"Text 'M' for Murder"

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Mon Apr 13 00:23:10 UTC 2009

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

"Text 'M' for Murder"

Matt Richtel writes in the New York Times that the mobile phone has  
thrown a wrench into literary plotting. Thanks to digital technology,  
a simple text message would tell Romeo – spoiler alert – that Juliet  
was only sleeping. Rick would know right away that Ilsa was running  
late. And Kevin’s parents would discover that he was home, alone.

If Richtel’s complaint is true, then mobile telephony means no more  
star-crossed lovers, missed connections, or lost children, and no  
remakes of some movie greats. If Ray Milland wants to murder his wife,  
a phone call won’t bring her to the writing desk, where the killer  
waits behind a curtain, since her cell phone is probably on her  
nightstand. Want Shane to return? Just press 5 to leave your callback  
number. Want  to know what Rosebud means? Google it.

Richtel argues that some of today's writers feel more comfortable  
writing historical fiction because a lot of older technology worked so  
slowly that it was useless for advancing plot. But for anything set in  
the present, the fact of all-email-texts-and-internet, all-the-time,  
means that characters are never out of touch and information is just a  
click away: Deborah Kerr can text Cary Grant from the E.R.; Gilligan  
can google.map his way off the island; and Scarlett O’Hara can take  
the “Which Civil War general are you?” Facebook quiz tomorrow . . .

read the rest of this digitally-enhanced post on the Web of Language:  http://illinois.edu/goto/weboflanguage

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


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