As mentioned last week, changes in technology can be an issue with remakes. Generally, the isn’t a problem for period pieces and works set in an older era; the technology is well understood and can be replicated. Works set in the future can run into the tech curve, but can technobabble* around it. However, works set in the here and now but first produced several decades ago might wind up running into the curve hard.
Fantasy and historical pieces have set technology. One doesn’t expect cell phones, GPS, or the Internet in medieval Europe. Historical research may find new facts on events, but those can be adapted into the narrative or be used as inspiration for a new story. Steampunk adds a new technology, but typically isn’t that much more advanced than the existing tech of the Victorian era. Charles Babbage’s difference engine was never built, but he did have plans for it.
Works set in the future tend to not go into full detail of the existing technologies. The idea is that, like today, the average person doesn’t know the full details of what they’re using. The typical computer user of today has little knowledge of programming languages like C; likewise, in the future, the average user won’t need to know how the system was built but only how to use it effectively. A few works have been affected by technology changes. Most have worked around it. In particular, Star Trek introduced transtater technology as the current state of the art. In 1967, the transistor was cutting edge, but would later be supplanted by the silicon chip. Star Trek: The Next Generation adapted to the change by introducing the isolinear chip, measured in teraquads of capacity, thus allowing for improvements in Federation technology and an out for future changes of real-life tech.
The catch happens with modern and near-future works. The past thirty years have seen computers go from house-sized to handheld, communications go from expensive bulky corded car phones to the ubiquitous smart phone tied to the Internet. Storage capacity has gone from kilobytes to terabytes. What can be done to update a work properly or ensure a work doesn’t age badly?
Roll With It. Ignore the tech curve, especially if the work is set in the here and now. The James Bond movies are a good example. All of 007’s gadgets were advanced for the time they were made, either miniaturizing existing technology or getting creative with existing items. While some gadgets are still not available, such as the BMW’s remote in Tomorrow Never Dies, they are still believable given the computerization of modern cars.
Quietly Accept the Change. If the technology isn’t as important to the story as the events and the characterization, then just use moden equipment and forget it. Why worry about the specifics when the idea in the original work was to show the characters with typical, cheap, or expensive items of the time. Update the idea, not the specifics. The James Bond movies again show a good example. The Aston-Martin DB V in Goldfinger was updated with a Aston-Martin V12 Vanquish in Die Another Day, with the tire shredders replaced by lasers. In both movies, the car represented a high-end British sports car, appropriate for Bond to drive.
Sometimes, though, there’s not getting around the curve. In this case, Avoid Specifics When Possible. Given how fast computer capacity grows, providing specific numbers will date the work. The film version of Johnny Mnemonic ran into this; the titular character was only capable of storing 160 gigbytes in his head, though he took on 320GB. Today, netbooks can have that much hard drive storage, though Johnny had the memory in his head.** Unfortunately, the numbers were needed to give the audience an idea of how much data was being stored. This leads to…
Ignore the Curve. Sometimes, there’s no getting around the technology. The devices are critical to the story. Specifics are needed, even if the values date fast. This situation is rare, but can show up, such as in Johnny Mnemonic as mentioned above. There are still ways around the tech curve. Downplay, if possible, the technology. If adapting, acknowledge the obsolescence. If creating the original work, leave room for creative adaptation.
Finally, Play With the Curve. Not only is the old technology accepted, it’s pointed out. The 2008 film adaptation Get Smart not only brought back the gadgets from the original series, including the iconic shoe phone, but played up the tech difference with cell phones*** and had Agent 86 use the items despite their age. Often, playing with the curve is done for laughs, such as in Get Smart, but it can be done seriously.
Next time, return of the reviews?
* Technobabble: A mish-mash of technical jargon that sounds impressive but means nothing.
** Today, he’d have a USB port at the base of his neck.
*** Though a Get Smart TV reboot did introduce shoe waiting.