I loved the book Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. It was an amazing story with deep and rich characters, and I fell in love with Etienne and Anna over and over again on each page. That said, the one and only thing that bothered me about the book was the use of technology. Or lack thereof.
The characters have computers and email, but the technology felt very 1990s. Anna was solely dependent on phone calls and occasional email to communicate with her friends and family back in America. I’m part of the first generation to grow up with Facebook, Twitter and everyone in class having a cell phone, so I immediately was confused by the lack of communication. In college, students abroad felt like they were still at school with us through pictures and status updates and instant messaging and Skype. My best friend and I went to high school together, but 80% of our relationship was online based. I spend hours chatting with friends on messenger services. My cousins that live internationally send pictures and messages from their BlackBerry Messenger service so there are no fees. While reading, the emails were entirely text based and there were no mentions of any of the technology that is pretty standard in this day and age.
Did this make a difference in the overall story? Well, yes and no. The characters and the story were still amazing, but it’s anachronistic. How we send and receive information does have an impact on how things play out.
1) Pictures — Anna doesn’t take pictures with her new friends, no one is taking pictures. These days, if you go to Paris (or even the corner market) someone is always snapping pictures of everything and somehow they end up online. Senior year of high school, we took as many pictures and video-taped as much as we could with anyone we could. If Anna went to Paris recently, she would be photographing and uploading like crazy, as would her friend Bridgette. Also, this would have alerted Anna immediately to the fact that Toph and Bridgette were dating or something was going on.
2) Phone calls/email — I mentioned this earlier. My friend joked that I did have a valid gripe with the whole phone call thing once in a blue moon notion, and that today your phone can probably make coffee (hey, there’s probably an app for that somewhere). Also, even though cell phones get mentioned, they’re not as pervasive in the story as in real life. I know people in third world countries with better technology than the novel explored. Anna would have Skyped with her little brother if she missed him so much. The occasional emails would have still occurred, but it being the majority of her communication with her best friend seemed odd. Toph wouldn’t have called her, he would be posting on her wall and commenting on everything she posted. There would have been a greater chance of them staying connected while she was away as well, and I know people who have made their entire relationship digital while the other had to be away and stayed together through the other person’s return. That’s the power of communication today — you don’t have to be there to be there.
3) No Social Network — It didn’t need to be Facebook, but anyone in school in the last few years has an account there. Even when I was in high school, we had Friendster and Xanga and LiveJournal that people used. I can’t imagine a world where you’re not blogging or updating, and the amount of high school drama that caused. Again, this would have changed Bridgette and Anna’s relationship because it wouldn’t have been as disconnected, and Anna would have a clearer idea what was going on back home. She would be spending time looking at profile pictures to remember her friends and relationship status is kind of a dead giveaway. Also, she would have friended her new friends at school and learned more about them that way rather than talking. This is a huge thing that changed the social dynamic of the modern world and how people get acquainted and stay in contact. People don’t ask if you’re seeing someone anymore, they check your profile status. Also, all bands these days keep website or host a web page. To not see Anna fussing over a guy’s website or profile was odd.
Not every current YA story needs to have mentions of technology, but in this particular instance it really dated the book and its author because a subplot was a breakdown in communication due to technological limitations. Basic utilities of daily life were unavailable, and that’s something that makes writing YA difficult these days. The speed of change in the way we communicate rapidly and rabidly changed in a span of less than ten years. I think the college interns should get a peek at these manuscripts to make sure that loose ends like this don’t fray the story.