It's a floppy disk. But instead of data, it contains the mind of a villain! Because it's the future!
"Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45Mb in size."
Aside from intentionally hi-tech looking machinery, the production teams for shows tend to use old items as props. Despite the high availability and low cost of removable drives, USB pen drives, and burnable CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs, the old standard 1.44MB plastic floppy disk seems to turn up a lot, especially in the hands of someone who would be very unlikely to use one.
Not only that, but such older technology that appears will inevitably be jacked to the gills and capable of things it can't/couldn't do in real life. The Hacker
character of a show usually has them, if only because they tend to be a fan of Schizo Tech
, which makes them look more out of place. If he's such a world-class computer expert, why is he using technology that's now over two decades old? Most newer machines do not even have
built-in floppy drives. However, it's still used, because even the oldest and most computer illiterate viewer at least knows what a floppy disk looks like
Sometimes the disks used in The Future will at least have a higher memory capacity — the writers took Moore's Law into account, they just didn't predict that the storage device itself would fundamentally change.
Most commonly averted in any show aimed at children born roughly after Zip drives (also a no-show on TV) were invented.
Japan's love of technology usually means anime will feature whatever computer media is popular that year. That comes with its own problems, notably Zeerust
— for example, Neon Genesis Evangelion
the current series of movie remakes) seems to suggest that DAT cassettes will be popular for portable audio in 2015 again (when it never really took off to begin with).
You might think this trope would also apply to audio media, but CDs replaced vinyl and even cassette tapes almost immediately
in TV shows. Which is extra-strange, because it took well over a decade for them to catch on in Real Life
. Vinyl still occasionally makes an appearance, justified by the fact it is still the format of choice for audiophiles and professional club DJs. On the other hand, mp3 players are still catching up.
Compare with Trope Breaker
. See Technology Marches On
if the item seems outdated now, but was state-of-the-art when the work was made. May lead to younger audiences wondering what the hell those funny-looking CD-ROMs are
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Anime and Manga
- In Serial Experiments Lain, when Lain leaks the member list of the Knights of the Eastern Calculus onto the Wired, leaving them open for assassination by the Men in Black, one man responds by filling a briefcase with papers and Magneto-Optical discs and trying to flee.
- Carefully analyzed in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, where a minor character (a hacker) uses floppy disks. Thousands, because of all the data. It's mentioned that he was paranoid, and that it's ridiculous. But it did save the data from an attacking hacker who probably hadn't even seen a floppy drive in his life. In cyberspace, filesharing is shown by a Digital Avatar of a floppy, which is fully acceptable because that small icon in your word processor that reads "Save" is a floppy disk as well.
- Patlabor had the operating systems for Humongous Mecha stored on a single floppy. One factory producing said mecha stored its backups on thousands of them.
- An episode of Sonic X has Rouge able to copy the entire database of a bio-lab/space colony onto a MiniDisc. For those unfamiliar, you just need to know that they're not big enough to fit that size database, and they were a flop in the IT field. note
- In Rebuild of Evangelion, the careful observer will notice a strange dissonance. Shinji has his cassette tape often, and at the same time Unit 05's OS is shown to use at least 250 terabytes of memory. The second film explained this by having the tape player originally belong to Gendo who is conceivably old enough to have used it but it's a bit of a stretch. Shinji keeps it as long as he has because it is one of, maybe, half a dozen items or ideas that mean his father loves him. This may account for his never upgrading to anything newer. The Second Impact is a likely partial reason for the "old" technology. When the world is suffering from a major catastrophe and millions are dead, consumer electronics take a back seat to other priorities.
- In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, the plans for the Global Spacebridge (a Portal Network the Autobots use to get to the action) are stored on what looks like a 1.44 MB floppy. Granted, it's apparently a giant floppy, but still. For additional hilarity, the disk is read, not by putting it in a drive, but by Scourge and Sky-Byte looking at it intently.
- One story from The Transformers had Optimus Prime's entire personality stored on one 5 ¼" disk! Transformers, however, averts this: when the security analyst sneaks data out of the military datacenter, she uses an SD card.
- Live Free or Die Hard, known abroad as Die Hard 4.0, has USB thumb drives. Just to make yourself an idea of how long it took Hollywood to adopt these devices, this film was premiered in 2007 and it's one of the first films that used them.
- Of course, it also has the Big Bad downloading the entire contents of an immense server farm onto a laptop hard drive, so it's not so much averting this trope as updating it to slightly less obsolete technology.
- The Recruit, released in 2003, also uses USB drives. However it also doesn't get things completely correct as it treats them like some super-technology that can be used to steal data from computers secured with no floppy disks or CD-ROM drives. OK they may not have been that common in use in 2003, but still you'd think the CIA would get an idea. Furthermore Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that these supposedly super-secured computers aren't if they have USB ports (the U in which stands for "universal" i.e. works with lots of stuff) with no restrictions on them.
- Darkman and The Negotiator both feature data that would realistically take up dozens of floppy disks of the time (research data on an incredibly complex artificial skin, and dozens of recorded phone calls, respectively) on one Magic Floppy Disk and two, respectively.
- Used in Timelock, where a 3½'' floppy is revealed to power the entire ship. Of course, the movie also displays starships with CRTs and wireframe graphics, so...
- In S1m0ne you have software advanced enough to reproduce a fully computer generated actress but the producer still uses a floppy.
- In Star Trek: First Contact, Zefram Cochrane keeps his tunes of some kind of green plastic disc the size of a mini DVD. Given that he does not use any menus to select music, "Magic Carpet Ride" might be the only song on it. Long way to regress After the End...
- One B-Movie from 2007 about invading alien spiders has one character give another character a USB drive. The receiving party asks in all seriousness what that thing even is.
- Done intentionally in Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. He says in a question and answer in the back of the book that he made Hannah record her suicide notes on a tape specifically to avoid technology marching on and thus making an Unintentional Period Piece. Tapes are outdated, but not so outdated that people wouldn't know what they are. This also serves as a minor plot point, with Clay having to borrow a Walkman from one of his friends in order to listen to the tapes.
- The first Red Dwarf novel, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, has one aversion; all the information needed to recreate a perfect simulation of yourself in a holographic body can be stored on a device "the size of a suppository", as Lister rather gloomily puts it. And yet he apparently buys his music on DAT tapes, whilst Rimmer is the proud owner of at least one James Last albumnote on vinyl, with no indication that he's a collector of rare antiquities or that this is otherwise unusual. Of course, Lister finds a DVD (or roughly equivalent) of The Flintstones in the Cat city on the cargo decks.
- The Brad Thor novel Full Black involves a character receiving a flash drive with significantly more than the 128 GB of data storage available on commercially available USB flash drives. There was a handwave regarding advanced protein data storage.
- At one point in Skyway trilogy by John DeChancie (basically, about truckers IN SPACE!) the protagonists receive a floppy disk with a map of interstellar Portal Network, which is obviously too big to fit on a floppy. Justified by the disk being a device made by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens (possibly humans from far future) in a way to make it easier to interface with human computers. Most of human technology in the novels isn't far beyond 1980s, save for Earth-Pluto passenger transports and licensed alien technology used to manufacture wheels of the trucks that drive through portals.
Live Action TV
- Ms. Calendar's spell and Maggie Walsh's data are on one in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Some TV dramas are more current: several Law & Order episodes have featured secret data - mostly voyeuristic camera footage on SVU - on memory cards and USB drives.
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000-featured movie Time Chasers, where, as Crow puts it, "eight 5¼-inch floppies hold the keys to time travel".
- Short-lived time-travel series Time Trax featured a man from the 2190s using what looked like laserdiscs.
- Justified in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide; the school pictures being taken on film were a Plot Point when
Urkel Cookie planned to hack the camera to upload a better picture of himself.
- In Red Dwarf, a sci-fi comedy show taking place on a futuristic mining vessel, people still use videocassettes...except they're triangular. It is explained in the 2009 Easter special that DVDs have become outdated by videos, since videos have once precious advantage—you can put them back in the box with minimal risk of breaking them.
- Likewise, the severely Zeerusted Star Trek: The Original Series uses "tapes" that look very much like 3½ floppies—which hadn't actually been invented at the time of the show. By Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians at least were using Isolinear Rods, which looked at least passingly like thumb drives (or whatever equivalent would actually blend in with the TNG-era Star Trek visual style).
- The limited disk space was spoofed in some Sierra adventure games - self-spoof, actually, as many of their games in their golden age fit on well over half a dozen floppies. Most spoofing of all was Space Quest IV (1991); the plot was based upon a future civilization finding the Leisure Suit Larry IV missing floppies (itself another in-joke), and attempting to play them on their Master Computer, with disastrous results. In another scene, the protagonist can go in a future game shop, and find a copy of King's Quest 48, which boasted a 12GB size. (There was once upon a time a review that criticized King's Quest VI (1992) for using too much disk space. It required... 20MB) Finally, the very end required the player to download an entire personality on a 3½" floppy disk (pictured above) that had lots of other stuff on it too. Some of that "other stuff" includes a game called "Stunt Flyer" and a "Brain Tools" program. Incidentally, the main supercomputer seen before has Space Quest IV installed, and deleting that promptly closes the real thing that you're playing.
- In the old Sega Master System game Zillion, the player must navigate a futuristic underground labyrinthine base filled with alien enemies and attempt to access the main computer to activate the self-destruct sequence. While many modern-looking access cards are used to unlock doors, the access codes for the computer are scattered on 8 5¼inch floppy disks all around the base.
- Resident Evil, being made in Japan mid-The Nineties, uses the much, much cooler-looking than floppies MO disc, which still have the same basic recognizable shape. In the Nintendo GameCube remake, these MO discs were inserted into customized Game Cubes.
- In the first two Metal Gear Solid games, the player character is given an MO disk to carry.
- Journey To Silius has floppy disks in the future, too.
- Strider on the NES has video calls, or at least audio transcriptions, being recorded on 5¼ floppies.
- Justified in Homestar Runner, where Strong Bad actually prefers older computers, so he does use floppies, although he thinks the 3½" ones are hard disks. He's expressed a preference for the "big, floppy" kind (5¼ inchers), but he is upset that he needs to fold them up to get them in the new computers. A typical email Easter Egg is the title of an old, often obscure game featuring prominently on the floppy disk storage box next to Strong Bad's computer. Curiously, some of them (such as Relentless, American name for Little Big Adventure) were never released on floppy disks. (Considering Strong Bad's character, the world he lives in and that all of these disks have handwritten labels, it might just be that he's playing pirated copies.) Others filled multiple diskettes, but there's no sign on the disk shown that it's part of a set - a more literal case.
- The SCP Foundation literally has 150 Magic Floppy Disks that contain The entire internet. Only the first twelve contain pornography, though, which shows something of an unusual optimism on the part of the writer.
- Played with in Arby 'n' the Chief during one episode in which the Chief attempts to download 900 Gigabytes of porn. When called out on this, he responds with one of the show's many Crowning Moments of Funny: "dun worries. i has 2 floppeh disks!"
- The "Save" icon on most computer programs depicts a 3½" floppy disc (an oddity to begin with, as most icons use some kind of desktop metaphor, like paper, pencils, folders, etc).
- Less an oddity and more a result of cultural inertia. The ubiquity of the floppy meant that it once did mean 'save' (to a floppy which you kept on your desktop). However, while the floppy fell out of use, the imagery stayed because it meant something conceptually. Most people probably couldn't tell you what the icon actually is nowadays even though they intuitively know that it means "save".
- Naturally enough, given their "by geeks for geeks" design philosophy, Linux icon themes lead the way in averting this with either a hard drive or an even more anachronistic picture involving a filing cabinet with an open drawer... which still looks like a floppy disk unless you examine it very closely indeed, possibly intentionally.
- Likewise, video editing programs will usually have a film projector or a reel of film as their icons, when these fell out of common use outside movie theaters once the VCR was invented.
- Of course, a lot of older machines automatically booted from the floppy drive, allowing you to bypass the OS and many safeguards - which allowed you to do many things that are rather good, and other things that aren't so much. Now that (a) floppy drives aren't installed in modern computers and (b) the setup is different so you'll actually have to change the boot-up sequence to start from the floppy, it doesn't work so much. Early DOS computers without hard drives had to be booted with a floppy that contained the entire OS. The genuine IBM PC would boot into a ROM-resident BASIC interpreter if the floppy was not present. Most clones didn't have this feature, rendering them useless without the magic disk.
- The U.S. government still uses floppy disks for some internal functions as of 2011, as well as at least a few inter-departmental reporting requirements. This is mostly due to how Technology Marches On very slowly in government, but there are at least some reasons to continue using them, such as compatibility - any computer with a disk drive for a 1.44-MB floppy disk can read and write to any floppy disk, but computers' abilities to write to CDs and DVDs still vary widely. In addition, if all you want to store or transfer is a few dozen text documents, the capacity of a single floppy is plenty. Also prevents someone from walking out with the entire government database à la Chelsea Manning.
- As a Take That Easter Egg, Mac OS X since Leopard displays PCs on a network as beige CRT monitors showing a Windows 3.x/Windows 9x Blue Screen Of Death. Leopard was released in October 2007, when both beige monitors and the Windows 9x line had been obsolete for several years.
- Back in the days of cassette audio players some enthusiasts made cassettes with infinite length of music. Inside the cassette had a small AM receiver and a recording head or a small magnetic loudspeaker to transfer the signal. Rewinding the cassette tuned it to different stations.