Nearly every contemporary fiction novel would seem like science fiction to anyone from the past. Times move on and inventions come and go that improve our everyday lives, making us wonder how we ever did without them. Apparently we’re all so busy these days we don’t have time to peel the vegetables, or go shopping for groceries, or read a map, or flick the heating on in our homes.
That’s where great advances in technology become so useful. It’s because life these days is 100 miles an hour and there’s just not enough hours in the day.
Or maybe it’s because we’re getting more lazy. Yeah, probably, but don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into some kind of ‘everything was better in my day’ rant. I’m not that old anyway!
But in saying all that, I do believe that technological advances are the horror writer’s wet dream. As civilisation increases its dependence on gadgets and inventions, the more avenues open up for us to be scared of these things that should be there for the enhancement of our lives. What a pool of ideas the horror writer has at their disposal. That is, of course, depending on whether the story is well told and the technology mentioned is realistic and relevant.
Obviously this isn’t a new concept. Society has always looked back a couple of hundred years and chuckled at how primitive their ancestors were in their ideas. The opposite would also be true. For the so-called primitive races to look into the future would ask ‘By the Gods, what is this thing you call a computer? It’s the work of the Devil!’ We’ve always been scared of stuff and always will be, and the more stuff there is in life, well I made this point just a minute ago, so I’ll move on.
Many years ago storytellers could describe drawings and photographs in their tales. A ghostly shape appearing when developing a roll of film, or a portrait taking on a deadly persona. I think there may be a classic story about a picture, maybe. A freaky photograph can still bring shivers to the spine, and an artist painting demonic images that they didn’t remember doing are timeless subjects open to all sorts of interpretations. There’s quite a significant scope of ideas available, and this is excellent news.
Then there was the telephone. No longer could people only be scared by people they saw or spoke to in the street, or even the chilling voice that whispered into their ear as they lay in bed, surrounded by darkness. Now there were strange phone calls to deal with, too. Muffled voices could send messages of terror through the phone lines. Heavy breathing on a bad line is a classic, but it’s still scary. Notch the scares up by one.
After the phone came the television. Those strange images, previously only available in photographs and pictures, could now move and interact with the viewer. Fast-forward a few(?) years and suddenly we could record and view these images with the use of a video player. Cue the ‘cursed video’ stories where characters could be haunted and stalked in a whole new and terrifying way. It may have taken a while for TVs and video to become widely available enough for the reader to really relate to the story, but once they were… [shudders in a cold sweat].
Then came the fear of computers taking over the world. This, I presume, was a very real fear for a lot of people who didn’t really understand the technology behind them, back in the day. But what if they were right? That giant monolith of a computer may have only been a glorified typewriter to many, but when it was turned off was it really off? Or was it simply laying in wait to destroy its master and plot the eventual downfall of the human race?
Mobile phones, much like the first computers, were not entirely trusted initially (maybe they still aren’t). Were phone calls being screened, were people being listened to, was it all part of the great conspiracy involving The Illuminati or followers of The Great Cthulhu? The handset may have been a brick back then, but maybe it had some kind of malevolent intelligence that was just waiting to strike. Plus holding them to our heads could have been frying our puny and receptive brains with murderous thoughts that would one day cause us to do great harm.
Text messages soon arrived on the scene and these could contain threats and harrowing information, delivered straight to us, wherever we happened to be. Describing the reverberating sound of the old school Nokia ‘beep-beep, beep-beep’s became something every reader could relate to. And what if that beep signalled, I dunno, DEATH???!!!
And now here we are in 2018 where the internet is thriving. We bank with it, control our heating with it, educate ourselves with it, work on it (and read blogs!!!); it’s slowly becoming something we absolutely depend on. What if this saviour of humanity is simply sucking the life out of our species and will rejoice once it controls us completely?
That strange letter from a dead relative (or even the enemy of our protagonist) evolved over time to a video or interference on a TV. Then it was text message, and now it’s an email staring out with venomous eyes from our inbox. The threat of computer viruses and fraud is one we’re very wary of (or should be), but what if the virus has the ability to morph through our screens and infect us? Cue internet-inspired murderous rampages.
Of course with the internet comes YouTube. It’s everywhere; on social media posts, blogs, and websites for everything from business analysts to cake bakers and plumbers. Everyone seems to make and post videos these days, and it’s so easy to do so. The rise of the Creepypasta tales has taken this branch of technological horror to a whole new level, one we wouldn’t have ever considered maybe only ten or fifteen years ago.
And all of the above can now be condensed into one simple, handheld, touch screen device. Just think of the endless possibilities available to scare the liquid shit out of readers with all this in one place? Is your smart phone watching you, is it planning your demise? I hope not, you may stop reading this if it is. But having something we’re so accustomed to being the source of the horror in literature is a realistic and terrifying proposition. No wonder the horror genre is alive and screaming.
In summary then, gone are the days that an evil spirit could only inhabit a house or an inanimate object; now they can possess a photograph, a phone, a TV, and the internet. Instead of good old-fashioned stalking by hiding in a bush and posting your pubes through the letterbox, you can now be stalked online, where no one is really safe. This is most harrowing because it actually happens in reality. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; the literal ghost in the machine will find you anywhere. Where will these horrors ever cease?
What will be next? I’m sure in another ten or twenty years we’ll have a whole new host of horror sub-genres making full use of the further advances in technology. Whatever they are, it’s going to be some frightening shit. And I for one, can’t bloody wait!