How important is the technology background for a fictional story? The technology that lives in the story is a part of the background world of the story. Like the background environment in the story, the technology may be a minor part of the background, a part of the scenery, or it may be a vitally important part of the story. In some science fiction stories, the technology may be the main point of the story.

Some story genres like contemporary romances, action, or thrillers require little in the way of world building. The characters live in the current world. If one does not add any specific products, and avoids getting too specific about rapidly changing technology, the story can remain current for many years. In writing science fiction, we have a quandary; the story may have lots of technology, but if it is too specific we run into the problem of the technology growing obsolete over the years.

Scientific discoveries and technological advances happen in leaps, not at a steady pace. When someone develops a device like the Apple iPhone, others copy and innovate such a device. In only a few years, such advances are propagated throughout society. When developing technology for future societies and worlds, technology in certain areas may leapfrog ahead, while other areas may remain stagnant. If the wrong technologies are specified, the story will appear dated as time goes on. Though with modern e-publishing, authors have the choice to keep the science and technology in their stories up to date.

I was reading Raiders of the Rings by Alan E. Nourse, written in 1962. It was one of my favorite stories to read while I was in middle school. Reading the story now, it is still very good, but the casual sexism (interesting enough, applies only to Earth women, not the Spacer women) and references to cards and tape for computer systems tends to throw me out of the story. The story is supposed to take place a couple of hundred years from now. A few of Andre Norton’s stories have the same problem with tape readers for computers. When the stories were new, it was the latest technology, but was quickly replaced by magnetic disks, and then even later by optical disks such as CDs and DVDs.

If the technology for a story is not the main point of the story, then perhaps leaving the actual devices vague and letting the reader visualize how they may work may keep the story more current for longer. This may be especially important since electronic devices and computers are quickly advancing and technology grows obsolete within a few years. Here are a couple of examples:

She placed the CD into the CD player and copied the data to the computer. She quickly opened the files and displayed the images on the monitor.


She placed the data chit into the reader and quickly viewed the images.

In this instance, the technology is not a part of the main scene, but simply a part of the background, it is better to let the user imagine how the technology will be used. I’m taking a risk in this example that data devices and readers will be used for many more years. Certainly for longer than CD, desktop computers and monitors. Can the technology remain vague and still be enough to support the story?

Another way you can forward the technology is to look at current advances that can quickly be used now and easily. Google’s driver-less technology is a great example. Cars that drive themselves can be used in a story. This can be expanded to cars available for hire, or as a service like a utility. Current roads and specially marked roads and highways can be used. Looking back at history, roads and highways have always been used, but specific transportation like horses, buggies, cars, large trucks, buses, have advanced as the technology has.

You can set a story a few years from now, or perhaps a few hundred years in the future. People may reconfigure suburbs to villages, which contain everything needed and do most work office from home. Urban areas may remain relatively unchanged. People may still commute to central urban areas, but the commute may be easier with driver-less vehicles such as cars, carpools, and buses. Instead of going grocery shopping, driver-less vehicles may deliver groceries and other local shopping. They may also deliver packages.

This is a small sample of what can be done with technology in a sci-fi story. Your people and characters will still rely on technology for communication, eating, homes, shopping, travel, etc. This technology may be different, but will still have to provide the same functions it does now.