The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Crime

O Frabjous Day!

That’s what I exclaimed the day I went online again. The logistics of a cross-country relocation and moving into a new apartment meant that I went without Wi-Fi for several days. Quelle horreur! You wouldn’t think I was old enough to remember the days before Wi-Fi was a thing. I missed being able to connect to the world in an instant.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Desperate

My days spent without made me realize how reliant, dependent even, I’ve become on the internet. How did I manage growing up in the analog age, a time when I had to look up information in a set of encyclopedias (which still take up an entire shelf in one of my mother’s bookcases) or physically go to the library and use a microfiche machine? I had to *gasp* get up and walk ALL. THE. WAY. over to the TV set to change the channel, of which there were only 4 or 5 (6 or 8 if I stayed up late and adjusted the antenna just right). My address book (printed on paper!) only had one line for a phone number because people only had one line, a landline—and no space for an email address. And I had to write each postal address and phone number in the book by hand, with a pencil (using a pen risked having to cross out an entry if the person moved). No electronic contact lists back then.

It Makes You Think

Being disconnected forced me to consciously consider things that I’d come to take for granted. It also prompted me to think about how changes in technology have changed crime-solving. Forensic genealogy, cellphone pinging, GPS tracking, incriminating Tweets—how does anyone get away with it these days?

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art…

Technology has also changed crime fiction. Once I was back online, I binge-streamed a season of Perry Mason, the 1957-1966 TV series starring Raymond Burr. In one episode, Paul Drake, the private detective, serves as a lookout while Perry and his confidential secretary, Della Street, break into an office to search for evidence to help their client. Paul, stationed in a phone booth (remember those?) across the street signals Perry and Della that the police are on the way by dialing, letting the phone ring, hanging up, redialing, and letting the phone ring again. Each time, Paul must drop coins in the phone and speak to an operator. It’s a wonder Perry and Della get the signal in time. Nowadays, Paul would just use his smartphone to text the warning.

The Luddites May Have a Point

But what if a modern-day Paul pulled his phone from his pocket to text Perry and discovered his battery was dead? What if one of those battery power-chewing background apps had drained the power and there wasn’t an outlet in sight? Or he’d left his charger plugged into the wall in his office? Then what? Would he be able to find a forlorn, graffiti-covered payphone hidden away in some smelly corner? Could he scrounge a buck’s worth of change from his pocket to make a desperate call? (For those of you who think no one ever forgets to charge their phone—Hah! You wish. For the rest of you, beware of match-3 games. It takes a lot of battery juice to get to level 482.) Depriving a sleuth—or a villain—of the tech they take for granted opens many potential twists in the modern crime novel.

Your Turn

What are your favorite crime stories that hinge on the presence—or absence—of tech? Or your favorite classic detective fiction that would have to be revised to account for modern technology? If you wanted to complicate things for a character, what tech would you deny them? Comment here, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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