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Which Websites Do Your Characters Visit?

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Paul Whybrow

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I previously posted a thread about What Books Do Your Characters Read?, but it occurred to me, that seeing how we live much of our lives online these days, a character's browsing history would tell a lot about them.

For instance, someone who regularly looked at satirical sites, such as Private Eye or The Onion would be markedly different to someone devoted to the right-wing Drudge Report or Breitbart News Network. It would be a quick way of portraying their stance on a whole range of issues.

For something that's so commonplace an event, surfing the web for pleasure rarely occurs in contemporary fiction, unless the plot hinges on it, of course. In my WIP, my protagonist hero, a Cornish detective, relies on an array of experts to assist him investigate cases involving local history, seagulls, the art market, embalming, sea currents and trawlers. His hobbies include painting, music and wildlife gardening—which I refer to, as they're forms of meditation for him, sometimes opening up ideas about his current murder investigation.

He's just unearthed an ancient ring in his garden, while trying to dig an old tree stump out. It's 600 years-old, and he goes online to find out more about medieval jewellery...which browsing will lead him back to the case he's trying to crack, when he suddenly realises the significance of a clue that's been staring him in the face for weeks.

I've had detectives check facts while out in the field, using their smartphones, sometimes referring to Google Earth to get the lie of the land, when staking out a suspect's house. One investigation required the monitoring of tracking devices that are legally fitted to ships, for reasons of safety, and which the detectives had attached to the offenders' cars and motorcycle. In the same investigation, an informer had his iPhone fitted with software that turned it into a listening device, so the cops could hear him talking to his villain of a boss, via the FlexiSpy website. No longer do stool pigeons need to be burdened with bulky microphones, tape recorders and battery packs taped to their torsos—yet an astonishing amount of modern crime novels still use this obsolete technology—the author not having done their research.

One of the irritating things about crime fiction, is how many detectives and private eyes are portrayed as being inept at using computers—relying on a subordinate officer or a geeky friend to winkle out information for them. Granted, finding a solution online isn't as exciting as the copper confronting a tough guy in a seedy bar, but it's more efficient! ;) I'm sure that many crime writers set their stories in olden times, to simplify the writing, as technology is a rotting albatross around the neck.

I don't recall characters web-surfing in any of the science-fiction I've read. Does it happen?

Presumably romance/erotica stories feature web browsing a lot, as the protagonist searches for a partner—with attendant emailing.

Do your fictional characters visit real or made-up sites as part of the life you create for them?

What about the web surfing of astronauts? Best not think about what excites Klingons or the Borg!

Has anyone written a story that hinges on their characters being addicted to social media?

computers-internet-google-technology-computers-sherlock_holmes-rron1280_low.jpg
 

Inga Vesper

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My latest book contains a lot of social media use - one of the characters is a vlogger. Because they're stuck in Iceland, they are constantly posting about how "amazing" and "profound" everything is, while in real life their hiking trek pretty much goes from bad to worse.

While they're so busy building their online profiles, there are a few things they fail to check, aka the weather, the hiking maps, the recommended equipment.

I wanted to expose exactly that kind of false sense of security that the internet offers. Because people can look everything up all the time, they might easily overestimate their skills and underestimate danger.

One challenge though is to write web-surfing or social media scenes in a way that is interesting. I used WhatsApp and comment streams in my novel almost like dialogue, only with people's online handles instead of their real names.
 

Katie-Ellen

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I look at the Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, The Mail, The Express. I have no favourite. Inquiry, response, not stance.
Sick of a prevailing mood of a certain kind of intellectual snobbery though.

My MC uses IT just doesn't use social media, no FB. Inadvisable for a police officer, he thinks. My brother is a police officer, doesn't use social media at all. I know teachers who don't, for the same reasons.
 

Amber

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Since the beginning of time, busy women, shy women, and even married women have wanted to have a boyfriend which requires no maintenance, no hassle, and no damage to their reputation.

Enter imaginaryboyfriendcentral.com

Meet our charming imaginary boyfriends and enjoy being given all of the attention you’ve been dreaming of with none of the complexities of real-life relationships. Listen to your very own imaginary boyfriend talk about how important you are to him and feel all aflutter with every text message and love song that he mails to you.

If you like the hard-to-get types, we have those too! They will talk about their work and ignore you most of the time. When they deign to send you a message, you will feel so special!

Gift packages and in-person meet and greets with the boyfriends can be purchased as add-ons. The AI amplification factor per real-live man is approximately 1:100 in the base package, but with the premium package, we can reduce this to 1:10, thereby increasing the more personalized, non-AI interactions. In select cities, we can even arrange for the imaginary boyfriend to meet you for a very special date!

Did you ever want to date an athlete, a rockstar, or a talk show host? Watch them perform and then have them all to yourself in a video chat after the show.

We will make these boyfriends seem so real that you’ll never turn to any other type of internet boyfriend again!

Unlike the bad imaginary boyfriends who prowl the internet looking for women to scam, our imaginary boyfriends are 100% safe. You will not be disappointed.

Choose from a wide array of ethnicities, nationalities, and personalities. Switch as often as you like!

Imaginary boyfriend central combines state-of-the-art artificial intelligence with the most charming real-live men on the planet. With our system, we guarantee that you will not be able to tell the difference between the AI impersonator and the real live man you’ve fallen in love with.

Come! Imaginary Boyfriend Central is waiting for you.

(this will be my character's favorite website in the story I'm writing)

Are you sure we’ve always wanted this? Because ... not in a million years and not even a little bit....

It sort of reminds me of a Black Mirror episode but the theme in that story was grief. A woman had lost her husband. Authenticity was also a theme in that episode.
 

Amber

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I previously posted a thread about What Books Do Your Characters Read?, but it occurred to me, that seeing how we live much of our lives online these days, a character's browsing history would tell a lot about them.

For instance, someone who regularly looked at satirical sites, such as Private Eye or The Onion would be markedly different to someone devoted to the right-wing Drudge Report or Breitbart News Network. It would be a quick way of portraying their stance on a whole range of issues.

For something that's so commonplace an event, surfing the web for pleasure rarely occurs in contemporary fiction, unless the plot hinges on it, of course. In my WIP, my protagonist hero, a Cornish detective, relies on an array of experts to assist him investigate cases involving local history, seagulls, the art market, embalming, sea currents and trawlers. His hobbies include painting, music and wildlife gardening—which I refer to, as they're forms of meditation for him, sometimes opening up ideas about his current murder investigation.

He's just unearthed an ancient ring in his garden, while trying to dig an old tree stump out. It's 600 years-old, and he goes online to find out more about medieval jewellery...which browsing will lead him back to the case he's trying to crack, when he suddenly realises the significance of a clue that's been staring him in the face for weeks.

I've had detectives check facts while out in the field, using their smartphones, sometimes referring to Google Earth to get the lie of the land, when staking out a suspect's house. One investigation required the monitoring of tracking devices that are legally fitted to ships, for reasons of safety, and which the detectives had attached to the offenders' cars and motorcycle. In the same investigation, an informer had his iPhone fitted with software that turned it into a listening device, so the cops could hear him talking to his villain of a boss, via the FlexiSpy website. No longer do stool pigeons need to be burdened with bulky microphones, tape recorders and battery packs taped to their torsos—yet an astonishing amount of modern crime novels still use this obsolete technology—the author not having done their research.

One of the irritating things about crime fiction, is how many detectives and private eyes are portrayed as being inept at using computers—relying on a subordinate officer or a geeky friend to winkle out information for them. Granted, finding a solution online isn't as exciting as the copper confronting a tough guy in a seedy bar, but it's more efficient! ;) I'm sure that many crime writers set their stories in olden times, to simplify the writing, as technology is a rotting albatross around the neck.

I don't recall characters web-surfing in any of the science-fiction I've read. Does it happen?

Presumably romance/erotica stories feature web browsing a lot, as the protagonist searches for a partner—with attendant emailing.

Do your fictional characters visit real or made-up sites as part of the life you create for them?

What about the web surfing of astronauts? Best not think about what excites Klingons or the Borg!

Has anyone written a story that hinges on their characters being addicted to social media?

computers-internet-google-technology-computers-sherlock_holmes-rron1280_low.jpg

In science fiction characters generally get their news and communicate with one another over some sort of network. So .... yes you could say they surf the web. It isn’t always called the web, or surfing, or browsing.... but those are our cultural affectations—the technological principle is the same. Interesting factoid .... science fiction characters communicating over a network pre-dates the interweb, the twitter, and the facebook.
 

Amber

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Of course! It is an awful and unproductive coping mechanism for the lonely, but I think that there would be a market for it. There are professional, real-live imaginary boyfriends in Japan who do nothing more than go out for drinks with women and listen to them talk about their day. There are also a lot of romances carried out or maintained via Skype,.. heck, I married my husband after working with him in person but then getting to know him via Skype (and shared vacations). When I made the leap and moved overseas, I felt like a cow that he was very excited about purchasing. How much did I really know about him and his expectations? Not that much. In retrospect, I should've investigated his feelings about his mother more carefully.. but, in general, technological connection gave me a false sense of security and intimacy. I think that adding another layer of technology (AI) to such a story could illuminate the extent to which we are capable of fooling ourselves with these sorts of relationships. How much can you really learn about a person from afar? What if you lack charisma and tact, but you could buy a seduction bot to help you make some person on the internet fall in love with you? That would make for a good story.. Oh wait, that is the story of Cyrano de Bergerac. It is time for a remake! Does that Black Mirror episode in which a geek got coached by a guy who was watching his date via Skype count as a remake?

Oh. By imaginary I thought you meant ... imaginary men. The real-live boyfriends in Japan are real men right? The parties on each side of these Skype interactions are humans. Your husband is real and I think... not imaginary.

I suppose you're talking about imaginary relationships. Which only brings up more questions. Are there imaginary relationships? I don't think so. Taken to the most extreme meaning of the word we have a relationship with everything and everyone we come in contact with--even if it's only for a moment. A relationship is a relationship is a relationship.

What might be indisputable is that there are relationships we don't understand--whose fault is that?

What do lesbians, bisexuals, and those with other types of interests do in a world where we can fulfill all of our desires without consequence. A fake boyfriend would be the most mundane type of interaction explored.

I really think it's a shallow look at the entire subject of relationships and what we can know about one another.

If we're comparing romantic partner vetting systems and looking at how technology has changed them, I suggest looking at the possibilities that haven't been considered very often. For instance, perhaps technology doesn't change anything. Perhaps there is no means of vetting and no guarantee. That has the ring of essential truth.

In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth had plenty of information. She had real time interactions, words and actions. I don't think her mistake was in her means of vetting the various men in the novel. In Elizabeth Bennet's world, the detailed look at how people behave, and the leisure time to examine interactions, created a sense of intimacy without an understanding of big picture ... if only because technology hadn't come along to allow for a more global big picture sort of context. By technology I don't mean social media... think further back... ready access to writing from all over the world is technology .... being able to travel to other countries easily is technology.... migrant communities broaden our context and because migration happens more easily with ships and planes and such ... it's a result of technology.

She wasn't wrong about Darcy. He was a tight lipped reserved wet blanket. She was wrong about what this implied about his value system.

She wasn't wrong about Wickham. He was a free spirited affable man. She was wrong about his value system.

Conversely, technology--specifically interactions available via the internet--offer both more and less information about people.

The fundamental questions probably don't change.

I wouldn't lock myself into the belief that someone has been 'fooled'. To me, the idea that someone has been fooled or bought into something false is more of a beginning than an end. It's not a good conclusion and I'll say why if only because I imagine the statement seems unnecessarily provocative or inflammatory... it's not a good conclusion because it has the tone of good/bad right/wrong real/fake that I think is antithetical to good fiction. Honestly a sort of binary posture more appropriate for machines.

It wasn't the date coaching episode I was thinking about ... there's an episode where a young woman's spouse dies and she gets herself an AI built to look and act like him.

And just to be nitpicky... I don't think you answered the question I asked. Do women really want a relationship they don't have to work for... they don't have to invest in ... is that something women want... honestly... the fact that there are escort services doesn't mean those women aren't putting effort into the relationship. I bet they're getting dressed up and going out. I bet ... they're having these escorts take them places their spouses wouldn't take them ...that's not really effortless but something which requires thought, planning, and preparation.

I bet their emotional investment in these relationships is paramount. It's not no hassle. The only way it sounds low maintenance is that their role is not to please the man they're with ... but certainly there is a hierarchy of demand for certain escorts... and certainly the escorts have the ability to say no to certain clients... they're not slaves ...

And as you said ... this is something unproductive the lonely would take part in ... and so .. yes ... it does impact their reputation... it would.

Prostitutes have a no investment (other than money) sort of relationship with their clients but .... yeah not even then and very few women can master it.

In your scenario I'd say it's the risk which which doesn't appear to be high. Then the question becomes ... the risk of what? Being caught ... caring? Being rejected?

Well. It's been fun.
 

Matnov

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'Whilst eating, I switched on my lap top and logged on. My usual haunts of sports and gambling websites, along with several of a more exotic nature, did not hold any allure for me and for once, I explored the various news sites.'
 

Amber

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Thanks for that thoughtful response, Amber. I liked what you wrote about Pride and Prejudice and how there is no perfectly effective way to vet someone.
And I understand your analysis of the false aspects of the sales pitch I put together, but maybe that says something about sales - false advertising works. The advertiser knows that people would feel ashamed of using such a product, so they open with the statement that there is nothing shameful about it. The advertiser knows that people would waste tons of time on such a product, so they open with the statement that it will save people time.
I agree that women don't want a relationship that they don't have to work for, but they do want one that is safe. This is similar to how people enjoy working on their fake, ipad farms without the hassle and risk of actual farming.
The question of whether or not women would genuinely fall for something that they know is fake is a real one. There is a stage in every burgeoning relationship in which a person imagines that another person likes them - despite scant evidence. Crazy people believe that there is a relationship when there is none and this product would feed that sort of craziness.

I do like the idea of using this concept to explore our relationship to impressions, illusions, reality, and memory. Joni Mitchell did this in Both Sides Now. The illusions and memories remain, while the cynical expectations are forgotten. ImaginaryBoyfriendCentral.com would rely on that dynamic.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and ferries wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way
But now old friends they're acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day.
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I do like that song sometimes.

They call the stage where people believe the other person has attributes they don't have infatuation or cathexis.

I'm not sure at what point this would stop being a romance. I imagine Carol would know more about. It appeals more to me as a sort of philosophical type of story.
 

Webbwalker

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None at the moment. My central character is a bit of a young fogey who grew up with very elderly grandparents. He's not clued in to the 21st century at all, but all that changes in the second book.
 

Tim James

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My current project Main Character is an AI who used to have full access to the whole of the internet and was constantly scanning all sources for information. Now "she" is cut off from it and experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms and having to manage without the permanent connection "she" had before.
 
D

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My current project Main Character is an AI who used to have full access to the whole of the internet and was constantly scanning all sources for information. Now "she" is cut off from it and experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms and having to manage without the permanent connection "she" had before.
Liking the concept @Tim James :)
 
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