It's A Small Net After All
Even though the Internet has technically (kinda, sorta) existed since the 1960s, not everyone foresaw the impact it would have. And writers still
seem to have trouble getting their heads around it.
One result is that it is totally absent from many shows set Twenty Minutes into the Future
Another is that TV shows never seem to really grasp just how big
the Internet is.
One example of this is that Google
(or more likely Bing
, or Finder-Spyder
) comes off as an Omniscient Database
: on the first try with a search engine, you will either get all the relevant documents and no irrelevant ones, or you will get a canonical response that the thing you're looking for does not exist on the Internet. Never has someone typed something in and gotten ten billion mostly irrelevant hits (well, almost never — see examples). And one false click never buries you in a quicksand pit of porn popups
Another is that there is exactly one instant messaging service. And everyone is a subscriber. And everyone knows everyone else's handle. You can message anyone you want at any time without having to sign up for a new service or even search for their screen name.
And speaking of screen names, everyone gets something short, pithy, relevant, and unique. No one is ever "JAnderson789" or "buffyfan2001". Even if you want a short, really hip handle, it will be available as if it were reserved for you. And no one names themselves after characters from other TV shows. Also, everyone has exactly one online identity, which is their email address, instant messaging handle, their handle on every bulletin board, the underground identity by which they're known in the illegal hacking community, and the name they use on Usenet (caveat: Usenet never actually exists on TV, except for alt.nerd.obsessive
. Or alt.conspiracy.black.helicopters
). You'll never run into someone who uses the same handle as you on a different service (There is, after all, only the one service. In TV Land, AOL is
, as they claim, the Internet). Email addresses rarely include a domain name.
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Anime and Manga
- Azumanga Daioh averts this one. Late in the series, Sakaki types in a search engine "cats", a super-generic search term, and gets thousands and thousands of random matches; then she types "Iriomote cat", also a rather generic search term, and it looks like one of the very first matches is a news article about an Iriomote mountain cat that died after getting run over by a car, who also seems to be Mayaa's mother. Note that the Iriomote cat is a very endangered (due to the erosion of his habitat) species found only in Japan (and very beloved by the japanese as one of their last wild animals) with a population of under 100. A news item about such a rare animal being killed by a car would likely rank highly in most search engines as a very popular news story.
- Apparently played straight in episode 4 of A Certain Scientific Railgun, where some characters look up the urban legend of "The Undressing Woman" on the internet. Immediately they found several websites dedicated to the myth, but there's no mention of any other sites. However, closer inspection makes in clear that Saten doesn't just google the term, but writes in on the search bar of some web forum focusing around urban legends and conspiracy theories. Those would be less likely to show outright porn on the subject matter.
- Midori Days has, in one chapter, Seiji trying to learn how to use the internet with Midori's help. So they try a search engine. Seiji tries looking for porn right away. Later, Midori decides to look up her own name, and is surprised when she finds a search result. Try Googling your first name. You'll find a result, almost guaranteed. Though it does become justified in their surprise when that website is dedicated to the actual Midori. In fact there were a huge amount of hits, which makes sense since "midori" is Japanese for "green" and she says as much, they only clicked that one because it said net idol Midori.
- Subverted in Puni Puni Poemi. Aliens trying use the internet to learn about humanity find nothing but porn. And they're completely fascinated by it too. But given aliens normal activities that's not too surprising.
- In Chobits (set Twenty Minutes into the Future) a character has the username "M" which he apparently uses for everything online. That implies a small Internet indeed. Chobits also has a technical example where the protagonists visit a video platform and download a video about an incident they occured fairly recently - it's basicly a point-and-done matter because finding said video and downloading it was finished in barely 10 seconds. Turns out the incredible download speed happened because the house was wired with military-grade technology which allows truly insane leaps.
- When Spider-Man revealed his identity as Peter Parker to the world, the ensuing amount of people googling "Peter Parker" brought down the entire Internet. Yes, even the porn sites. That was the Crowning Moment of Funny for all of Civil War.
- In Final Crisis it took Oracle a series of key strokes to shut down the Internet.
- Played with in an issue of Gold Digger when Charlotte the harpy inadvertantly slows a fully-fledged comic book supercomputer down to a crawl by naively trying to "download the internet".
- In the Russian movie Night Watch, the Night Watch's analyst uses a popular search engine's "search the future" functionality to search for "accidents in Moscow". The search returns exactly one result: a yet-to-happen plot-relevant plane crash, which the heroes then have to avert.
- The sequel Day Watch does avert this trope when dealing with computers. Big Bad Zavulon's MSN Messenger handle is "email@example.com", with a number, and his username is "Z@vulon", with a symbol unusual for fictional usernames.
- The horror series Final Destination shows this trope in the sequels:
- In Final Destination 2, a character uses a generic search engine to search for "Flight 180," the doomed flight from the first film, and instantly finds what he's looking for. A bit justified, as it is established in the movie that the events of the first movie are well known in the movie world, though usually dismissed as an urban legend. A scene where a character finds directions to an insane asylum with a Google maps stand in without typing in her location might appear egregious unless the location is all cookied up.
- First hit on Google for 'Flight 180' is a link to the Final Destination Wiki, so even in the real world it works.
- In the third movie, one of the characters says he did some searching on the Internet. The search isn't actually shown, probably due to the fact that the character wasn't actually looking up Flight 180, but rather "premonitions." It actually wouldn't be very surprising, given that the events of the first movie are so well known in the world of Final Destination, if there was a Wikipedia article on it, which Google would place up top of a "Flight 180" search.
- In the movie Mission: Impossible, Ethan Hunt does an Internet search (which appears to be a Usenet search) for "Job," as in the Biblical character. This turns up nothing. He then modifies the search to "Book of Job," and finds what he was looking for. It would have been considerably more accurate and amusing if his first search, instead of turning up nothing, had come up with hundreds of thousands of listings submitted by employment agencies and resume services.
- The remake of Carrie subverts this. When Carrie does a search for "miracles" so that she could learn about her psychic powers, she has to dig through a bunch of results that have nothing to do with what she's looking for (including a site advertising "miracle underwear"). Still, she's able to find the information she needs without having to go to the second page.
- Early in the film Wanted (and also in one of its trailers), James McAvoy's character Googles himself (without quotation marks!), and, in an illustration of how insignificant his life is, no results are returned. So apparently no pages on the in-film Internet contain either the words "Wesley" or "Gibson"...
- Note, however, that before the character in question takes a level in badass, his own daydreams insult him; for example, when he checks his bank balance at an ATM, the machine itself calls him a loser via its text display. The terribly demoralizing Google search could just be another instance of this.
- Averted in Catwoman, of all places. When Halle Berry looks up "cats" on Google, she gets a ton of irrelevant hits of little old ladies dressing their pet cats in ridiculous costumes. She then tries the more specific search "cat worship"; although this does cue a creepy plot-relevant montage of cat cults throughout history, the images she gets are believably of the sort you'd expect to get if you tried to search that on Google.
- Averted in Scary Movie 3. When Cindy is searching the internet for information on a plot-relevant location, the audience sees her face express fear and horror as a creepy melody plays in the background. Naturally everyone assumes she has found the information... until the camera shows the screen, revealing that her "horror" comes from the fact that popups are spawning faster than she can click them away.
- In the movie Eurotrip the main character's email address is blocked by his German penpal after he sends her an insulting message while drunk. Rather than do the unthinkable and simply open a new email address, he reacts in the most logical manner: he hitches a flight to Europe with his stoner buddy in hopes of getting to Berlin and telling her in person that he's sorry.
Live Action TV
- War of the Worlds: Kinkaid's handle is "Rogue". Other people on the network are "Lonelyheart" and "Ace". The Internet has a total population of about six.
- So Weird: Fiona's handle is "Rockerbaby" (she's the daughter of two rock stars).
- Joan of Arcadia: Luke's handle is "gravity_boy", a rare example of an underscore on TV.
- An early episode of Law & Order had detectives discovering the identity of a hacker because his screen name was "SlapShot" and the suspect was a NY Ranger's hockey fan. Apparently, only one hockey fan in all of Manhattan had a computer with Internet access (no jokes about the actual number of hockey fans in Manhattan or in the American general public, please). Police Procedural shows like Law & Order and similar shows (such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and NCIS) will throw in every stereotype they can that fits under this trope, for a variety of reasons.
- When (on The West Wing) Josh posted to lemonlyman.com, no one stopped to consider the possibility that anyone other than the real White House Deputy Chief of Staff would post under his name. Granted, the whole affair was based on what happened to Aaron Sorkin when he posted to the forums on Television Without Pity...
- This contrasts strongly with a Real Life incident where Babylon 5's Claudia Christian posted to a B5 discussion group, only to be chased off by the regulars as an allegedly clumsy and unconvincing impersonation!
- David Duchovny claimed the same thing happened to him in an X-Files chatroom.
- Max Barry claimed it happened to him in the NationStates chatroom.
- This happens Once A Week on the Colbert Report forums. General consensus is that either no one is Stephen, or everyone is; one theory is that Stephen is amusing himself by trolling his own fans and pretending to be poor impersonations of himself. Given who we're talking about here, it's entirely possible.
- In the 90's, Phish's bassist Mike Gordon logged into a Phish chat room on AOL under the nick "FakeMike". People would ask him questions like, "If you are Mike, what are the chords to 'Bathtub Gin?'" or something but he had a mental block and couldn't think of any of the right answers.
- An episode of CSI: Miami, "Urban Hellraisers", had a rare example of this that inconveniences the characters: the team is unable to get the details of the plot of a GTA-alike from its developer, and therefore has to resort to playing the game themselves to work out the storyline that a group of criminals is re-enacting. It seems that walkthrough sites don't exist on the CSI-universe Internet. Similarly, there's no such thing as a Save Point or Check Point, since they had to start the game over from the beginning every time they lost.
- A similar event happens in a Law & Order: SVU episode, where two detectives — and later their captain — play a game enjoyed by a reclusive child who is also a murder suspect.
- An episode of Arrested Development shows a Google search for "Sacremende" generating no results, not even a typo. Careful examination of the frame reveals an unprintable character inserted after the word to force this result.
- In a hilariously ridiculous example from iCarly, Freddy, Carly and Sam look up "chicks" (as in baby chickens) on the Internet. Everyone watching probably knew that anyone searching for chicks on Google probably... wouldn't find baby chicken on the first page, let alone the first slot. Made even more hilarious by the fact the site they go to is called chicks.net, a giant website all about baby chicks.
- Reality Is Unrealistic here; Googling "chicks" does in fact give a website about chickens in the top three. And the actual Chicks.net has nothing to do with poultry or porn.
- For the curious, it's the personal website of Christopher Hicks.
- And they actually went on a site called Chickipedia, which is in reality the name of a wiki of hot women.
- Then there's the somewhat surprising fact that Jack Chick's website tends to be at or near the top of the search results. You'd never think of such a thing if you were searching for either babes or poultry (or if you were writing a fictional TV show)—and yet, apparently Mr. Chick has good enough search engine optimization to be easily noticeable to someone performing that search.
- And that's not even getting into the numbers of hits and comments (none of which seem to be "OMG U SUXORZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" or requests to put shoes on their head) their webcast gets.
- When you think about it, it seems that their webcast is the center of the internet.
- Granted that in the TV Movie iGo to Japan, the plot is that there are entered for and eventually win an award for "Best Webshow", so an unusually large number of hits or comments may be justified.
- One episode of the Colbert Report had Stephen states that he prints out all of Wikipedia every week. He produced a large stack of papers and while he said this was only part of what he had printed out, (exact numbers escape me) considering the Wikipedia entries on Marvel and DC comics characters alone they appeared to severely underestimate how many pages Wikipedia would take up.
- How I Met Your Mother pushes this a bit, with websites and domain names set up with apparent ease. A timer-based countdown to a date isn't so implausible, even if the characters haven't mentioned any specific knowledge of how computers work, but setting up an online shop overnight seems a little bit dodgy.
- There are quite a few websites that let you do just that, Cafepress for one, and with basic knowledge of their API you can indeed set up something half decent overnight.
- There are also open-source web frameworks, such as Magento and Drupal/Ubercart, to let you create an online store in an hour.
- You can buy a domain name from any number of companies using a credit card, and have it pointing at a website within just a few hours (the time-delay due to the machinations of the internet Domain Name System). Assuming your ISP updates its records in a timely fashion.
- Worth mentioning, by the way, that most of those websites exist in Real L- er, Real Cyberspace.
- Averted in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, where the character Craig spends most of his screentime filtering through results he got when searching for "baby". Apparently he comes across more than one fetish site.
- In an episode of Psych, known for eye-line matches to objects that glow when fake-psychic Shawn looks at them, Shawn deduces that the murder victim was secretly a well-known on-line comic book critic by noticing random, non-consecutive letters in the blogger's screen name.
- In another episode, Gus recognizes a missing poker player's screen name from an online poker site because he too plays online poker. Apparently there is only one online poker site in existence, and it's small enough that someone would recognize the name of another random player.
- In another episode, Gus Googles the name of a park and gets zero results. Shawn suggests he adds "ing", and they get info on a parking lot with that name.
- Parodied on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! with "The Innernette," which is contained on one CD-ROM. Marketed as a safer alternative to the real Internet, since your computer isn't actually connected to anything. It includes an "online retailer" that requires a fax machine and a "chat room" with some extremely dense "AI's":
Tim: HEY. WHAT ARE YOU DOIN UP? :)
Prof. Hinsley: FINE
Tim: LOL. WHAT'S UP?
Prof. Hinsley: FINE
- Also parodied on The IT Crowd, where Roy and Moss convince Jen that the entire Internet is contained in a small black box that is usually guarded by "The Elders Of The Internet" atop Big Ben. They do this so that Jen will humiliate herself during a speech to the company shareholders, but are horrified when everyone at the meeting believes what she's saying is true...and then pleased again when the "Internet" is destroyed, and pandemonium breaks out.
- Defying Gravity: One of the astronauts explains how they've fit hundreds of movies and YouTube into their computer's databank. Yes, all of You Tube.
- When it comes to "all of YouTube" the burning question isn't so much how, it's why... all the fanvids? Guitar Hero playthroughs? 2G1C reaction shots?
- Averted a couple of times on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy: Maybe The First isn't ready for modern technology. (Googles "evil") "Displaying results 1 through 10 of 900,517." OK, I gotta narrow this down. I'll call you back. (No way to know whether this was an accurate number at the time, but it's sure as hell a lot bigger now.)
- Played straight in the first-season episode "I Robot, You Jane" when Buffy consults a computer geek who informs her that anytime you have an e-mail address to start from, "you can pull up someone's profile based on their user name." Although this may have been slightly more likely to be true in 1997 than it is today.
- And actually more likely now, thanks to all the facebooks and stuff. Using e-mail instead of username also appears to be gaining on popularity (with or without another screen name). The Internet changes quickly.
- "Rose", the first episode of the Doctor Who revival, averts this to some extent — when she searches the Net for "The Doctor", of course all it brings up are medical sites. ("Doctor blue box" is apparently specific enough, though.) This search in real life will result in results for the series.
- In the same season, a Dalek, in the span of about two minutes at most, downloads the entire internet through a single computer monitor it just smashed its plunger into. Equally implausibly, it drains power from the entire West Coast of the United States through that same broken monitor.
- Torchwood already features a lot of Hollywood Hacking, but notably has one very silly example in the middle of an otherwise extremely serious and tense encounter with a demon:
Ianto: "I've searched for "I shall roam the Earth and my hunger shall know no bounds" but I keep getting redirected to Weight Watchers."
- Averted on Desperate Housewives, where a suspicious Edie has difficulty finding any information on the season's Big Bad due to him having the very generic name Dave Williams.
- Averted in the Bag of Bones miniseries when Mike Noonan does a search for "dark score crazy" and returns at least one page of irrelevant results.
- In Hustle, Ash is able to set up professional looking websites for fake companies in a matter of hours. Possibly justified as this is his job as the team's fixer, and he probably keeps a few dummy sites operating at all times that he can quickly customise. However, in "Gold Mine", he is seemingly able to get a site up and running in the time it takes Danny to spin the tale to the mark. And he always manages to get the sites to show up near the top of any mark's search page.
- In the Boston Legal episode "BL-Los Angeles", Alan Shore was arguing to a jury that a client (a recent participant on a small-time "reality TV" show, played by Jeri Ryan) was unreasonably harrassed by paparazzi who could track her every move via people reporting "sightings" of her on the internet. In his arguments, he shared personal details of various jurors and court personnel, which he said he gleaned from simple searches on them on the internet—and the jurors were visibly shocked at how much information could be had by any stranger who knew their name and the general area where they lived.
- In the Star Gate SG 1 episode Hathor Carter is able to quickly track down details about Hathor's true nature online despite little experience with any kind of mythology and the very unreliable nature of non-scholarly websites when it comes to mythology. For this kind of task, Daniel would have been the perfect match.
- Averted in My Family. Ben wants to look up another dentists homepage, using the search term "oral". The results are predictable.
- Parodied in Pearls Before Swine. The alligator first hears about the zebra's new ally, Google. Enter a storyline where all the gators try to kill Google.
- The SNES version of Shadowrun pre-dates wireless networking, but apparently not Minesweeper, hence the maze-like minigames.
- Averted in Chaos;Head when Takumi tries looking up NOZOMI and reasonably enough gets tons of useless results since, for all he knows, it could merely be the nurse's first name.
- The hyper-futuristic setting of Ripper features a network of hyper-advanced virtual reality wells...consisting of about a dozen possible places where you can go, including a public library, and half of them are personal storage wells.
- In the Sluggy Freelance mini-arc "Interweb with the Vampire" the fictional email/instant message service Grab-All plays this trope big time. Aside from Torg and Sam having the screen names "Torg" and "Sam," Grab-All's search engine is a little ... extensive.
Sam: Not just mail (...) you can keep your passwords, private documents, financial information, medical records, and skeletons-in-your-closet all in one handy location accessible from any online computer!
- Played straight, but mockingly, in Questionable Content.
Dora: I'm gonna do some detective work.
Faye: What, you're just gonna google "crazy chick on a vespa" and see what comes up?
- Hannelore finds and downloads all the cute animal pictures on the Internet. By hand, in just a few days, and onto a single computer, from the sound of it. The bounty from Cute Overload alone would probably fill up her hard drive...
- Then again, considering what her father does for a living, it's entirely possible she has a hard drive far larger than anything commercially available.
- Dr Mc Ninja parodies this. In an apocalyptic future, King Radical somehow prints out the entire Internet and builds a library of its contents. One shelf is just a small subset of a particular user's ramblings about Transformers. The impossibly large space needed for such a library is completely ignored, though there's a rope-swinging robot refrigerator named Google who helps people find things.
- Played with by the SCP Foundation's SCP-335: The entire Internet on 150 floppy discs. How this fit on there is unknown, which is why the Foundation is interested in the discs in the first place.
- It's zipped, duh.
- It mentions in the SCP file that the disks have an infinite amount of available storage space and that they can automatically update their contents whenever the actual site changes.
- Also, note that the first dozen disks or so contain all the porn on The Internet.
- The standard fictional search engine used on British TV is Search-Wise.net, which you can visit, but can't actually use — this may be connected to the 555-equivalent in the British Postal and Telephone System.
- In Mexico, everybody uses MSN Hotmail, MSN Spaces, and MSN Messenger. AIM, ICQ and Jabber are almost unheard of, Gmail is pretty much reserved to computer geeks, and Myspace is usually used by amateur bands (Facebook is gaining popularity too).
- Same thing in the Middle East, except replace "MSN Spaces" with Facebook, and Gmail is becoming fairly popular recently.
- That's not true about Iran (which is non-Arab country by the way). The prevalent IM software in Iran is Yahoo! Messenger, and Gmail is very popular too.
- 80% of all people between 16 and 40 in Iceland have a Facebook account.
- Apparently 25% of people in South Korea have a Cyworld account.
- In Greece it's almost the same, with everyone using MSN, Hotmail and Facebook. It used to be hi5, but apparently not anymore.
- MSN is equally dominant in Malaysia. In second place (and lagging far, far behind) is Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger, while GMail takes a weak third and like Mexico, is pretty much only used by computer geeks. It's rare to find people who use other services (hell, most of the population doesn't even know AOL or Jabber exists). And due to the majority of people not knowing who AOL is, many people in Malaysia think ICQ has died when it was once the Instant Messaging service. Also, Friendster was the dominant social network but Facebook has surpassed it a while ago, but Myspace is practically unheard of. Anything else belongs to the realm of computer geeks.
- Facebook spreads like the plague in Venezuela, to the point of being a no one if you don't have it, and the same goes to Twitter. About Hotmail or Gmail, that's like having hair. Yahoo is rare, but not as much as MSN (most people don't believe that domain could ever exist, and try to refer to it as "Hotmail").
- In Russia everyone except rebellious geeks uses ICQ. Even though various Jabber flavors like Gmail are growing popular, ICQ is still the default way of doing IM.
- Brazilians love Facebook and MSN. Skype is skyrocketing in popularity as well, partially because of its future replacement of MSN. Orkut used to be popular, but nowadays you may get laughed at if you say you use it.
- Take any case of someone famous, usually someone older and slightly befuddled by new media and particularly social networking, who is shocked, shocked! to find that people can and will impersonate them on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Boston talk-radio host Jay Severin recently discovered that, as with pretty much anybody with a visible position in media or entertainment, some fake accounts had been created under his name. Apparently he was unaware that this was even possible, judging by his urgent tone as he explained to listeners that someone — who was not him! — had actually typed his name into a profile and even found a picture of him online to go with the account. What do they think — that when you create a Facebook account somebody comes to your house with something for you to sign?
- Wiretap: Jonathan Goldstein told a story about how, when he signed up for Twitter, he eventually found that someone else was claiming to be him... and because the impostor's account was more interesting, he had more followers than the real Jonathan Goldstein.
- Margaret Atwood joined Twitter and discovered that there were already two people on Twitter pretending to be her. As she put it, "This grew; I gave commands; then all other Margaret Atwoods stopped together." This is a reference to My Last Duchess by Robert Browning. She later affectionately referred to her followers on Twitter as being like "33,000 precocious grandchildren."
- The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg told a story of how when he began the movie he'd never used Facebook, so he created an account, not wanting to use his own name he created instead a fake Ira Glass. After the movie came out he was irritated to find people pretending to be him on Facebook- it was not until his appearance on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me that he realized he had in fact done it to someone else.
- Many stars have Twitter/Facebook/etc accounts. Some chat up their fans real time. Many probably are paying someone to do just that, to make their fans feel like it is a small net after all. It's easier than you think to set this up, considering the vast majority of fans have the same questions that have been asked a billion times already.
- It really was a small 'net in the late eighties/early nineties, and most people could claim the username they wanted back then. If you see someone on a big, popular service with a short username without random characters/numbers/symbols inserted solely to make it unique, the chances are they're an old-timer who was around early enough in that service's history to claim the name before anyone else.