Translating the Tech Moment Into Fiction
Fiction has always documented social change. And no matter how talented the author, no one can document the times as well as those living in them. Think of F. Scott Fitzgerald writing about the Jazz Age. Charles Dickens portraying the harsh working-class conditions in 19th century London. Mark Twain observing the societal effects of slavery.
As a writer and longtime teacher of fiction (fiction writing isn’t “taught” as much as “nourished”), I know that there are important stories to be told today, perhaps especially by people involved in the tech community. So, in the next month, I will start teaching a fiction workshop at the San Francisco-based tech accelerator, RocketSpace.
New technologies have been introduced throughout American history. They have destroyed some jobs and created others — often more challenging ones that give rise to new ways of living and doing business. What is different today is the speed at which new technologies are being introduced, and how dramatically those technologies are changing our lives.
The young and young-at-heart who are driving these current changes have rich experiences that could — should — be translated into fiction. In theory, a novelist (or poet, or short story writer) should be able to write about anything. The truest, most enduring fiction comes from the people who have lived the story.
What more natural setting for this new culture to emerge from than San Francisco? Some outsiders look at this burgeoning tech world with hostility: They see arrogant kids driving up housing prices in Bay Area cities. But isn’t it, rather, the New Bohemia?
The new tech culture resembles earlier artistic and literary bohemian enclaves in a number of key elements. Many tech workers ignore the distinctions between work life and private life that the rest of the economy abides by, working late into the night instead of nine to five; often living where they work and living on a shoestring, then gathering over a beer or two (not too much, because they’re going right back to work), to swap stories and contacts. In San Francisco, communal houses are being established in which tech workers can share ideas as well as groceries, dinners and non-work activities.
As early as 1995, when a lot of the people working at tech incubators like RocketSpace were still in preschool, Douglas Coupland published “Microserfs,” an epistolary novel written in emails. (And later, “JPod,” a novel that satirized computer games while updating the tech background.)
In recent years, prominent literary authors including (Thomas Pynchon, Dave Eggers, Gary Shteyngart, and even Isabel Allende have set their stories within the context of real or imaginary (but probably soon-to-be-real) technology.
But none of these authors are themselves tech entrepreneurs. And those are the stories I want to hear, and I believe many others around the world want to hear.
In the next months, as this course develops, I’ll be checking in here at Re/code to share the writing progress of our tech participants. If you’re an aspiring writer in the Bay Area tech community, you’re welcome to join us. If you’re an aspiring writer in the tech community elsewhere, I encourage you not to delay, but to hit the keys.
San Francisco-based writer Donna Levin has taught writing for more than 20 years and leads a novel-writing workshop at U.C. Berkeley. The author of two novels, “Extraordinary Means” and “California Street,” she has also written two books on writing: “Get that Novel Started” and “Get that Novel Written.” Her work has been selected by Boston University for inclusion in its archives of contemporary writers. Reach her @DonnaLevinWrite.