As discussed in January's Round Robin, within the last decade, societal trends have changed quickly. With the growth in the use of digital and mobile devices, it is not strange that these changes show up in fiction plots.
This month's topic is about current issues and trends that have ended up in a story. One trend happening that might not be in stories is that fewer people are reading novels as Christopher Ingraham reported in a 2016 Washington Post article.
Mobile phones, online media, voice-activated devices that take orders and reply back continue to change us. How they are used has led to many social trends and are now frequently an aspect of fiction stories. In reality, individuals are often more interested in what is on their phone than what is taking place around them. Taking selfies, or pictures, or videos about daily happenings and events and posting them to social media has become near obsessive-compulsive as people share many moments of their daily life. Digital relationships seem to have become more important than real-time-and-place relationships. This means social face-to-face encounters are often ignored, or at least, have changed how people interact. Sociologist Frank Fruedi of the Aspen Institute gives more information on how digital and social media are changing our culture and perhaps may produce some intriguing plot lines.
Another trend noticed is how many individuals, companies, and countries are invested in controlling or dividing cultural segments of the population for their own ends, which often leads to encouraging hate groups and increasing prejudices. The partisan attitudes this creates affects how we interact and influences democratic elections and governing by using often incorrect or misleading information. And I'm sure novels exist about computer hacking or about using digital media to manipulate others' perceptions. This trend has happened frequently in history and shown up in novels for a long time as the 1975 movie Rollerball displayed (based on a short story "Roller Ball Murder" the screenplay writer William Harrison had published in Esquire Magazine), but goes much further back to 16th century's non-fiction treatise The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli and the 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells.
Threat and attacks on groups have also become commonplace worldwide based on radical religious or political beliefs. The U.S. has had an ongoing 'War Against Terror' overseas for over a decade while school shootings in the country have become an epidemic. These actions affect public perception not only about the acts themselves but about those who help protect the public from such events. I think this has lead to the trend in contemporary romance stories' many themes of soldiers and first responders as main characters. Deservedly so.
Other trends that might show up in fiction is the use of Uber drivers (which has led to some serious problems, too) and Airbnb.
I also recognize how I have changed. Aging brings its own awareness and problems, but my attitudes have also changed. I worry about any product I use that contains wood. Much of our paper, furniture, home structures, even some of our medicines, use wood, and many are quickly disposed of; so are our forests. Yet the alternative is plastic, and many are careless in their disposal of this product. Awareness about how animals are raised today has drastically reduced how much meat I consume. There is a growing awareness of animals not being the thoughtless creatures believed but creatures with emotional responses and thought processes similar to our own. This has readjusted my opinion of them. Every time I get in a car I consider petroleum's effects on the atmosphere and on the ground. Will these themes occur in my stories? Yes.
These trends could play in developing plot lines in what might develop into some amazing stories in any genre. However, like all story particulars, this type of information needs to be researched and integrated into the setting with care for what the writer's purpose in writing a particular story is.
For more views on social trends in novels visit these authors' blogs.
Dr. Bob Rich