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What is a phone?

I’ve been thinking a lot about phones lately. They feature prominently in one of the novels I’m working on, and I need to make sure I get the details absolutely right.

It sounds like a simple thing, but the challenge has proven to be non-trivial.

For example, what do you call a cell phone? My knee-jerk answer was to call it a cell-phone. On the other hand, it’s a book aimed at kids, and most of the kids I’ve spoken to never call a phone a cell phone. They just call it a phone. In fact, some had never heard of a cell phone.

Okay, that’s one problem solved. A phone is just a phone, regardless of if it’s a cell phone or not.

What about its features? If someone calls you, can you put them on hold, call another number, and then switch back to the original caller? One of my characters does this, and I had one reader tell me that was science fiction. Another disagreed, saying that she can do it with her phone. The first was an iPhone user, the second had an Android phone.

I’m not bashing either iPhone or Android, just pointing out that the different levels of tech present a real problem for a writer. We want our stories to be smooth. The last thing we want is someone to stop reading because “that’s impossible.” The second-to-last thing we want is to have someone stop because “why didn’t he just?”

So.. what should I include in a list of phone features? Should I go with the absolute basics, maybe with texting thrown in? Or should I go advanced, under the assumption that by the time the book is published we’ll either have the new tech or be close enough that people will understand?

I’m going to go advanced, on the theory that most people will not think “that’s not possible,” but rather “shoot, I wish my phone did that.”

What do you think? Good choice or bad?

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Posted June 2, 2012 in Writing