High Schoolers reading Romeo and Juliet today probably have a hard time imagining a world in which two people have such catastrophically frustrating communication problems. "Juliet, send the man a text before you initiate a complicated fake death scheme," a present-day Mercutio might suggest. "Drop him a DM. Toss over a Snapchat."
Cell phones have made it damn near impossible to remember a time when you couldn't immediately communicate a pressing need or a fleeting idea. Now, Juliet would be all, "romeo, gonna fake my own suicide. brb." And he'd be like, "k 😍"
But would cell phones really have changed the fate of the Capulets and Montagues? Cell phones can roam and Twitter can go dark and Snapchat might not update. Or *gasp* there's no more data left on the plan! And before the hypothetical end of Internet-age Romeo and Juliet, we're still left with two dead lovers and a super self-satisfied Shakespeare.
So, how would cell phones change the plot of other famous books? Let's explore:
“yo call me Ishm@el!” our narrator texts exuberantly to Captain Ahab at the book’s beginning. The two met through a crowdsourced whale-labor website, where bored Millennials sign up for short stints on the starboard. It’s far from a digital detox, though. The Pequod is equipped with the latest in smart technology to make short work of the White Whale’s elusive habits. A GroupMe with the captains of each fleet lets Ahab triangulate his prey’s location in minutes. “You guys are way better at decision-making than my friends!” exclaims Ishmael. “We can totally apply this to choosing a Friday bar. The ocean has so many lessons.”
There’s little resistance to Ahab’s vicious habits though -- everyone’s too busy Instagramming the views #sorrywerenotsorry. When the team catches sight of the whale, they’re quick to pull up an eHow page on harpooning. (It’s much more succinct than the hundreds of pages it takes Melville.) Things are looking good till Moby’s plunge sends an enormous wave over the side of the ship, drenching everyone’s phones. Paralyzed and lamenting not having purchased AppleCare, the crew watches helplessly as the whale buries them beneath the sea. Luckily, the narrator had pre-scheduled live tweets, so the story is preserved for generations to come. -- Colton Valentine
The Scarlet Letter
Despite her Puritanical upbringing, independent woman and recent Bostonian Hester Prynne has an affair with her hot new minister while her old, gross husband is still abroad. They drunkenly record the very un-Puritanical evening with a camera phone and discreetly title the NSFW footage "A." Hester gets knocked up and it's not long before the whole neighborhood figures out, more or less, what went down.
Soon Hester becomes the target of an onslaught of cyber bullying, slut shaming and general sexist trolling. Rumors spread of the mythical "A" sex tape and, before long, Hester's Instagram feed is populated with tags like #HesterTheHarlot and #PrynnesNoPrude. Eventually Hester’s old, gross husband Roger Chillingworth follows her to Boston and coincidentally moves in with the hot minister, who he found on Craigslist. Said minister, by the way, is suffering from some serious post-coital guilt and getting scary thin. Soon Roger becomes suspicious and, while the minister is asleep, sneaks around the minister’s iPhone archives -- his password was "password" -- and discovers the sex tape he'd been fearing. Roger uploads the footage to YouTube, the tape goes viral, the dudes both die, and eventually Hester resumes her normal life when another loose Bostonian dares to have sexual intercourse and the world forgets about her.
During her grieving period, Hester gets deep into some sex-positive feminist lit, and season 11 of "The Bachelorette," and no longer feels ashamed of her sexual needs. Eventually, when she dies, she has #HestertheHarlot emblazoned on her tombstone, but in a reclaimed, feminist way. -- Priscilla Frank
When Anne Elliot was in college, she was totally convinced her boyfriend was The One. He was tall, handsome, and completely got her. Right before graduation, he popped the question in a huge flash mob caught on their friend’s iPhone camera, and she said yes. But right away, her stepmom and her dad started raining all over her parade. “He’s just some Navy recruit,” they said to each other. “She’s way too young to get married.”
They began to nitpick at Fred until Anne could hardly stand to have them all in the same room, or even mention her fiancé to her parents. Finally, Anne dumped him with a “Dear John” email. Fred was devastated, and so was Anne, but she couldn’t help but think her parents must want the best for her. She joined OkCupid and Tinder, which were hellscapes peopled by finance bros and sexually aggressive assholes. Eventually she stopped trying to date.
Sometimes she and Fred texted, but she was afraid to say she’d made a mistake. Sometimes he told her about new girlfriends and she’d cry afterward, while posting pictures of her looking happy and hot with other guys on Facebook or Instagram, hoping he’d see and feel just as jealous. Meanwhile, he was kicking ass and becoming a big deal in the Navy. Even Anne’s parents seemed impressed when they heard he’d made admiral. One day, he texted that he’d be in the city for Fleet Week. “Get a drink with me while I’m here,” he said. After a few margaritas, they hooked up, and decided the whole breaking up thing had been a huge mistake. -- Claire Fallon
The Catcher in the Rye
"All of my Facebook friends keep sharing their Year in Review videos, and I’m just like, this is so basic. For one thing, it’s not even Christmas yet. Maybe this cold weather has me in a pretty crappy mood, but I’m pretty sure the only fun thing I’ve done all year is run around the Natural History Museum with my little sister, who’s more fun than most people because she doesn’t have a smart phone yet, so we didn’t even use the museum app, we just like, talked and stuff. I just don’t like looking back on things because when you really think about it most memories are just basic people doing basic things in basic places. Sometimes I worry that I’m the basic one. Hell, I don’t even have the guts to delete my Facebook. My teachers and my older brother say it wasn’t always like this, that the Internet ruined everything. I just hope my little sister doesn’t get a cell phone for Christmas. I just want to protect her from all of this basic basicness. I just really need a digital detox." - Holden Caulfield/Maddie Crum
The Count of Monte Cristo
On the eve of our protagonist’s marriage to Mercedes, the d-bags vying for Edmond Dantes’ demise carelessly blab their entire plan whilst historic drunk Caderousse is making his regular rounds on Twitter. “OH, fernand & danglars totally gonna ruin dantes wedding. TBH i dont care. @villefort” Alas, Caderousse has, like, 77 followers and he forgot Villefort’s handle (@procureur4lyfe), so no one catches the drift.
After a stint in prison, Dantes -- newly, the Count -- is flush with cash thanks to the Mad Priest’s whole buried treasure surprise, and his Instagram account becomes the 19th century’s answer to Dan Bilzarian. Through months of careful Facebook stalking, he’s able to successfully seek vengeance on, erm, everyone. Thanks, geolocation. But after all the #drama, the Count/Dantes loses his edge. It takes a “Where Are They Now” roundup on BuzzFeed to remind Dantes of his humble beginnings and validate his entire revenge scheme. “Wait and Hope,” he texts Valentine and Maximilien. “Just Venmo-ed you my fortune." -- Katherine Brooks
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dorian becomes increasingly frustrated as his selfies deteriorate in quality, so he starts dumping more and more filters on them. His Tinder profile has that awkward qualifying note of “looking way better in person” and he devolves into the photo-taker friend at every meet-up. His youthful looks and camera aversion, though, end up inciting massive paparazzi interest -- so he’s hounded obsessively. He ends up going “all Britney” on them, programs a virus to delete every image of him on the Internet, but at the moment of triumph dies from that old maxim: who can live your life if nobody’s watching? -- Colton Valentine
Lord of the Flies
When a plane full of British schoolboys was shot down over a tropical island, the entire world pretty much freaked out. Things got even crazier when two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, remarkably got iPhone service -- bless you, Sprint! The boys managed to stream ABC's "Naked and Afraid," which conveniently taught the basics of making fire, sanitizing water, eating bugs and creating sexual tension. Soon, the boys make two more crucial discoveries: one, they can upload images to Instagram, and two: they can kill and eat boars for a way more satisfying meal.
It's not long before the whole crew gets super tan, buff and Insta-famous, both for their gourmet rustic pork dishes and island-chic boho habitats. However, the boys only share the most picturesque moments with their followers, keeping the bloody pig slaughters, mental breakdowns and murders on the DL. When they are eventually rescued and brought to safety, they weep, recognizing the end of their social media fame. -- Priscilla Frank
After being cyber-bullied through her adolescence, Jane has finally made a life for herself. She’s got a pretty stable job as a public school teacher ― tenure whaaaat? ― and her landlord, Ed, might seem a little cold and standoffish, but he’s become a pretty great pal. OK, so Jane has a huge crush on him. And sometimes she feels like he MUST be flirting with her, in that mean way guys do when they don’t know how to have adult relationships. But when she creeps his Instagram, she sees endless photos of him out clubbing with models, buying bottle service and taking cuddly selfies with one particular chick who seems to keep showing up in the comments to say things like “lol we r just too cute *kissy face*.”
Jane tries to start her own Instagram to build up her self-esteem, but it only makes her feel more self-conscious about her appearance. If the Valencia filter can’t make her as cute as “blanchedbabe47,” what even is the point? Ed, who’s a bit over the whole Instagram party scene, bares his soul to Jane one day: He’s been secretly pining for her ever since she moved in! She’s blissfully happy. Plus, they already live together! Then, Jane sees a text on Ed’s phone while he’s making tacos for their “Hoarders” marathon. From his wife. Yes, Ed actually had his wife saved as “Wifey” in his phone (blech). He tries to deny it, but soon admits that yes, he has a wife, and a second home ― but it’s totally OK because his wife is a crazy bitch and he just wants Jane! Who nopes right on out of there, because she’s a smart girl.
She moves in with some sweet girls across town, even dates their brother John for a while, but there’s just no spark. Deep down, she still misses Ed, but come on, “my wife is a bitch” is the oldest excuse in the book. Months later, her phone vibrates. It’s a text from Ed. “Jane, I miss you,” it says. “I got a divorce. Please give me another chance.” Once she used public records to verify his divorce online, Jane decided to give things another shot. Reader, she married him, and thereafter checked Ashley Madison every month to make sure he was behaving. ― Claire Fallon
The Great Gatsby
“I’m not exactly a city guy, but my cousin Daisy keeps posting super-enviable ‘grams of her and her friends at parties, so I figured I’d give NYC a try. OK, the one of her and her friends at happy hour were lame (what are #squadgoals??), but she swore the breathtaking view of Manhattan’s skyline she posted had #nofilter, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t simultaneously enchanting and repelling. Besides, what better place to hang around in between graduating and starting my 'real' adult life?
"Apparently such beautiful leisure comes at a price -- I checked on Craigslist and the rent in Manhattan is NUTS. Even Brooklyn was out of my price range (gentrifiers are such careless people), so I settled on a little spot in Long Island for the summer, and watched my hopes for rubbing elbows with like-minded, serious people in coffee shops dissolve before my eyes. I have, however, been attending the occasional dinner club get-together at Daisy’s husband’s Tom’s place. It was a quiet summer punctuated by occasional eruptions from Tom, whose investments in various startups have failed to pay off. Quiet, until I got a mysterious Facebook invite -- with 2,500 attendees! -- for a party being thrown by none other than my own Long Island neighbor, Jay. Word on the street is he’s the brogrammer behind Skillshare, and he’s working on launching a wild new app -- GreenLight, which is Uber but for winning over the love of your life -- that’ll be announced at the event.
"I decided at the last minute to go, and the party was pretty meh -- everyone was on their phones the whole time -- but I did learn some crazy gossip from Daisy’s BFF Jordan. Apparently Jay and Daisy matched up on Tinder, and Jay’s been obsessing over her since then, even though they dated and broke up years ago. Obviously Tom is pissed, and even though he was thinking about funding the launch of Jay’s sure-to-succeed app, he’s pulling out completely. If all of this stress doesn’t give one of them an aneurism it’ll be a miracle, but I won’t be around to see it -- I’m ditching this town and applying for Iowa Writer’s Workshop ASAP. I hope my 'Goodbye to All That' essay gets me in.” -- Nick Carraway/Maddie Crum
The entire plot of Anna Karenina takes place in a group text between Dolly, Anna and Kitty. Spoiler: the ending of this very sad Russian tale does not change.
Dolly: This. [photo of Stiva and his mistress]
Anna: OMG on my way
Kitty: what a tool. but at least you have a guy. being single sux :(
Dolly: umm no
(Scroll down a few months. Stiva is so yesterday and Anna’s Vronsky-related negging is out of control.)
Dolly: kitty, how's finding a man going?
Kitty: can't even. @ spa
Anna: oh hun, you should talk to Betsy. she’s THE best. brb watching my husband lose this horse race to my lover 🐎
Kitty: Levin was the right decision guys, right?
Anna: idk divorce is like all i can think about
Dolly: and your son? RIGHT?
Anna: god dolly
Kitty: families are expensive but also great 👪
Anna: i think Vronsky’s cheating on me
Kitty: anna stop ignoring our texts
Dolly: kitty, erm...
-- Katherine Brooks
Clarification: A previous version of this post suggested Romeo would fake his own death in a Millennial retelling of Shakespeare. But, to be true to the Bard's plot, we've corrected the above so Juliet is still in charge.