largely thanks to your articles on worldbuilding and social justice, it’s going surprisingly well so far. However, I’ve come across an annoying roadblock. The characters communicate with cell phones (except much more advanced, with more features, of course, but same basic principle). Is this realistic, for people to communicate in a similar way in 600 years when the landline disappeared in a few decades? If not, what would you recommend for an alternative?
Hey Evan, thanks for writing in!
On the one hand, predicting the advancement of technology is notoriously difficult. Scifi from just a couple of decades ago now seems wildly out of date when imagining how people would live in the future. Scientific breakthroughs happen at the most unexpected moments, and at the same time, some advances never come at all (looking at you, flying cars). Just as difficult, the way those breakthroughs are used is a whole other question that has massive implications of its own.
On the other hand, most readers understand this problem on some level, and they tend to be fairly forgiving. A lot of classic scifi stories remain popular well after their predictions of the future have become antiquated, whether it’s Neuromancer treating wifi as an unheard of technology or The Expanse not knowing what crowdfunding is. At the rate technology advances, readers have to be flexible if they want to enjoy a story more than a few years after its release.
In your specific case, the idea of everyone in the future carrying a pocket sized computer seems perfectly reasonable to me. Is that what the future will look like? I have no idea. In a few hundred years, we could all have genetically engineered data-sunflowers growing out of our shoulders for all I know. But the modern trend is toward smaller, more portable electronics, so continuing that in your scifi shouldn’t be an issue.
One caveat: I don’t recommend calling the device a “phone.” Even today, the phone part of our phones is becoming increasingly vestigial. Actually dialing someone’s number and talking to them with your voice feels surprisingly inappropriate in most situations. If voice chat is important, apps like Zoom are becoming more and more popular. Of course, we might keep calling them phones for a long time; nomenclature is also hard to predict. But in your scifi story, acknowledging the current shift with some other name will make your setting more immersive.
Of course, if you want to imagine more advanced forms of communication, that’s also a legitimate direction for your worldbuilding. Your characters might be networked together by implanted wifi chips, or they might communicate through the telepathic waves of their pet psi-chameleons. It all depends on what kind of world you want to build and how much time you have to deal with the implications.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!