Preexisting or Made Up?

Have you read a book or seen a movie recently where the technology seemed almost laughably dated, though it was probably cutting edge when the book or movie debuted? I can’t help giggling when Cher (Alicia Silverstone), Dionne (Stacey Dash), and others in Clueless (1995) whip out huge mobile phones with pull-out antennas. Or check out The Matrix (1999), where Nokia phones with sliding covers looked sleek next to landline phones but seem dated to our twenty-first century mindsets. At least the phones changed as Matrix sequels debuted.

clueless3

Dionne and Cher in Clueless

matrix-45-cipher-talking-to-trinity

Trinity in The Matrix

I also giggle every time I watch an episode of an animated show like Justice League from the early part of this century and see someone hold up a videotape or a floppy disk. I used to use both back in the day.

Technology and other aspects of life change so quickly. Kids today might not even recognize some of the items some of us used when we were kids. If you have a spare seven minutes, you might watch this video made by The Fine Brothers last year, which features kids reacting to a Nintendo Game Boy from 1989. Their reactions are priceless.

Nothing dates a book or movie faster than the inclusion of game systems and other products, trendy stores, TV shows, or celebrities. What’s hot today may be cold tomorrow. (MySpace anyone?) But if you’re writing a contemporary book, in order to be realistic and appeal to your audience, you have to mention at least some products, stores, TV shows, or celebrities, right? After all, readers need a frame of reference. It’s easier to mention PS4, because we have a mental picture of what that is. (If you don’t, click on PS4 above.) But consider how dated even that console may seem in five years. Probably as dated as some of the phones below.

evolution-phone

As I work on my WIP, I find myself making up most of the products and celebrities named, the exception being well-known people from the past or sports celebrities who set a record or won a coveted award. Making up people and products is easier than trying to guess which celebrities or videogames will still be popular in four or five years. Maybe some games like Pokémon might still be around. Consider how long it’s been around in our time—since 1996. But I don’t want to take a chance that a currently well-known game system will still be popular or a beloved celebrity still in everyone’s good graces and not incarcerated.

There are some existing products I might keep——like Coca-Cola or Rice Krispies®. Those have been around for decades. But I’m having fun inventing my own games, song lyrics, celebrities, TV shows, etc. Making up products gives me much needed world-building practice.

Rice Krispies

What about you? Do you use preexisting items in your stories or do you make up products, trendy stores, or celebrities? Is it safe to assume that certain products will have a longer shelf life, and therefore are safe to mention?

Alicia Silverstone as Cher and Stacey Dash as Dionne photo from tulsa20something.com. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity photo from photocritiques.blogspot.com. Mobile phone evolution from storify.com. Rice Krispies from Walmart.ca.