Information flows like liquid gold through our culture and society in this day and age. And I can't help but think that detective fiction as we know it is over. In Black Betty the main character actually drives around questioning people for information. Today he'd be text messaging, internet file browsing, GPS monitoring, phone tapping... Likewise, Marlowe's driving around looking for a Dr. V and meeting people randomly in a bar. In Skintight Stranahan lives in a little house on stilts away from everyone and has to fight off assassins who actually sail out to his place. Who lives that far away from technology anymore, and still stays in the game? In Birdman the closest they seem to get to something like the internet is the slow process of shifting through files about hospital employees. This frustrates the crap out of me. We have CSI and mysteries and crime solving brigades that collect the tiniest bits of information... but it seems boring compared to detectives actually having to sneak around or obtain information like they do in the novels we've been reading. Today someone like Marlowe would push a few buttons, maybe bully some contacts with blackmail information gleaned from hacked emails and instant messenger conversations and shabam, info. Or maybe tap some phones. Hack some IP addresses.
Today a lot of our crimes are facilitated by technology. Guys on the Fox News (i hate fox news) crime watch track down women in chat rooms and rape them. Teens pose as teachers on MySpace and teachers pose as teens and everyone messes with everyone else. You can stalk your classmates with Facebook. You can look up the people you graduated with on those stupid adds on websites. Or even hire someone to figure out your family tree. Everything is fast exchange of information. Snail mail is becoming obsolete- a mere formality. Satellites can read a license plate number from space. People like Martha Stewart wear ankle things that little men watch on screens to make sure they aren’t escaping house arrest. Along with the ease and power of information trafficking comes the abuse of that power and ease. Crime is born, the elusive kind of crime that doesn’t leave a paper trail but a cookie trail, or a web history trail, or an email trail…
It’s so BORING compared to someone like Stranahan in Skintight getting down and dirty, and the chasing where the big guy with the cornflake face flies on planes to get where he wants to be to kill someone he doesn’t know, and the action that happens when someone has to physically hunt stuff down instead of getting fat drinking Dr. Pepper in front of a computer screen like I’m doing right now.
Who’s going to write a book where Easy Rawlins is hired to find Black Betty, so he sits down at a computer, logs on to the internet, and sends out a mass email?
People tell me that advances in information technology don’t make the process easier, just quicker. It’s true. You still have to pick the hairs off the jacket of the dead body and fight people like Potter who have enough money and good enough connections to keep information from flooding onto the scene before you can use the internet to hunt down your suspects through the files and databases. We just get more and more ridiculous, implausible-seeming stories now. We have to entertain ourselves with massive conspiracy theories and stories like Alias about crazy technology that makes almost anything possible. The chase scene has been replaced with the FBI showing up to arrest some pale nerd who stole money with a scam website, or the police showing up at a family’s home to say “Ma’am, your son illegally downloaded a Justin Timberlake song, and now he’s going to pay!”
I guess the heart of detective fiction is the f-ed up nature of humanity and the twisted inner workings of our strange, dark psychological existence. We can’t really get rid of that. I guess it’s an entertaining if not good thing – makes for really sick stuff in crime watch articles.