Digital Technology in Mysteries

Person with long, blonde hair sitting at a laptop with hands on keyboard. Photo taken from over their shoulder.

The more I read, the more I notice when digital technology isn’t a part of the story. It’s become a way for me to quickly decipher how old a book is. If I’m reading a novel and there’s no mention of texting or social media, or even Googling something, it sometimes pulls me out of the story.

The thing is, I’ve been a frequent texter for more than a decade. I’ve used social media regularly that long as well. But it feels like publishing has been slower to accept digital technology in stories and it’s only becoming more common in the past couple of years.

Digital technology is such an important part of our lives. Sure, the extent of that importance may vary from person-to-person, but you’re here reading a blog so it’s important to both of us on some level. πŸ™‚

When I read a romance, I like seeing one character Google another. If I’m going on a date with someone or crushing on another person, you bet your britches I’m going to be checking them out online. Not only for curiosity’s sake, but for my own safety. My true crime obsession doesn’t help.

It’s even more glaring to me as a reader of mysteries. Particularly when a sleuth is a millennial or younger (late 30s or below). I’m at the upper end of the millennial group, which means I’m part of a small subset of millennials who remember life before cell phones and computers, but they’re important to how I operate daily because they were introduced during childhood. That’s the big difference I see between myself and my parents. When I’m curious about something, one of my first instincts is to Google it. That’s not instinctual to my parents because these digital technologies were available later in their lives.

So, when I read about a sleuth in their 20s or 30s (at least, but not limited to those ages), I expect to see them using the internet in their investigations or slyly using their cell phone to record someone, or sending out a help beacon from their Apple Watch if they’re in trouble. Granted, age does not equate to technological comfort and skill. I have friends who don’t have a social media presence and only switched from a flip phone to a smartphone in the last year or two. But, to me, that’s the exception not the rule.

I feel like I see the use of digital technologies more in television. Hallmark has been doing a great job of incorporating texts, video chatting, internet searches, and more into their movies (I’ve been watching Hallmark movies pretty non-stop since June). I’m not sure if it’s because authors are hesitant to write it, publishing professionals advice against adding a technological shelf life, or some other reason I haven’t thought of.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot during revisions of my cozy mystery. I’ve been intentionally trying to find ways to incorporate digital technologies.

Do you incorporate digital technologies in your stories? Do you think there’s a trend toward seeing more of it? Curious about your thoughts!


9 thoughts on “Digital Technology in Mysteries

  1. I am active on social media, have had a cell phone for years, and consider that all part of life. However, it does not play a large part in what I write, not do I look for it in books/stories that I am reading.

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  2. I’ve made it an ongoing part of my series that my protagonist, young through she is, prefers a simple little flip phone. I was recently comparing flip phones with a young woman who works at the spa where I teach yoga. Hers was even smaller and lighter than mine. Neither of us has ever felt the need for a smart phone. I was sorry to finally have to shut down my very, very tiny slide-front phone that was less than four inches by two inches and fit into the little zippered pocket on the band that slides around my hand on my Amphipod running water bottle. Less that 5.8 inches is apparently considered small for smart phones. I know quite a few people who don’t use smart phones. It may be a cultural oddity of Truth or Consequences and our surrounding Sierra County, New Mexico. I know people who aren’t even on the grid at all, who don’t use e-mail or internet and have landline phones, people who don’t have Facebook accounts. An hour hanging out in a coffee shop in town will be as good as Google, if you nwat to ask questions about someone. I learn a lot by just encountering friends and acquaintances on the street. Of course, most people of all ages do have smart phones, but a fair number of others–of all ages–don’t. I’m glad I set my books here. There are cellular signal dead zones, off-the grid folks, plenty of opportunities for having to rely on something other than the phone. Of course, I use them in my stories, but I also like being able to limit them.

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    1. I think you’re using a lack of technology very well! I really enjoy reading stories where it’s explained why the technology isn’t there and how that adds tension, and it sounds like your surroundings are the perfect place for that. I find it jarring when it’s a big city or someone who otherwise seems to be around tech devices and references using them for other things, doesn’t also employ them in their investigation.

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  3. Lisa, Great post! I do use technology in both my mystery books. Because one character is an amateur sleuth she does a lot of online searching. πŸ˜‰ And my Gabriel Hawke character tends to be searching for things without his police gear a lot. I have a question- I tend to say online searching rather than using the word Googling. I thought maybe the word might be copyrighted?? I also wonder at current books whose characters don’t use technology.

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    1. Love that! I’m not sure if it’s copyrighted or not. That’s a good question! My guess is that maybe if used in a lowercase form, it’s become common vernacular and wouldn’t stand up as a copyright since it’s referring to an action instead of a company. But I really have no idea and I just kind of guessed at that lol.

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  4. As cell phones have become more common, my characters use them more. If a character doesn’t have one with him or her, it’s often a plot device–leaving it behind to charge, or finding it won’t charge in the car just when it’s needed. But the world of the mystery definitely has to reflect–in people and technology–the world we live in today.


    1. That’s a great point! I love it when the lack of technology is used as a plot device. The dead battery is *so* relatable.


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