I remember reading an article in the New York Times about the difficulties that cell phones bring to literature. So much of great literature, it argued, turns on the important missed message. When we are always reachable by phone, how can the drama be sustained? To support its argument, there was a cartoon with Romeo and Juliet heaped over each other in their death poses, save that they each were holding cell phones. Their texts ran “Fakin death” and “k.”
The argument isn’t entirely valid—phones die, get lost, go unanswered. Occasionally we are even out of service. (For some reason what keeps popping into my head as an example is the Sex and the City Movie), in which the four-year-old has stolen Sarah Jessica Parker’s character’s cell, and the missed message from Mr. Big leaves her standing alone at the altar. Anyway.)
But it’s easy to put on my Purist hat and agree that something feels lost, literarily, when facts and people are so easily accessible.
Enter the BBC’s fabulous series Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes has been updated, brilliantly, for the modern age. Rather than skirt around technology, the series has embraced it. Sherlock prefers to be texted the details. Watson writes a blog. At one point Watson goes to a crime scene with his laptop, and Sherlock skypes in, claiming the case is not interesting enough for him to leave the house (or get dressed, as I recall).
Those who consider having a wealth of facts at one’s beck-and-call—sans google-search—to be a sign of intelligence might worry that a modern-day Sherlock Holmes would be a less impressive sleuth. The opposite is true. Borrowing from images that will be familiar to any computer-user, the show visually demonstrates what makes Sherlock brilliant: his ability to notice details and then wade through enormous amounts of information until he finds what he is looking for. The fact that the digital age has brought even more information to his fingertips makes him all-the-more impressive.
Faster communications devices are not a barrier to good, suspenseful literature. They are one more way to demonstrate who our characters are. One more way to (mis)communicate fabulously complicated human relationships.