The Basics, Part X – “Communication & Disasters”

Welcome to the penultimate entry in the Basics Series (I). Today, dear friends, we will be looking at communication & disasters (natural and otherwise). But before we get stuck into that, I’d like to say that there is still so much more to write and the next series is incoming, so stay tuned!

Communication

Tradewinds, roads, rivers, sea routes, railways, canals; these were/are all routes for transit, and with transit comes communication. With infrastructure comes a drive for communication. The telegraph, carrier pigeon, pony express, cellular phones, the internet – these are but a few examples.

Historically, there seems to be a correlation between the size of empires and the range of their communication. The horse played a pivotal role in that for centuries. Empires within the Americas appear to be linked to how far their messengers on foot (as they lacked horses for hundreds of years) could reach – and I believe, if memory serves, the range is something along the lines of two weeks?

The Mongols created a vast ‘pony express’ with posts that allowed them to change horses; the Persian Empire also had posts along a royal road, and of course, the Romans had a huge network of roads. But let’s not forget that land was more of a barrier for centuries and the true highways were the waterways and seas. From what I’ve gleaned over the years, many armies had to be supplied by sea, Alexander the Great’s campaign against Persia being one such example.

But the more pertinent question is this: How does communication change your setting and your characters’ lives?

Consider the stock market: prior to it being run on electricity and phones, communication wasn’t instant. How would a stock market without electricity and phones run? Does this have any bearing on your characters’ lives? Well, that depends on the story, and whether or not there are economic crashes – such as the Wallstreet Crash.

Texting, images, emails, letters – neural interfacing chips? Would any of these alter your characters’ daily routines? In my NaNoWriMo series, advanced tablets are used (and later, exo and endo neural interfacing devices), and that comes with its own slew of issues – such as bandwidth, viruses, and so on. They are, however, able to commune on a whim, whereas, within my novel series, a letter could take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or even years, depending on where the characters are in the world. This obviously slows down decision making and prevents oversight to the same degree – no video call conferences!

Historically (in Britain), the railways changed everything. People flocked to cities, goods and letters moved swiftly. It completely altered the way society operated, how people lived their lives. Entire towns were built up around the railway industry, and at one point, the railways were the biggest owners of horses – before cars and lorries came along! The railways opened up the country, and there were good things and darker things that came out of it.

I won’t go into some of the nastier details, but I remember reading that it allowed crime to expand, including handing over unwanted infants for a price, something facilitated in newspaper ads. Some of the good involved people to tour the country, seeing things that had previously been the preserve of the rich. It also saw massive migration, which obviously diversified the gene pool. But with more travel came routes for disease – the Silk Road allowed the Black Death to spread, for example.

The Transatlantic telegraph took weeks for the ships to lay – but the result was near-instant communication. How different would the Revolutionary War have looked had Britain had instant-communication with her Colonies in the Americas? Would it even have taken place? “No Taxation without Representation” – but with the telegraph, there would have been no reason not to have that representation.

Communication and transit go hand in hand.

So then the question becomes: what happens when this is interrupted?

Disaster

Here are a few examples of disasters. What disasters can you think of that might affect your story, either directly or indirectly?

Revolution – a coup, a failed coup? How does this disrupt things? Perhaps it occurs in another land, or perhaps in a city your characters aren’t in but maybe a relative/friend is, or maybe your characters are in the city. Perhaps there’s a lockdown. Supplies might be rationed. Maybe there’s a siege, a standoff. Maybe a change in government as a result – perhaps the revolutionaries failed, but the Prime Minister/President/Secretary of the Interior/Whoever is still called to stand down.

Perhaps it’s a religious or financial revolution, or an industrial or agricultural one – not so much a coup in the traditional sense, but a great shift in how things happen. What innovations or changes occur that alter how life is lived?

A Solar Flare/Storm – electronics knocked out. What if the sun starts going through a turbulent phase that presents electronics from functioning? Maybe the ‘constant’ storms (even if these are every couple of years) are too great for the shielding and too costly to keep up?

What about an earthquake shifting/snapping the telegraph cable or oil pipeline(s)?

The birds’ migration shifts due to the planet’s magnetic field altering: how does this affect society? Perhaps it is a hunter-gather society that relies on the annual migration of birds, or the farmers require the birds for their guano, the seeds they bring, or for eggs/meat/breeding with domesticated species.

A plague that devastates civilisation. Perhaps it is so bad that your setting is now Post-Apocalyptic.

A super volcano, such as Yellowstone, erupts.

How is communication helped/hindered by these disasters? What does it mean for the cost of living? How is it reported? Television, radio – propaganda? False news? What about scams, crime? In the space part of my novel series, the race for instant communication is real and is seen as a game changer: distance matters. If the distance is great enough, even the speed of light becomes slow.

That’s it on this post. Hopefully it’s given you something to think about! Of course, there are many ways in which communication is used. Misinformation, even if it’s by a family member, can have a great impact on things. Gossip, rumours, reports… even hearing about the weather all play a part in everyday life! I haven’t mentioned fantastical communication, such as dreams (something I write a fair bit about in my novel series), or virtual realities (which feature heavily in my NaNoWriMo series), but I’m sure with a bit of thought, you can think of many more ways you can impact your characters’ lives directly and indirectly, subtly and bluntly.

Perhaps one of the most moving ways to utilise communication is in the capturing of photographs, audio, and video – perhaps a message left for someone from a person who is now lost to them.

Another form of communication is in books: the reader may never know the author, but that message may resonate with them. And sometimes, disasters can unearth hidden caches, either directly or through rebuilding, or inspire things to be developed.

Have fun! Until next time :).

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