I live in an area where there’s a good amount of cultural diversity, so when I go out, I see people from many different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc. Maybe because I grew up outside a small town where such diversity wasn’t (isn’t) common, or maybe because I’m a writer (and tend to notice different details than many people), but I’ve started noticing interesting side effects when cultural traditions meet and merge with technology. Simply put, cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.
Here’s an example:
Cultural Tradition: Women wearing hijab or other cultural head-dresses that cover their entire heads except for their faces
Technology: Cellular phones, especially smart phones
Interesting Trends: Using the hijab to hold their cell phones, thereby giving them free use of their hands with no extra technology or effort
Is it just me, or is that a brilliant idea? You’re wearing it already, so why not make it useful? It’s a logical response. And common! I’ve seen a variety of women in different parts of the city doing the same thing. It’s an interesting trend that has resulted from the overlap of a cultural tradition and technology.
So (you know what I’m going to ask), how can we use that in our writing?
A Writing Prompt for Worldbuilding with Traditions & Technology
Since you know all about the importance of traditions in worldbuilding, being a clever writer, you’ve already been brainstorming traditions for your world. Now, it’s time to apply the technology – and not only ways to complicate the plot with technology.
Here’s one method of attack for this, but, remember the formula: cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.
- Brainstorm cultural traditions. It could be clothing, behaviors, rules, etc. The more options and the bigger variety, the better.
- Brainstorm technology. Don’t forget: technology doesn’t have to mean computer or electronics-related. Sailing ships are a level of technology. Swords, plows, cotton gins, and long bows are all different examples of technology. Heck, a stone was once advanced technology! So don’t limit yourself.
- Compare your lists and brainstorm ways they could intermingle. Is there a way to make the tradition an advantage for using the technology? Or vice versa? Does the current fashion in your world work really well for carrying / cleaning / concealing / climbing something?
- Adjust as needed. You might need to modify the tradition or technology to make them work better together, but looking at them together can give you ideas for how they can build on each other.
That’s not saying it’ll be easy, and it may not be as clearcut as the example I gave. Still, if the exercise makes the different pieces of your worldbuilding interact more, that makes them more realistic (good enough for me).
It can also…
- add character quirks (Who said that everyone has to use this combination? It could be something only one person figured out – or maybe only one person sees it, and it becomes a trend.)
- make your world more unique (Build it, and readers will come. Build it, interweave the parts in new and interesting ways, and they’ll come in droves – and rave about it to their friends. [That’s how fandoms are born.])
- send your plot in less predictable directions (If your plot is driven by something that is more unique, it will be more unique in turn. If the plot ends up boring or clichéd even with this, then, check what’s driving your plot. Odds are, you went off course somewhere.)
So, say that you don’t manage to think of a clearly symbiotic relationship where the technology utilizes a tradition (although it could be as simple as a handy place to put your glasses). Try it in reverse (usually much easier). If nothing else, see how the two could work together.
What do you have to lose?