This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.
Technology Marches On
Smaller media. Larger capacity. Not Time Lord technology.
"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
— Popular Mechanics, 1949
So little Timmy is watching a show from the 1990's. In one episode, the characters are all excited because of a new computer game that will be released very soon. A computer game — on CD-ROM!
And Timmy says, "'CD-ROMs?"
You see, Technology has marched on, and things like CD-ROMs and VHS cassette tapes and so on have relatively recently become either so little-used as to be obscure, or obsolete altogether. This isn't Zeerust, which is about futuristic tech becoming old rather than about modern tech becoming old. The important qualifications of this trope are as follows:
Show takes place in modern or modern-ish times, usually the not-so-distant past.
Show makes reference to something, usually a form of virtual technology, that is "The next big thing" or "state of the art", and indeed it was — at the time the show was made.
Said technology has since proved to be impractical, has become obsolete, is at least gradually on its way out, or it is just not in the spotlight anymore.
Cue Hilarious in Hindsight for those who remember when said tech was either very common or hyped as the next big thing.
As far as that last point is concerned, remember that there have been spectacular technological leaps in just the past twenty years — within the lifetimes of many (read: most) Tropers, in fact!note And if you haven't experienced it yet, don't worry. The first time will hit you completely by surprise sometime within the next five years. For the most part, once a technology is invented, it tends to develop at warp speed. Remember, it took only about 65 years (1903-1969) to go from one rickety plane barely able to get off the ground to putting a man on the MOON! So this can lead to some odd moments for those who grew up watching certain things go from "absolutely essential" to "taking up space in your basement".
To clarify, an excellent example would be a scene in Friends where Chandler gleefully describes all the awesome features of his brand-new computer:
"Twelve megabytes of RAM, five hundred megabyte hard drive, with built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 bps!" note Episode "The One With The List", first airdate November 16, 1995. At that airdate, those features were quite impressive, especially for a laptop.
There was a time when these specifications would be mockingly contrasted with a modern counterpart. However, technology has moved on so far and so fast that Chandler's computer is now unimaginably primitive; these days, even a low-end smartphone is several times more powerful than that in every way, while fitting in the user's pocket and costing considerably less than he would have spent.
Somewhat related are those moments, during not-so-old films, where you realize the entire plot could be resolved with something the world takes for granted today. (Cell Phones, perhaps.) A related and increasingly-common source of humor shows down-on-their-luck characters as only able to afford the kind of older technology found in thrift stores today. Additionally, shows set in the past will often Lampshade this for humor.
A Long Runner might even have its earlier episodes/books/etc. have one level of technology, and later installments have more up-to-date technology with little or no Hand Wave at all.
Often turns a work into an Unintentional Period Piece. Can sometimes be a Trope Breaker: a change in cultural context that affects Tropes. A cousin of sorts to Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future. See Magic Floppy Disk for cases when the tech onscreen in a futuristic series was dated when the show was made.
See also Science Marches On, and some examples of Aluminum Christmas Trees. Long Runner Tech Marches On is when this happens In-Universe. Contrast I Want My Jetpack, where the writers overestimated the advance in technology. A fictional world where Technology doesn't march on despite the passage of time is in Medieval Stasis.
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Nobody, nobody saw the miniaturization of computers comingnote (with the possible exception of Richard Feynman — who was such a physics badass that he was talking about the true possibilities of nanotechnology, and Kraftwerk, who implied the possibility of said miniaturization in their album Computer World). Interplanetary travel will surely be easy, but desktop computers? Impossible! Netbooks? Are you on drugs? PDAs and smartphones? Whatever you're smoking, pass it over here. Handheld calculators? Handheld CALCULATORS?
Anime & Manga
A.I. Love You: Koube gets all excited because he finds an HDD that's one whole gigabyte. Also, he's quite clearly using 5-1/4" floppy disks, which are probably unrecognizable to anyone born after 2000. Ken Akamatsu, the series creator, commented on this five years later when the manga was re-released, well aware of how dated his earlier manga was as a result.
Averted by the original Astro Boy (created in 1952 or thereabouts) which mentions an Apache scientist developing a computer small enough to fit in the palm of a man's hand sometime in the 1970s which eventually led to the development of intelligent robots (the scientist's background is also interesting in the context of art imitating life, as there is now a reasonably successful Apache Software Foundation). Of course it looked like a tiny version of the Univac-style computers of that era and was said to run on Nuclear power, but it was still pretty groundbreaking for its time. Portable computers also show up a handful of times during the series proper, although they're still quite primitive compared to the modern laptop.
Sailor Moon: Sailor Mercury's Mini Super Computer was practically a super-power back in the early 1990s. It looks very dated now.
Lampshaded in the fanfiction Sleeping with the Girls, where the main character comments that with the advent of smartphones, palm pilots, blackberries, and iPads, the most extraordinary thing about it is how extra-ordinary the device is.
Continuity RebootSailor Moon Crystal makes a point of updating prior versions' outdated tech. In Act 2, the computers now all have flat screens and slim towers, while Usagi herself owns a laptop, as opposed to using a dated, ungainly school desktop in the manga and 1992 anime.note Laptops also existed in 1992, but were not widespread, and used largely by the tech-savvy, like the original anime's Gurio Umino.
The computers in Serial Experiments Lain (1998) still lack the flat screens commonplace today and computer hardware seems pretty normal for late 90s technology. However, the internet or "the wired" has become interface-able with virtual reality, and the GUI looks like a crazy-cool animated wallpaper that conveys "futuristic" very well.
Many of the computers were actually running a real workstation operating system, NeXTSTEP. It should be noted that NeXTSTEP is the direct antecedent of Mac OS X and iOS making the series even more ahead of its time.
Mention is made of NASA's most advanced computer at the time, during a spiel where Lovell is also mentioning Saturn Rockets and Apollo 11 as things which people would have thought were impossible. The rockets are powerful, Apollo 11 worked, and the computer "fits in a single room!"
Lovell is panicking minutes after the explosion, and asks Ground Control if he got his trajectories right - the scene then cuts to a room full of engineers frantically moving slide rules to check his math. Ironically, slide rules couldn't actually be used to solve the equations, but hardly anyone knows what slide rules do these days anyway, so few people notice.
In Take the Money and Run (1969), Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen) attempts to bluff his way through a job interview, padding his resume with preposterous lies. Among these: when asked whether he's "ever had any experience running a high-speed digital electronic computer", Virgil answers in the affirmative, adding, "My aunt has one." Cue laughter.
Parodied in Mystery Team, where the "wacky facts" book Duncan reads from includes the fact "Did you know that one day, computers will be as small as your own bedroom?"
Duncan: "How old is this book?"
Cruelly used in the last few minutes of the third Terminator film. After the heroes arrive to blow up Skynet's mainframe, they discover that due to all the changes they've made to the timeline in previous films, this current iteration of Skynet is actually a distributed computing network spread all throughout the Internet and thus impossible to destroy, just as its military creators intended.
Demonstrated in the 1957 Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie "Desk Set." Hepburn plays Bunny, a research librarian for the imaginary Federal Broadcasting Network who is worried that EMERAC, the "electronic brain" being installed by computer engineer Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), will replace the whole department. EMERAC is cutting-edge for 1957, a huge machine with whirling spools of tape and panels of lights that flash for no good reason, but is rather hilarious to modern eyes. Equally funny is the treatment of the computer: the characters type out questions in standard English and are given answers in the same. For instance, in a demonstration, EMERAC is asked, "What is the total weight of the Earth?" and in reply prints out, "With or without people?" (which presumes that people are the weightiest form of life on earth, we are not even close).
Of course, in 1957, probably very few people in the audience had any idea how a computer would really operate, so this exchange seemed reasonable.
Besides, a good enough programmer could get a computer to respond that way, then and now.
The Sands of Mars, includes a journalist taking a commercial space flight to the colony on Mars. A journalist who uses a typewriter.
Into the Comet is even worse: A spaceship exploring a comet loses its navigational computer, and the complex orbital calculations cannot be performed by hand. There is not a single calculator on board. The ingenious solution? Building dozens of abacuses, and implementing a production line of crew members using said devices.
Clarke had a massive Author Appeal for broadcast satellites well before they actually existed. Technology Marches On because all of his stories set during this pre Space Race period that feature this technology have it being used on mannedSpace Stations with crews required to install and run the broadcasts. One of his stories involves a famous broadcaster deciding to stay up in space to do weather reports because of how much he liked being up there.
In Rescue Party, a story written in 1946, highly-advanced aliens find an abandoned Earth. These aliens discover, amongst other things:
"The great room, which had been one of the marvels of the world [...]. No living eye would ever again see that wonderful battery of almost human Hollerith analyzers and five thousand million punched cards holding all that could be recorded on each man, woman and child on the planet."
Isaac Asimov ran up against this one a lot. He wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, and liked to write about computers, so this was pretty much unavoidable. One story, The Feeling of Power, featured the use of humans with calculators in guided missiles to be an improvement on computers because computers are oh so very bulky — and expensive — in the far future. However, pocket calculators were used, and Asimov foresaw that they would have the effect of eliminating basic arithmetic skills. The story was based on the exciting new science of multiplying by hand. More to the point, computers powerful enough to make decisions (rather than just make calculations) were expensive. People were much cheaper.
Another example is Multivac, a supercomputer of the size of many kilometers, that in some stories had enough computational power to solve the problems of mankind and in one story called "All the Troubles of the World" was able to predict when, where and by who every crime will be committed based only in psychological information, and then in "The Last Question" it became a deity in and of itself. Oh, yeah and it worked with either vacuum tubes or relays (although "The Last Question" did have it switch to smaller circuitry around 3000).
There's a U-turn on this is Asimov's Foundation Trilogy: In the first volume, two psychohistorians have palmtop computers capable of the massively complex math used by psychohistory, but in the last volume (centuries later), the protagonists are using slide-rules — futuristic slide-rules with lots of whizzy sliders, but still... This is because the first story of the original trilogy was the last to be written; the others originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction as short stories, but "The Psychohistorians" was written specifically for the book collection when it was first published.
Downplayed in The End of Eternity. One of the biggest mainframes fits in the leader's office (and there is still room for a desk), and there are numerous laptops. It all uses punch tape, however.
Beautifully averted ... almost, by his short story The Last Question where multivac continues to get smaller and smaller until it all but disappears ... but it's actually getting bigger and taking up room in hyperspace. Years later he lamented that he 'almost' got it right in this story.
Another interesting aversion is in the various Robot novels. Robots have "positronic brains" that, in more advanced models, provide not only Artificial Intelligence, but can also be upgraded to enable Telepathy as well! Bizarrely, at the same time, machines actually considered to be "computers" are big mainframes and often use things like punch cards and microfilm, and cannot even come close to the cognitive capabilities of a robot. Probably the result of a cultural blind spot in the 1950's as "computers" and "robots" were perceived to be very different technological concepts at the time.
It could be said that Robert A. Heinlein didn't get computers at all, which is all the more jarring, given that he used them in his books a lot. However, the technologies he presented as a cutting edge for his far future stories were quite often already obsolete by the time the respective books were published. And then there's his obsession with the slide rules...
The young adult novel Tunnel in the Sky showed a character who, contemplating the flow of people through wormholes transporting them between planets, decided to calculate how long it would take the current population of the earth to go through, accounting for deaths and births along the way. He uses a slide rule.
In his other juvie Have Spacesuit Will Travel, the hero makes a big thing out of receiving a top-of-the-line slide rule as a birthday present.
Actual line from that book: "Sliderules are the best thing since girls!"
The story Misfit has a scene where nuclear explosives are being configured based on calculations made on the spot with a (circular) slide rule. Later on, the navigation computer for the asteroid being moved fails and a (very exceptional) human is able to step in and do the computations required in his head in real time at least as well as the computer could have.
Starman Jones, also by RAH, has starship navigators using huge tables of 8-digit binary codes for navigation data, because the starship navigation computers have an 8-bit binary interface practically identical to the Altair 8800 computers that would come out in the early 1970s, 20 years or so after the book was written, but a couple centuries before it was set. Also, personnel records were indexed with punch cards.
It was even worse than that: not only the computers in this novel were apparently unable to convert the data between binary and decimal system, but so were the people. All conversions were done through precalculated reference tables, and the hero's ability to remember them verbatim was a large plot point later on when the navigation tables were destroyed, and the protagonist remembered them as well: apparently they were too massive to fit in the computer memory, and they haven't thought of things like magnetic tape, for example.
To make matters worse, devices that were internally binary but converted to and from decimal in hardware at the external interfaces already existed at the time. They also weren't even using the computer for navigation per se, but just to do raw computations to speed up the work of the human navigators, while it would probably have been more efficient to build a machine to do it directly. And this technology had literally not changed in a generation, since the hero's memorized tables were from the books of a deceased relative.
In another Heinlein work, The Puppet Masters, the main character has the equivalent of a modern Bluetooth earpiece implanted in his skull, people travel around in aircars, and major cosmetic surgery (at least for government agents) takes at most a couple of hours. All well and good, but when the main character goes to do research at his local library, the data is all stored in microfilm spools.
Citizen of the Galaxy is guilty as well: targeting computers for the cee-fractional missiles that the spaceships shoot at each other were able to calculate the targeting solutions almost immediately, but were utterly incapable of such things as following the target and even roughly predicting its movement, thus necessitating a quick-witted human operator.
Fully automated point defense guns (quad coaxial .50 caliber machine guns with their own target detection and tracking RADAR and an analog computer that could identify an incoming aircraft and accurately lay fire on it) were deployed on Allied ground vehicles in Western Europe before the end of WWII. Antiaircraft guns in England had gun-laying RADAR that could tell when the gun was aimed optimally to get the shell to burst on the target and fire the gun when it was also were in operation during the war, as were similar systems for self-defense guns on some bombers. In short, much less sophisticated technology than was available to the operators of the ships above was able to do essentially the job that they couldn't do.
Gay Deceiver, the onboard computer of the protagonist's groundcar/aircar/spacecraft/trans-universal conveyance in The Number of the Beast (1980) is described thus - "She stores sixty million bytes, then wipes last-in-last-out everything not placed on permanent. But her news storage is weighted sixty-forty in favor of North America." On top of that, the computer is a limited AI and has speech capability and voice recognition. It's programmed using semi-natural language with specific command words, which can be redefined or created on the fly; for example, "Gay, bounce!" instructs her to translate extradimensionally to a point ten thousand meters "upward" relative to her own frame of reference. (The command is just "Bounce!"; "Gay" or "Gay Deceiver" is used as an attention word, to let Gay know she's being given a command.) Many times during the course of the story, the computer is quickly and easily programmed by all four main characters. At one point they clean things up due to all the multiple programs they've input, which might cause unpredictable conflicts. All that with "sixty million bytes"! In other words, about 57 megabytes, about a tenth of Chandler's computer in that 1995 episode of Friends discussed above.
Also of note, RAH describes a near future where Ford Motors has build a roadster that runs on a reaction-less drive, and can make orbital insertion. And a computers with less storage and CPU as in your cellphone (that is, Gay Deceiver) can be programmed with 'turing test' software to become self-aware. Wonderful optimism.
If This Goes On has the hero mentioning a late 21st century autopilot built out of discrete components and without printed circuits. And later a family-car equivalent helicopter with a piston engine (with a valve knock the hero doesn't like at all), that also has an autopilot that would, if permitted, have kept up his terrain-following orders right across the Grand Canyon.
Roger Zelazny wrote a series of stories about an agent who was able to 'blank' his existence because he was part of the team that created the first world-wide person database. He did this by ripping up his punchcards!
The early Kurt Vonnegut novel, Player Piano, feature EPICAC, an ENIAC parodynote The name is a takeoff on an old household staple OTC medicine used to induce vomiting. that takes up the entirety of Carlsbad Caverns.
EPICAC also appeared in a short story named after the device (included in the collection Welcome To The Monkey House). It goes into more detail about the computer - gargantuan, slow for almost every task, all of its output was on ticker-tape, and it apparently could become sentient and an incredible poet if the dials were set just right.
Slide rules are apparently still being used for course calculations for interstellar space flight.
New York City has an AI collectively known as the City Fathers, which reside in a set of self-reconfiguring servers so large they ride around on their own system of train tracks.
City Fathers: We conclude that we are the city.
In the A.E. van Vogt novel Star Cluster, they are even connected via antennae (radio?) to the otherwise room-sized server.
In Diane Duane's 1988 Star Trek novel Spock's World, data storage allocation is a high enough priority that changing it requires Kirk's signature. Early in the book, he significantly increases the allocation for the Enterprise's message board, saying that the extra cost is worthwhile. This is shown to be a simple forum and message board. In the same novel, the problem of running out of onion dip is solved by cloning the culture to make more sour cream, but 430 people on a message board can overload their system.
The novel Venus, Inc. has a mission to Venus where they decide the required computer would be too large to be practical, so instead they just use a midget. The book being about an ad exec creating a marketing campaign for Venus, that's not the only case.
Averted by Murray Leinster's short story A Logic Named Joe, written in 1946. The story comes close to correctly predicting the use of small home computers interlinked into a global network, along with search engines, parental filtering, using the internet to find weather, stocks, useless trivia, and YouTube.
Lensman popularised most of the tropes recognised today as Space Opera — but when the hero remotely seizes control of the enemies' computers, what he means is that he has just telepathically taken control of a room full of men with slide rules.
Also, since the books were written before the invention of computers, spaceships are run entirely manually.
Crystal Singer, set in the distant future, mentions the discovery of a crystal that permits miraculously high-density data storage, at 1 gigaword per cubic centimeter. Assuming today's standard 32-bit word length, this equals 32 gigabits per cubic centimeter. Impressive when the book was written in 1982, but less so in 2010 with modern hard drives approaching 160 gigabits per cubic centimeter. However, word length does vary between computer designs and the book never does mention what word length is common in that setting...
Then there's Andrew M. Greeley's novel God Game, a rather forgettable piece of fiction apart from the assertion that a computer with a 286 processor apparently can do enough calculations per second to simulate an entire world, right down to blades of grass.
Pretty much any depiction of an artificial intelligence from before the 1960s or so will involve vacuum tubes. Then after that there are transistors. For example, in the original Astroboy, at one point Astro is put out of commission because one of his tubes is damaged in battle and in a later story Professor Ochanomizu says "All you really need for a robot's head is a bunch of transistors". These days, most writers have abandoned this sort of thing, as it's unlikely that even modern microprocessors can support a true artificial intelligence and rely on ill-defined fictional Applied Phlebotinum to explain how their robots can think and feel the way humans can, such as the Transformers' mystical "Sparks" and later incarnations of Astroboy's "Omega Factor" and/or "Tenma Chips".
In Ivan Efremov's Andromeda Nebula (written in 1955) the crew of the latest Earth starship compute their trajectory on what amounts to a programmable calculator, but takes at least a large desk and a couple of cabinets. They are aware of its shortcomings and complain that fully functional computers that are able to completely automate their vessel are too large and fragile to be mounted on starships.
The irony of the story lies in fact that it's an entirely true description of the situation of that time: in 1955 a programmable calculator would indeed take a large desk and a couple of cabinets at best, and the universal computers only just have started to appear and indeed couldn't be put on any moving vessel.
In Jack Vance's short story Sail 25 a ship's computer's hard disk is sabotaged on a training flight in the asteroid belt. The students apparently have only that one computer on the entire ship, and no calculators or similar electronics — they get home by computing their orbit on abacuses.
Referenced and royally mocked in George Alec Effinger's short story "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything": the titular aliens use vacuum tubes to run their spaceship. Needless to say, they're more than a little interested in trading their knowledge of space travel for modern hardware. (As for how they're intergalactic when humanity's advanced tech hasn't gotten out of the Solar System, well...)
In an odd non-SF example, Rachel in Pet Sematary (which was written in the mid-1980s) recounts a lecture about the human brain's superiority over computers: "He made a persuasive case for this incredible assertion, telling them that the human mind was a computer with staggering numbers of memory chips - not 16K, or 32K, or 64K, but perhaps as much as one billion K: literally, a thousand billion.". In other words, a terabyte. In 2014, you can fit a hard drive several times that in your pocket. If you want to go with thumbnail-sized 128 GB MicroSDXC cards, you can fit a petabyte inside the volume of a human brain. Of course, as of spring 2014, it will set you back about a million dollars. And we've yet to figure out what the closest approximation to the "storage" capacity of the human brain is, estimates range from 1 TB to 2.5 PB to "not a clue".
In Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity and Star Light (as in 'not heavy'), the humans in the stations orbiting the supermassive "Terrestrial" type planets Mesklin and Dhrawn use slide rules. "Star Light" was published in 1970.
Although, Truth in Television is that people did use slide rules for regular work until well into the 1970s. It wasn't until about 1980 that handheld and desktop calculators and computers that could be readily used 'on the fly' for calculations began to be more efficient than slide rules.
More like the mid '70s. TI pocket calculators were beginning to be used in public schools by 1974, for instance, in accounting classes.
The desk computer, not desk top computer — i.e., the computer is actually small enough that it can be fit into an executive size desk. Seen in John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit (1969) and many others into the 1980s. Some computers in the 1970s actually were built into office desks.
The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas Ryan. A 1977 tale of an artificial intelligence that propagates itself by way of punched cards, acoustic coupler modems, and reel-to-reel tape spools that necessitate signaling human operators to change tapes.
In The Pendragon Adventure, Bobby uses a 5000-6000 AD holographic computer. While we still don't have holographic computers, the use of the computer (like an encyclopedia), can be accessed today using That Other Wiki
In Evil Genius Trilogy Cadel's first major challenge is that he has to make himself a computer phone-one that even connects to the Internet! There's an app for that but no-Cadel does it the hard way, developing some new DNA-based technology so that it will all fit in his cell phone.
In Robert L Forward's Dragon's Egg (written in 1980), at the university in the future year 2000, there are no personal computers and no internet. Indeed one of the issues is the department has to pay for computer time - one professor even dips into his personal bank account to help a student, which is rather hilarious knowing how widespread and easy to come by computers actually were long before 2000.
Never mind 2000, you could get your own computer (admittedly much simpler than anything you'd have to buy time on) for less than a thousand dollars by 1980. The savings on buying mainframe time would pay for it in remarkably short order.
In Greg Bear's book The Forge Of God, copies of the Library of Congress are purchased in CD-ROM format. They are inconveniently bulky.
In the Gene Wolfe short story Alien Stones, it is somehow possible to determine the last number held in the main register of an alien computer (a bearing). Modern computers have their registers buried inside chips, and the number never stops changing. Also, the computer is identified as the main central computer by the vast number of very fine wires feeding into it from all over the ship. Modern cars eschew complicated cable looms by running a simple 1 or 2 wire bus all over the car, and decoding the messages on that bus using many micro-controllers dotted all round the vehicle.
Averted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which presents the Guide as being rather like a modern ebook (although with only one book coming hardcoded on it and "complicated" in appearence) and mentions the reason for it being published in "micro sub meson electronic component" format is because if it was published in normal book format "an interstellar hitch hiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in".
However there is still a nod to how much information is out there and how limited space is as the Earth's entry was "Harmless" and the new entry was "Trimmed a bit" to "Mostly harmless"
Global satellite broadcasting was first used in 1962, but a handful of years later Rene Barjavel has his Antarctic explorers relaying their discoveries to the Trio satellite to be broadcast live on a 24-hour news channel in his 1968 novel La Nuit des Temps (The Ice People). One executive is watching this proto-CNN on an airplane.
In the 1960s Doctor Who serial "The War Machines", one of the scientists developing WOTAN insists it's the most advanced computer in the world despite it not being the biggest.
PADD's, and to a lesser extent Tricorders, in Star Trek. Device consolidation in the real world has led to tablets and smartphones matching them in terms of computing power, but also adding capabilities like voice/video communications and speech recognition, which in the various series were relegated to dedicated devices or else much larger computers. Often, processor-intensive tasks were performed at terminals directly linked into the ship's computer, implying that the PADD's were little more than ebook readers. They also seemed to have limited storage and no why of transferring data; many a captain was swamped by piles of PADD's. The commbadges were not an aversion. Although they seemed to have limited speech recognition capabilities, if they were somehow blocked from connecting to the ship's computer they would mostly just beep petulantly at the user. Tricorders hold their own mostly in terms of their sensor functionality.
There are some wonderful examples of "what the general public thinks computers are like" on The Rockford Files, gigantic structures full of spinning discs, flashing lights and tweeting sound effects, that can tell you practically anything about anyone just by typing in their name. One thing they did get right was the size of the air conditioners that would be required to cool these monstrosities.
In the first edition of Rifts published in 1991 and taking place about 300 years in the future, the hand-held computer listed in the equipment section is described as having a "dual drive system, 150 megabytes hard drive with 4 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and uses one inch disk." Later reprints removed specific capabilities on the computers and simply had it state that they are simply a lot better than the ones that are used currently.
Which is actually rather strange, as Rifts is a sort of After the EndScavenger World where much of the planet is struggling its way back to some semblance of technological civilization in the face of unrelenting attacks by various extra-dimensional threats, and has explicitly lost a huge amount of technology.
What is even weirder is that the end the setting is after happens almost 100 years into the future, so it isn't that the tech everyone scavenges is from before the disaster, it is that the tech they scavenge is from 100 years before the disaster.
It's not unknown for BattleTech players to express disbelief and/or poke fun at the game's 31st-century targeting computers, which tend to have weights measured in tons and take up corresponding space in a BattleMech or other suitable unit. This is handwaved as all the additional peripheral hardware required to improve the linked (and heavy) weapons' performance significantly beyond the "regular" universe-wide defaults as well, not merely the processing unit alone.
Ace Attorney is set between the years 2016 and 2026. And people still use cellphones the size of a small notebook with monochrome screens and monotone ringtones and call them "modern". A reasonably modern (by 2009 standards) phone appears in Miles Edgeworth's spinoff, set in 2019, where it's still treated as a novelty.
Also, Case 1-2 featured a Mobile Phone which would record every conversation you had and store it automatically. Phones nowadays can't do that, yet, or can they?, so it's a bit of a mish mash.
Ultima VII largely takes place in Britannia, but has a little bit which betrays its time period in the opening cinematic when "you" as the Avatar thump the old CRT computer screen, which has gone static-y. Also in the game the "Save" Icon is a floppy disk - a 5.25 disk, which wasn't even the floppy disk's last incarnation.
It's funnier, since the game was first sold in 3.5 disks!
Lampshaded heavily in a Cute Wendy strip when Wendy describes the specs of her new computer. "It'll only be a matter of months before this comic is completely dated! Funny, huh?"
This whole concept is lampooned in The Simpsons in a flashback where a circa 1975 Professor Frink states "I predict that within one hundred years, computers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them." This is in turn a reference to the 1943 Thomas J. Watson misquote, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (The integrated circuit hadn't been invented back in his day...)
The transistor hadn't been invented in 1943, either. It was going from tubes to semiconductors (and, once the bugs were worked out, their vastly greater reliability) that made really interesting and powerful computers possible.
"Could they be used for dating?" "Theoretically yes, but!! the results would be so perfect as to eliminate the thrill of romantic conquest!" Computer dating didn't work out exactly like that...
Thanks to the espionage conducted by Paul Smart, a super-advanced, AI-driven Robo-Buster X1 was set to put The Real Ghostbusters out of business. At its unveiling, the robot revealed it had an incredible 20MB of on-board memory.
Believe it or not, having a powerful computer that was the size of a (large) book like Penny's was actually considered REALLY cool when Inspector Gadget was on the air.
Most of the desktop computers used in Godzilla: The Series are that with the large square-shaped monitors that weigh about five pounds instead of wide flatscreens. The aversion comes in with the palm-size laptops Mendel and Randy uses to do half the tech-magic shown, from hacking, interface with a MUCH older computer, and various forms of remote controlling.
In fact, lots of people knew from very early on that computers would become very small and very fast in a relatively short time; the famous Moore's Law was coined in 1965. What they didn't know was just what you could do with them. It was simply assumed that they'd remain as calculating machines for scientists, while the possibilities for ordinary workplace-use — let alone entertainment — weren't even dreamed of for many years.
By most people — but Spacewar! was created in 1961 on a PDP-1 at MIT. Family members of the staff who visited the lab were supposedly entranced by the game.
And in the very early 70s, students at Liverpool university in England would stay up into the early hours to play an early "lander" style game on their university's computer (which weighed several tonnes), using punch-cards for input and ticker-tape for output! They would also marvel at the computer's ability to let them send "instant" messages to colleagues at Manchester university at speeds only several minutes slower than using a telephone to just talk normally!
As far back as 1945, in the article "As We May Think" for The Atlantic, Vannevar Bush discussed his idea for a device called the Memex. This device could fit on a desktop and contained a personal library of up to a million books but also had the ability to call up other works through links between works when related information comes up. That's right, this guy came up with key ideas on hyperlinks (which make up the World Wide Web), personal computers, and even e-books, years before anyone else!
And G. Harry Stine tossed off the idea pretty casually in an article on Star Trek for Analog February 1968, talking about the fact that radios, which used to be huge, could now be "put in a tooth" ("micro" radios about 2x2x1" were hot at the time) and it was only a matter of time before computers would be too. This idea was also discussed routinely in Popular Science.
Netbooks started a phase of "small, inexpensive computers for going on the internet." Small indeed, as they started with 7" screens. However, this is now inverting itself as the concept took off and people were making bigger Netbooks that were more comfortable to use. Netbooks are now, on average, 10".
Same with the Personal Data/Digital Assistant (PDA). What started as literally, a palm sized computer has marched in the form of smartphones (essentially a PDA with cellular phone capabilities) and tablet computers, such as the iPad. Though with tablets, the size inverted itself since most tablets are at least 7".
They do still try to make each model thinner and lighter. And smart glasses are poised to take size back in the other direction since you can make displays arbitrarily large without increasing physical screen size.
Rules for keeping your kids safe on the Internet usually start out with keeping your computer in a public area. After all, there's no way your kid can drag the computer off to their room - the network cable is too short. Of course now with WiFi and tablet computers, it's all to easy to sneak off to your room...
A smart parent could figure out the kid's MAC address and block it. Of course, an equally smart kid can figure out how to change the MAC address (although this has risky implications)...
Schoolchildren of the 1980s (that in-between generation right before the Internet Age) remember hearing it: "You have to learn how to do this in your head - you can't carry around a calculator with your wherever you go!". Those teachers - who were trained in the 1950s-60s - didn't realize those schoolchildren would be carrying around cellphones which had a calculator built in - and upgradable to handle trigonometry and calculus!
Even worse, by the mid-1980s, there were affordable scientific calculators that included trigonometric and statistics functions that operated entirely on solar power, and were small enough to carry in your shirt pocket, so you could carry it with you wherever you went. (This leaves aside the fad of wristwatches with calculators at the same time. They worked, but the buttons had to be impractically small for use... unless you were a school-aged child.)
Computer Speed and Internet
Nowadays, computer processing speeds and Internet capabilities often fall victim to this:
Anime and Manga
For being humanoid computers in Chobits the specs of persocoms weren't so great. Although very rarely do you hear about the capacities of persocoms (especially Chii) those that you do learn are rather contemporary for early 2000s computers. Could be a case of Alternate Reality.
Though, of course, Chii and Freya are packed with honest-to-goodness indistinguishable from human Artificial Intelligence, which still makes them much more advanced than modern computers (as of this update).
Mnemosyne has a fantastic scene set in 1990 where Mimi says that with a computer this powerful, the guy they're tracking really knows what he's doing. Keep in mind that the show was written in the 2000s, so they were definitely playing the trope for laughs. Although in-universe, it really was top of the line for the characters. Since they're both immortal, they keep up with technology as it happens just like anyone else normally would.
Mimi: "This is a top of the line 16-bit 40MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM with a 300MB hard drive with all the bells and whistles."
The modems in WarGames are museum pieces today, but were so cutting-edge for their day that the film was many people's first introduction to the concept.
The characters are in awe of somebody's new, super-fast 28.8k modem.
The main characters talking very highly of the RISC architecture (which is commonly used today in smartphones and tablets, but before those it'd faded into insignificance from a consumer point of view for about a decade and a half)
The "battle of the tapes" scene - nowadays tape is pretty much unknown and they'd be fighting over digital files.
Back to the Future Part II predicted something like today's heavily inter-connected and information-driven society, but assumed it would be based around the fax machine, not the computer. It also assumed that, by 2015, Japan's economy would have completely overtaken America's. It wasn't such an odd concept at the time; Japan was (and still is) a major worldwide provider of technology and electronics. Even so, it comes across as fairly quaint.
In GoldenEye, Natalya goes to an IBM office so she can contact Boris via the internet, and gives the sales rep a purchase order as a rather clever lie to use their connection. Computers using 500 megabyte hard drives, with 14.4 kbps modems, seem woefully underpowered today. Although those were impressive specs at the time the movie was made, the fact that Bond films are always "present day, present time", essentially makes this an Unintentional Period Piece.
Johnny Mnemonic got the Internet both right and wrong; while there is in fact a widespread data network in the film that is used for information and communication all around the world, the interface to access it requires a (implied very expensive) virtual reality rig and is impractical at best - and despite the fact that such a graphically intense interface would require a massively wide data pipe just to work, a huge deal is made of ferrying a couple hundred gigabytes from one place to another. And then, despite all this, the spreading of pirate information from the LoTek - who would surely be able to steal the 3D-internet technology - happens by analog TV transmission.
Kids In America: In 2005, social media was just getting started, yet the students manages to get the news media's attention to their plate. Today, cell-phone with the ability to film and quickly upload to a social media site, like Facebook and/or Twitter, would've got Donna much faster since what she's doing would be viewed to public.
A particularly good example is The Face On The Milk Carton, a baroque horror story/thriller/teen melodrama where every single thing the teenage heroine believes is a lie. The story is the long, painful process she goes through to find the truth... a process that would take ten seconds if online search engines had been invented at the time the book was written (1990).
The existence of Google renders the main character's job in Foucaults Pendulum (finding the obscure connection between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, using a cardfile) completely unnecessary. Much of the rest of the plot is connected to how computers would go on to change the perception of information, as well, with one character spending half a chapter gushing over his new typewriter that let him delete words at will.
Averted in Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home (published 1985, although some was serialised earlier). The setting is a far future non-industrial society, but they have an Internet connection, used very occasionally for communication with other tribes. (The Net, called the "City of Mind", is run by orbital machines, independent of humans, which allow humans to use the network as long as they feed it data about themselves.) There is a piece in there that looks just like a BBS chat transcript.
William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer was one of the first works of Cyber Punk and popularized (or updated) common tropes and sci-fi setting elements like virtual reality, networked artificial intelligences, cybernetics and computer hackers. Today, though, its depiction of the "matrix" as a collection of brightly colored simple geometric shapes seems laughably old-fashioned. The countless sci-fi movies that shamelessly aped the look didn't help.
The use of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) is also extremely dated, today it's adapted, diversified and became many things, including wikis. Always keep in mind that the internet is a connection system, which is simply better than dialing into a dedicated BBS.
The infamous "three megabytes of hot RAM" are laugh-inducing to a modern audience who consider an 8 GIGABYTE MP3 player to be one of the cheap and low-capacity ones. Gibson's view of what computers can be capable of is still futuristic, but his prediction of how much actual physical technology would progress became obsolete barely out of the 80s.
Phone booths are still omnipresent in the novel, since Gibson(to his shame and acceptance) didn't count on the creation and immense progress of cellular phone technology.
Also from Neal Stephenson, his 1999 novel Cryptonomicon has a couple of scenes showing Randy connecting to the internet on his laptop with a dazzling fast, state-of-the-art 56k modem. Sometimes he connects with a cutting-edge cell phone modem (which would now amount to a 3G dongle). Said laptop also has a makeshift webcam.
Most of the time he's using this equipment he's either travelling or in places where the cell-phone modem (still used today, in the form of tethering) is the best or most practical option, though. Lots of business travellers continue to have laptops with modems in them, because there are lots of places in the world where traditional telephony is all that is readily available.
In Aquila, the titular ship connecting to the internet wirelessly was pretty mind-blowing back in 1998.
In Speaker for the Dead, there is a character who has artificial eyes. He explains that he has to deal with a lack of depth perception, because only one of the eyes is actually a lens; the other is where the "jack" plugs in so he can download what he sees. Bluetooth, anyone? These books aren't that old, it is surprising that Orson Scott Card didn't see more widespread uses for wireless. Particularly since he did a decent job at predicting computer technology in Ender’s Game. Written in the 1985, it features both portable laptop computers and the Internet (albeit a very differently structured Internet than the one we know). Remarkably accurate for the time it was written.
Parts of the Harry Potter books would be a lot shorter if wizards had some version of the Internet or at least if the Hogwarts Library had some kind of magical search engine to look up books on. Hell, if the first book weren't set in 1991-92 according to the official timeline, Hermione could have just Googled Nicholas Flamel (a real historical figure) on a Muggle computer while she was home for the holidays.
The Michael Crichton novel, Congo, at one point mentioned the possibility that one day all of the world's computers would be connected. It also made reference to a counterargument that there would be no way to feasibly create and lay all the linking infrastructure, the advent of wireless communication was completely overlooked.
It gets more plausible as the story goes on, but the first stage of Hari Seldon's plan in Foundation involves publishing an encyclopedia, with updates every ten years, which seems a little quaint from a post-internet point of view.
P.S. Longer Letter Later (1998) and Snail Mail No More (2000) by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger both date themselves just by the use of letters. The books are a series of letters between friends Tara Starr and Elizabeth after Tara moves away. The second novel introduces e-mail (hence the title), but is still dated, since it came out when e-mail and the internet were still relatively new technologies. Nowadays they would probably use social networking sites, cell phones, or even video messaging.
Paula Danziger's "This Place Has No Atmosphere" is even funnier on this score. Written in 1986, set in 2057, this book features a society where people live in malls and on the moon, take classes in ESP and telekinesis, get their music by video disks and holograms and watch TV on their watches, and write letters home to update their family with how it's going on the moon. An amusing interlude features the main character practicing writing backwards during downtime in class, and she notes that this is what she usually does at school when the projector breaks down. One of the overall themes of the book (mused upon by the main characters when putting together a school production of "Our Town") is that while times change, people are about the same as they have always been.
Alex Packer's teenage-aimed etiquette book How Rude! may have been up-to-date and devoid of Totally Radical when it was first published in 1995, but by 2011, its 'Netiquette' section has not aged well at all. Gems that come to mind include keeping responses as succinct as possible, staying away from images, and not using allcaps in emails, a common early-internet practice.note All caps are still routinely used in emails by elderly people who can't see very well.
1988's Chess With A Dragon presumes that none of the thousands of alien races who participate in the InterChange have a clue how to dig up the exact information they want from this gargantuan, out-of-control galactic data library. In retrospect, the humans could've dodged the whole indentured-slaves-and-meat-animals crisis by signing up as data-retrieval specialists and using search engines.
A 1954 story written about baseball in the year 2044 has newspapers as the main source of news in the year 2044, severely underestimating television and completely missing the idea that there could be new types of mass media in the future. The author, like just about everybody else, hadn't seen the internet coming.
Actually sort of inverted in Scott Adams' book The Dilbert Future, where he speculates (based on the work of some computer scientists at the time) that improvements in internet technology might render most hard drives obsolete. Adams predicted that coming generations of computers, at least the portable ones, would eschew drive space in favor of more powerful network connections and massive RAM caches, downloading and running temporary applications as needed from central servers. Of course, this turned out to be the exact opposite of the way computers ended up evolving, as nearly everything from cellphones to coffee machines has a hard drive now, with capacities skyrocketing higher and higher each year, while connection problems and RAM shortages still plague users everywhere.
This did happen, as well, producing the so-called 'diskless workstation'note Also called a 'dickless workstation'. However, this type of system proved unpopular for general use due to the high bandwidth requirements and poor file access speeds, limiting it to generally small deployments for specialized purposes. Some parts of it (like network-accessible filesystems) gained wider use, but speed and bandwidth issues make them impractical for general use.
Matilda: Mrs. Trunchbull torturing and mistreating the pupils at her school remains a Dark Secret of the school, "because nobody would believe it if you would have told them." Nowadays, in an age of cell phones with movie cameras, Mrs. Trunchbull would have been sent to jail easily.
The clues provided to teams 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8 in The Westing Game, if entered as keywords, all come up with the sought-after song title in seconds with a Google search, usually as the first result (discounting links referencing the book itself). Turtle and Flora could likewise have gotten the answer in a matter of seconds by googling " May God thy gold refine", a quote from the will which we know they remembered (because it inspired Turtle's stock-market solution).
Live Action TV
Audiences watching the various Star Trek series and movies today tend to feel some dissonance due to the apparent absence of anything resembling the internet, or even a proper local area network on board Starfleet ships. For example, characters often carry PADD's around to hand to others in order to show them some information, because no equivalent to email seems to exist in the future. Similarly, all data seems to be tied to individual data rods, and whenever it needs to be transferred to another computer, that particular rod needs to be physically moved there. The idea that data could be copied to a server or transferred through a network doesn't seem to exist. Bizarrely, files could be moved, but rarely copied. Thus any given piece of data or software was fundamentally linked to some storage device. To be fair, many of these could be plausibly handwaved as security measures.
Current viewers of Seinfeld probably wonder why George doesn't just ebay that book he took into the bathroom with him at the bookstore. In general, half of the series' plots would have played out extremely differently if cellphones and the internet were present. Of particular note is the scene in the finale where Jerry chastises Elaine for making a personal call on a cell phone rather than a landline. Given that cell phones are so ubiquitous that some people don't even have land lines, the notion is so quaint as to seem abjectly ridiculous.
There are numerous situations in books, television and movies that simply could not happen today because of cellphones, GPS and surveillance/security cameras.
The season one Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "I Robot, You Jane," which was created right in the middle of the panic that online chat rooms were crawling with horrible perverts that wanted to kidnap you. Then there's the scene where Buffy doesn't quite catch on to Willow saying she met a guy online, thinking they were "on line" for something. Most amusingly, the demon Moloch ends up in a deliberately cheesy and ridiculous robot body to demonstrate how much he doesn't belong in modern times, except that it's almost impossible to pick this out from all the unintentional cheesy and ridiculous stuff around it.
In Wishbone, the episode "One Thousand & One Tails" features a bad '90s understanding of the Internet. Joe and Sam ooh and awe as David logs onto the Internet for the first time, repeatedly gasping "Go to that one!" before he's even online. Also, the Internet is apparently a Viewer-Friendly Interface, labeled "Internet Online Access" and consisting of a few icons. David accesses a coded chatroom run by cybercriminals by clicking on the oh-so-not-suspicious icon of someone wearing a Conspicuous Trenchcoat, which is helpfully labeled "Private" and is apparently one of only four chat groups which exist on the Internet. He accidently logs into his dad's bank account while investigating this chatroom, which somehow causes three million dollars to get transferred into his dad's bank account. FBI agents show up at their house about five minutes later. Where to start??
In The Rockford Files 1978 episode "The House on Willis Avenue", Jim's apprentice Ritchie types Jim's name into a computer terminal and a few seconds later receives a huge amount of information about his personal life. The rest of the episode, dealing with a villain's attempt at omniscient surveillance and information gathering on ordinary citizens, is frighteningly prescient.
The "megabyte modem" in the Doctor Who serial "The Trial of a Time Lord".
Generally averted by Weird Al in his song "It's All About The Pentiums." Some of the jokes haven't aged well (Y2K, the trademark "Pentium" itself has moved from top-of-the-line CPUs to cheap bottom-shelf models, etc.), but the "Hundred Gigabytes of RAM" remains a ludicrously large amount, and the "Flat Screen Monitor Forty Inches Wide" is still huge.
In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "White and Nerdy" the nerd sings, "My MySpace page is all totally pimped out/I got people begging for my top 8 spaces..." Not likely these days.
One can only assume that 50 Cent was trying to make his listeners envious when he bragged his car that contains, among other things, a fax machine and a phone. For reference, this song, "High All the Time" was released in 2003.
Lampshaded by Kid Rock in "All Summer Long" when he sings "it was 1989" and "we didn't have no Internet".
Everclear's song "AM Radio" similarly lampshades the trope in its first verse, which is an extended explanation that things like VCRs, DVD players, the internet, and CDs didn't exist in 1970, and thus the singer had to listen to the radio and wait to hear his favorite music.
In Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert, Scott Adams' commentary points out instances of this in early strips. For example, in one '90s strip the joke was that Dilbert and Wally were sending e-mail to each other despite their cubicles being right next to each other. Yes, that was considered funny all by itself. Also, when Adams started inserting his e-mail address into the strip in 1993, it was labeled "Internet ID" so newspapers wouldn't think it was an embedded advertisement. He further reports that much of the e-mail he got at the time essentially read "I contacted you because I don't know anyone else who has e-mail."
Some of the older FoxTrot comics are susceptible to this. For instance, there's one from the early 1990s where Jason has a dream about finding an unopened present under the Christmas tree, and when he unwraps it he's absolutely thrilled to have been given a Macintosh Quadra 950 with 64 MBs of RAM and a 240 MB hard drive. Those specs made for a nice high-end desktop computer system in 1992; in 2012 it would make for a nice high-end graphing calculator.
This sort of thing was eventually lampshaded when Jason spends a week (of reader and comic time) drooling over a high-end computer in a magazine. Genre Savvy Andy just ignores him. Then we see Jason saying the computer is obsolete, and Peter goes "duh, it's been a whole week".
Similarly to the Dilbert example above, some old newspaper cartoons about computer technology are basically nothing more than "someone is using these new-fangled computers for mundane tasks in their daily life! Hilarious, isn't it?" For example, one cartoon shows a white-collar worker who is sitting in the toilet, but, instead of reading a newspaper, he's using a laptop. This was probably considered a great gag on its own in the nineties.
Traveller's first edition is an offender here as well, with those huge computers that drive interstellar ships having a mere 16KB of memory.
Shadowrun averts this by using a fictional measurement for memory (Megapulses, or MP). When asked how many megabytes were in a megapulse, one of the designers pointedly declined to answer the question, citing the Traveller example in doing so.
And yet not totally, as the Megapulse is roughly plot-sized and it doesn't always line up nicely. In 3rd Edition, an implanted camera could take high-fidelity video at a rate of roughly one minute of video per Megapulse, or 60 still shots per MP... compared to the tables for program sizes for things like hacking, hacking countermeasures, or "skillsofts" which allow you to temporarily upload a skill into your brain. Given rough comparisons of the real-world sizes of similar programs, and how big they'll probably get to satisfy the vastly increased complexity of the Shadowrun future, well... that's ridiculously wasteful encoding and compression for video, even extremely high-quality video.
Inverted (!) in the Hollywood Hacking simulator Uplink, which takes place in 2010 and where 60 Ghz is considered slow. In Real Life late 2010 a quad-core 3 Gig is seen as solid.
That one could be accidental, a result of the industry standard changing from high-power single-core machines to multicore machines whose cores are individually slower but enable multiple tasks to run at once. Even so, 60GHz is still FAR more powerful than anything a multicore CPU today can offer. Uplink also did have some prediction of parallelism - one of the computers you can buy has 8 (or 16?) CPU sockets but only supports slower processors, while most high end ones have 3 or 4.
For the tech-savvy, this makes it a bit of a Period Piece. During The Nineties, computing power was mostly boosted by increasing the clock frequency and this prediction was no doubt based on that trend continuing, probably helped by the PC market focusing on the MHz as selling point. In reality, clock frequency didn't change all that much during other decades, and is unlikely to ever grow much beyond current values. For one thing, current clock frequencies are well within the microwave range, and microwave electronics is different. There is also the matter of clock cycle length putting an upper bound on the physical size of the computing device, by speed of light.
In The Legend of Kyrandia Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge, clicking on the Fish Queen's tic-tac-toe board will cause Malcolm to state his idea of a proper circa 1994 PC gaming system. And cordless mice still aren't that common.
Cordless mice will continue to not be that common until they come out with one that won't possibly run out of juice midway through an MMORPG dungeon/important work stuff/etc.
Despite possessing artificial intelligence, advanced cybernetics and genetics, the ability to deconstruct matter and create it into something useful... The world of Fallout continue to use computers that boast a whopping 64KB of RAM and use a command line like interface. This is, of course, part of the game's Zeerust aesthetic, set in a world where nuclear technology advanced by leaps and bounds while computer technology stagnated (the transistor was never invented.)
However, it's also worth noting that the technology is hardy enough to withstand electromagnetic effects from a nuclear blast, as well as last through two hundred years of neglect and downright abuse. Also worth noting is that the primary storage medium is a tape that can be used to hold anything from an audio recording to programming instructions for a robot, and is compatible with practically anything that has some level of processing capability.
Played for laughs in TRON 2.0, set in the early 2000s. Jet Bradley has to retrieve some code written in the 1980s (after the first movie) from an old mainframe. One of the programs in the mainframe starts commenting on the specs, which were state-of-the-art in the mid-'80s, but a handheld console would be embarrassed to have them these days.
I-NO: EN12-82, top of the line mainframe. Capable of 16 bit processing, full monochromatic display support, and a local storage of 128MB! I challenge you to find a more robust system!
Becomes a minor Tear Jerker later on when the mainframe is on the verge of breakdown due to the protagonists' actions and I-NO decides to stay behind and face deresolution claiming that the modern computing world has no place for an obsolete program like him.
Baldur's Gate is a game I bought twelve years ago to my PC. It came on five CD-Roms. Now, I am going to condence it out of thin air and install it on a machine you would have seen on Star Trek. We are living in the future but I didn't even notice. I was confused by the lack of hoverboards.
Invoked in thisXKCD strip when two folks browsing through old magazines find advertisements for woefully outdated 90s era computers... and the more or less unchanged Texas Instruments graphing calculator. note In case you were wondering, they don't actually need to develop much, since math hasn't really changed that much unless you're in the areas where a calculator is woefully inadequate, they constantly have new customers, and more advanced calculators allow easier cheating on standardized testing.
"OK, what the hell, TI?"
"Maybe they cost so much now because there's only one engineer left who remembers how to make displays that are that crappy."
Also played with in that strip because the Texas Instruments graphing calculators sold the early-to-mid-90s had a processor designed for general purpose computing, were capable of very limited networking (which wasn't a given with computers back then), came with a BASIC interpreter, and could be programmed to do things you wouldn't expect a calculator to be capable of (like play Tetris). They were some of the first truly inexpensive mobile computers and are still useful because most modern computers usually don't come with equation solving mathematics software.
On an episode of the cartoon Birdz, Eddie Storkowitz has to explain e-mail to his friends. In 1998.
Lampshaded in several jokes about the internet in Futurama:
That it took Farnsworth years to log onto AOL (AOL!), which is accompanied by dial-up noises. That the future internet is pretty much virtual reality is a borderline example, as it's not impossible at this point but VR never quite took off despite ITS hype in the 90s. Plus there's a joke about having to wade your way through hordes of flying pop-ups ("My God! It's full of ads!") which is less of a problem for most websites today, as they realized that people just don't click on those things.
That it takes Farnsworth years to logon to AOL is a reference to an actual phenomenon. Back when most everybody was on dialup, you only received a certain allocation of hours per month in order to keep network load within reasonable limits. Eventually AOL abandoned this and permitted users to remain logged on as long as they wanted. While this was great for users who could get a connection, AOL's network hit capacity very quickly and people had to wait in a queue for long periods of time- hours, even- for enough users to log off. This was exacerbated by the fact that, freed of limits, many people simply remained logged in to AOL 24/7 so they wouldn't have to wait!
In an early, promotional interview for the series with Wired magazine, Matt Groening made some jokes about how his vision of the future was actually a lot like the present in many ways, including crime still being prevalent, politics still being crooked, and "the internet is still slow."
Parodied when, in his first appearance, Richard Nixon's Head made a joke about computers being twice as fast as they were in 1973. He said this in the year 3000.
Though, to be fair, civilization did collapse and rebuild several times in the interim.
Lampshaded to hilarious effect in Megas XLR, with the 50s era Area 50 robot's boast "There is no way you can defeat the superior power of my massive 56 Kilobyte processor!note Processor capabilities are measured in hertz, bytes are for memory" This giant robot also ran on magnetic tape reels.
"Homer Goes to College" – From 1993, possibly the series' first reference to the then-novel medium of the Internet, nerds Doug, Benjamin and Gary use a phone line to hook up their computers to connect to the Internet (dial-up, which was state-of-the-art at the time) and engage in a newsgroup discussion about Star Trek.
"You Only Move Twice" – Originally aired in 1996, the Simpson family moves to a planned community called Cypress Creek. One example of how advanced the town is is the fact that its elementary school has its own website, which few real-life schools had at the time. On the episode's DVD commentary, Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein says this is one of the most dated jokes they've ever done.
"Half-Decent Proposal" (2002) – Artie Ziff has become fabulously rich with a device that converts the sound of a modem dialing into soothing music. No wonder Ziff had hit the skids by his next appearance.
In Family Guy, an in-universe example occurs with Quagmire believing that as of 2009, the internet was still incredibly slow and only used solely by nerds, only to be informed that's no longer true, in addition to the ridiculous amount of pornography that can be found online. When he's next seen finally venturing outside of his house several days later, he's clearly not slept, is severely dehydrated and has the left arm of a bodybuilder.
An episode of The Venture Bros. centers around the Venture Compound's superscience computer systems misunderstanding a problem and deciding to begin World War III... by dialing up the Pentagon on a 1200 baud modem. After the 3rd line-noise disconnect the characters decide that while the problem is real they probably have some time to sort it out.
NASA still uses old fashioned DOS systems and computer chips with a few hundred megabytes of RAM for their spacecraft. Huh.
Should be noted this only applies to critical systems of the spacecraft or satellite in question. Mission control is up to date (where permitted) and when the scientists need to do actual work, they do it on modern laptops.
Any space mission has good reason to use rather primitive systems. Satellites and space probes have to operate for years, and the last maintenance most of them get is right before launch. Space is a really harsh place, so the hardware has to be as rugged as possible - much easier to do when a system is kept simple. Programming and testing these systems is much more straightforward, and sending equivalently shorter commands is faster, more accurate, and more reliable, especially when the distant end is millions of miles away. Upgrading the system would cost a lot (and NASA is often subject to budget cuts), mostly due to the exponentially increased time required to test every single potential problem — problems that will prove fatal out in space.
A lot of NASA's spacecraft are built with off-the-shelf equipment left over from previous missions (as spares, test articles, etc.) The space shuttle Endeavour, built as the replacement for Challenger, was almost entirely made of spare parts. To save both time and money, they use what's already been paid for, even if it is a little more primitive.
To get a sense of how "behind the times" NASA is with selecting their parts, the Mars Curiosity Rover, launched in 2011, has a PowerPC-750 based CPU, 256MB of RAM, and 2GB of flash memory. This is slightly better than the original Apple iMac released in 1999.
Similarly, nuclear power stations take a long time to update their controls software. Even hardware is rarely updated with new wiring on top of or combined with old wiring to build in additional levels of redundancy and security. Considering that, barring a complete shutdown and removal of all potentially radioactive material, the monitoring instruments and controls of a nuclear plant can never be turned off this is a good thing. Some plants refuse to upgrade, fearing that even the slightest error would cause a catastrophe.
Even more similarly, software. For instance, a lot of math based libraries for Python are based on the very old and "obsolete" Fortran and Pascal. They haven't updated the software because they have years and years use and acceptance. And plenty of other companies don't update old code unless it's absolutely necessary for this very reason.
And even some businesses. It would cost more to train the IT department (who has probably documented all issues for the past 20+ years) and the normal users of the program than it would to just keep the old system. Upgrading hardware doesn't tend to be an issue thanks to DOSBox and virtual machines now able to run on consumer level computers (unless you happen to need DOS to drive some ancient hardware that uses a connector that no longer exists on modern computers). But so help you if your entire system was on a PDP-8.
In the early 1990s there were several big news stories about people who had heart attacks, strokes, etc and were saved by their online friends who called the person's home police department. The Internet is so prevalent today that while these stories can still make news, they aren't such a big deal anymore. And lots of old people get cellphones so that they can make their own 911 calls when they've fallen and they can't get up.
Most of the world's embedded devices (more basic than your cellphone), either uses Intel's 186 (1982), Intel's 8051 (1982) Freescale's 68MC000 (based on the Motorola 68000 from 1979), Zilog Z80 (1976), MOS 6502 (1975), and various 8-bit micro-controllers from PIC, AVR, etc. Why? Because they don't need features of a modern processor, they're simple to program, and they tend to use a lot less power (important for a sensor that needs to stay out for weeks without intervention). ARM has come out with cheap yet effective 32-bit micro-controllers, but it also comes with the complexities of such, so the 8-bit/16-bit guys will still be around for a while.
Fax machines don't seem to be going away just yet...
Linguists - not that long ago - wondered where the various branches of English would go. Some people said that within 200 years or so, British and American English will have little in common. However, this was mostly said by aging linguistics scholars in the 1980s. Then the Internet came along, and we're talking to each other, watching each other's TV programs, talking live to each other on headsets as we play World of Warcraft... and it seems English is moving closer together rather than apart. Almost all similar languages are experiencing this now.
The same effect is intensifying the pressure against minority languages. Except for those groups that are intentionally insular (living among people who speak a different mother tongue, but not with them) many minority language groups are finding themselves dying out faster than ever.
Rather weirdly, branches of major languages are coming closer due to modern media (albeit slowly, as the German spoken in Vienna has plenty of different words and a funny pronunciation compared to Standard German), while languages who evolve apart from modern media (regional dialects which are not taught in school and do not creep into TV or newspaper speech) are going away from standard language. Centralized school systems prior to 1980 forced the standard language on all social groups in a country, which does no longer happen.
The California Science Center in Los Angeles was originally built in 1913, and a massive expansion was done in 1998. The museum's technology exhibit seemingly hasn't been updated since that renovation - every screen in the exhibit hall is a cathode-ray tube, the CPU on display is an ancient Pentium, the description of e-mail and the internet is highly archaic, and no discussion of video games at all. The transportation exhibit is just as outdated; the exhibit's example of clean transportation is a fuel-cell car (touted as the future in the 1990s) instead of a more realistic electric car (the problems with fuel cell vehicles haven't been solved, and electric vehicles are much more common now). However, given the speed at which technology advances, it may be unfeasible to keep updating these two exhibits, though an update once every five years should be enough.
Now that the world has fully embraced digital technology, anything that has the characteristics of analog medium (static, uneven synching of video, etc.) seems out of place.
It used to be that computers that people would normally used were dumb terminals that had to connect to a mainframe or servers as the "micro computer" or personal computer hadn't taken off yet (mostly because it was slow). Once hardware got powerful enough for a personal computer, this idea started to fade out. But now this is inverting itself as internet speeds got fast enough. With "Cloud computing", a basic computer could have expanded storage to even playing high-end games like Crysis over an internet browser.
There's an Internet exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry featuring a timeline of important events contributing to development of computers—and its most recent date is in 1999. As one could imagine, many elements of the exhibit are quite behind the times, such sections extolling the then-new wonders of downloading image and picture files from the internet. To modern visitors, the whole thing feels like huge Captain Obvious.
Internet cafes. While they were somewhat common in the late 90s to early 2000s as Wi-Fi wasn't as readily available, the idea of needing to go to some specific place, pay per hour or whatnot, just to go on the internet on what is basically a public terminal seems odd and outdated, at least in the U.S. and some European countries. Latin American, African and some Asian countries, barring Japan, South Korea and possibly Israel still uses them.
Looking at the website for the movie Space Jam, which for some reason has been up since 1996, is like observing a time capsule of website design from the mid-90's. Frames, repetitive background artwork, simplistic layouts, animated GIFs with few colors and frames of animation, the works. See it here.
The rise of online dating sites, social networking, and cell phone apps have had a negative affect on gay bars and bathhouses. Once considered sanctuaries of the community, they've been on the decline in developed countries as many GLBT people no longer feel the need to segregate themselves and endure "the scene" in order to socialize or find a mate. It can get annoying, however, if one enjoys going to the bars only to see everyone glued to their phones browsing Grindr.
It is several decades ago by now, but the effect the invention of IC chips had on storage is more profound than its effect on the processing of data. Before IC chip memory, every single bit of RAM had to be built manually, which made the very idea of storing large amounts of data electronically pretty much absurd; if a computing device in fiction back then could store much data, it was probably a full-blown AI. When IC chip memory came into general use, memory size became very firmly hitched to the Moore's Law* the classical Moore's Law, mind you; it's all about the number of transistors you can fit on the chip rocket, and since then the sky is no longer the limit. Current trends of solid-state hard drives (which as flash drives are just another application of IC chips) replacing magnetic disks may be the final step in which older types of memory are replaced.
A.I. Love You has the protagonist getting worked up over the prospect of having a computer with one gigabyte of storage space on the hard disk.
Cowboy Bebop: Faye Valentine's home videos in the 2000s were taped on Betamax. 54 years later, she has to resort to raiding an abandoned museum to find a working machine to play them on — whereas VHS machines are still ubiquitous and readily available second-hand. Even in 1998, when Cowboy Bebop was released, Betamax machines were becoming scarce; while Sony managed to keep the format on life support in Japan until 2002, pretty much everyone had moved on long before that. Now, in 2011, Betamax machines are considered collectors' items, and it's already become difficult to find one in working order (much less one of the better ones from the format's early-1980s peak). However, VHS machines have not only not disappeared completely, they're still available new (as part of optical combo decks), and as in the show, they're a fixture at second-hand shops. It helps that VHS's wild popularity and Long Runner status (it's been available since 1977) means that there's huge libraries of tapes still in use.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: KaibaCorp is one of the largest companies in the world, and their supercomputers use floppy disks. This comes from the same company that has machines that can project holograms and other highly-advanced technology.
Pokémon has a character in the Advanced Challenge season's Castform showcase episode use a floppy disk to store information on Castform. The episode in question aired in 2004, when USB flash drives started to become commonplace among computer users, and computers began phasing out their floppy drives.
According to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (or rather the advertising for an eighties cryogenic fraud company they have to deal with), the billionth Betamax was sold in 2052. As previously mentioned, the format was basically dead by the early nineties.
The forgettable and all-but-forgotten 2001 film One Night At McCool's features numerous characters oohing and awwing over the fact that one of the characters owns... a DVD player. It'd be a minor thing, but the movie just keeps harping on it, with two characters even deciding to rob the DVD player owner's house, and arguing heatedly about who get to keep this fine luxury item. This was bordering on dated even in 2001, when DVD players were falling rapidly in price. Might have made more sense circa '97-98 when they were still very new.
Johnny Mnemonic, a 1995 film set Twenty Minutes into the Future in which the protagonist sacrifices his long term memory to be able to transport 80Gb of data in his head, 160 if he uses a doubler. He finally squeezes 320, but spends the rest of the film having seizures and headaches and dying because of it. J-Bone also urges people to get their VCRs ready to record the story's MacGuffin from their pirate TV broadcast.
The original short story, written in the 80s by the same author as Neuromancer below, the units were megabytes.
For a brief time in the early 21st Combining this trope with Medical Science Marches On, gave a case of Accidentally Accurate. A top of the line USB thumb drive the size of your brain's Hippocampus, which aids with long-term memory, would have stored up 64 gigs. That level of storage is already well below what you can get by spending $200 on a thumb drive, and you would probably want to splurge higher on the storage media if you were sacrificing a piece of your brain to implant it.
This is a case of Reality Is Unrealistic as tape is still very much used in areas that require storage for MASSIVE amounts of data. While it is much slower than more modern methods, it can hold much more, and for security reasons, if someone were to hack into the system, it would take them much longer to steal/destroy the data than it would on modern methods.
The makers of Free Enterprise, a 1998 film, were avid collectors of movies on LaserDisc, as were the film's characters. The movie includes a scene filmed on location in Los Angeles' premier LaserDisc shop, and the long-awaited LaserDisc release of Logan's Run even provides one of the movie's central metaphors. The format was already in its death throes while the movie was being made. By the time most audiences saw the film, it was quite dead, and those audiences almost certainly were watching it on... DVD. Free Enterprise also has the distinction of being one of the last films to be released in the LaserDisc format.
Used for laughs in SLC Punk! when a wealthy punk rocker in the 1980s brags about his new LaserDisc player, a technology that would very quickly become obsolete.
There's a wonderful scene in the 1951 film When Worlds Collide: A rocket is built to rescue a small remnant of humanity from the impending destruction of Earth, taking with them the entirety of human knowledge. Queue a room full of people frantically scanning encyclopedias onto microfilm.
The novel (written in 1933) has them taking the actual books with them. They aren't quite as inefficient as it sounds, though... they also function as insulation for the ships.
RoboCop (1987) predicted several pieces of technology that would become mainstays in later years (notably, the fact that VHS would be succeeded by videodiscs - a la LaserDisc and DVD, and Dick Jones' PDA-like tracking device). However, it also made it a point to show that Old Detroit's police department stored its records on the most advanced technology (funded by OCP) - tape-to-tape reels, which are shown as taking up a massive amount of space in the department. This concept carried over to the 1994 television series, even though the series had a Twenty Minutes into the Future aesthetic and computers were in the process of minaturization.
In Tim Burton's Batman Returns, a big deal is made about the Batmobile having an on-board CD recorder. At the time, this seemed incredibly futuristic; now, after the rise of flash memory storage for music, it seems more pointless than anything else. Imagine the kind of Bat-Suspension the laser would need.
Hackers, made in 1995, has many examples. First and foremost is that the main storage media is 3.5" floppies. While Dade is fiddling with Kate's brand-new laptop, she mentions that it has an internal 28.8 kbps modem (an impressive amount at the time; for an internal modem, doubly so). The tech-savvy team of hackers mostly have pagers rather than cell phones. And also, the trick of using recorded dial tones to spoof pay phones into accessing pay-to-call numbers was obsolete even when the movie came out.
In the first Wayne's World, Wayne puts a CD in his dashboard CD player and Cassandra asks him when he got a CD player. He responds "With the money!" (that he had gotten from selling the rights to his cable access show). Portable CD players then were still pricey and status symbols - cassette tapes were still big in 1991.
In the 1990 film Taking Care of Business, Jim Belushi plays an escaped prisoner. At one point, in a bid to flatter some guy, he acts all impressed by the guy's IBM PC, specifically mentioning, in awestruck terms, its "20-megabyte hard drive".
Also, the entire plot hinges on the fact that Belushi's character is able to impersonate a stuck up advertising exec due to having found...his filofax.
In Men In Black, K shows J a miniature (about thumbnail sized) disc and says "these're going to replace CDs soon". Not only were mini-discs larger than that, when they did come out they didn't exactly catch on, and nowadays we have pretty much abandoned discs entirely when storing music for flash memory.
Poked fun at in TRON: Legacy, when Sam returns from The Grid and ensures its continued existence by copying the entire cyber-universe's '80s-era program — the most complex simulation his father could construct back then, using every available resource of a massive cutting-edge software firm, stored in a console roughly the size of a fridge — onto one memory card.
Timothy Zahn's The Cobra Trilogy has mostly no indication that it was written in the 1980s... then a character mentions storing computer data on a cassette. On the other hand, still nothing beats tape in the term of the long-time archive storage of large amounts of data.
Virtually all of Zahn's '80s SF falls victim to this, to greater or lesser extents. Ironically one 1985 novel that takes place beginning in 2016 is the least affected, with networked computers, widespread personal cell phones, etcetera, while ones set 400 years later feature tapes and '80s style computers. When he wrote a 2006 sequel to one of these, he chose to embrace the Zeerust rather than retcon the setting.
The Novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features a scene where some researchers on a space station orbiting an alien planet are enthusing over the brand-new, high-tech magnetic bubble memory storage device they've invented. It's the size of a filing cabinet, and stores an amazing 40 megabytes of data. Later Star Trek works introduced the fictional quad unit of computer memory capacity to avoid this sort of problem in the future.
They Just Didn't Care. 500 pages of printed text is about 1.5 MB. Depending on how the data is presented and exactly how big a file cabinet they were talking about, they could a much better data-to-space ratio with paper.
The Star Trek Novel "Spock's World" has a scene where Kirk is attending to routine duties, one of which is requests for data allocation. That's right, hard drive space on the Enterprise is so sparse that it take's the Captain's signature to increase space allocations.
For a storage device of a different kind, some of the Myth Adventures novels show minor characters being stunned by Skeeve's incredible wealth because he carries (gasp!) a credit card.
An early plot point of William Gibson's Neuromancer involves the hustler protagonist moving "three megabytes of hot RAM" — enough, apparently, to kill for. Life's cheap in Gibson's future Chiba City, but probably not that cheap. At the time of the novel's release (1984), RAM was around $1000 a megabyte - now the price is closer to half a cent per megabyte. Other stories set in the Sprawl feature things as complex as human memories recorded on tape.
In Dream Park, the Griffin boasts of being the best thief in the world. One of the examples he facetiously cites, to prove his credentials, is his claim of having procured the only existing copy of Star Wars. Pre-digital media and mass-market home video, this probably did seem impressive.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the first murder mysteries to feature the use of a sound recorder as part of the murder plot (written in The Roaring Twenties). Specifically a Dictaphone is used, and part of the reason the murderer is found out is that he needed to move furniture to conceal the large machine.
Rather implausibly, the playback of the Dictaphone is apparently indistinguishable from an actual human voice (admittedly through a closed door).
The End of Eternity uses punchtape, film - which takes two meters to store a bookcase, and a molecular recorder - sixty million words in less than a cubic inch. The last one would have been still impressive by today's standards had it been recording words as sound, but an attached transliterator is described.
Arthur C. Clarke's Odyssey series makes this list again. In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the current method of data storage is a glass-like block that holds 1 Terabyte. While having it use a transparent medium is still out of reach, 1TB of storage is nothing special in 2012, let alone 3001.
The Caves of Steel is three thousand years in the future. The first storage media mentioned? Mercury delay lines. How many here have heard of that? The trope is further emphasized by the fact that the technology to create sentient robots with "positronic brains" exists, the technology has been around since the 21st Century, and a robot with such a brain is shown impressed at Earth computers!
In Gerard O'Neill's 2081, a 1981 futurist treatise incorporating fiction segments, the orbital-colonist narrator marvels over various high-tech gadgets he encounters while visiting Earth. One of these, a "slate" that functions as an e-book reader, can store at least a hundred thousand words; not only is this a much lower capacity than a present-day Kindle or Nook, but it's hard to believe anyone from an orbital colony would've grown up reading non-digital books.
The novel Jurassic Park has the program which tracks the dinosaurs. It stops counting when it reaches the target numbers, as that is all that's necessary to make sure if all the dinosaurs are in their enclosures, to save processor cycles. This, of course, comes back to bite the heroes when it turns out the dinosaurs have begun to breed. For the time, it was a reasonable, if slightly shortsighted, set-up. For the modern reader, whose cellphone has more processing power than the park supercomputer, it seems mind-bogglingly stupid.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan Saga," books are stored on "book discs;" from the text, it appears that each disc is one book. The text doesn't exactly explain how large these discs are, but given that a micro-SD card can currently hold a large number of books, this is dated.
Notably, however, the same series has "wrist comms" that function exactly like cell phones...and comconsoles, which are effectively desktop/videophone hybrids. Apparently, tablets and laptops were never really invented in this universe, which is odd, because the series started in the 80s, when laptops existed and were becoming increasingly popular.
In Asimov's The Martian Way, one person complains that his partner brought along a lot of dead weight - fifteen pounds of books. Now, maybe he meant microfilm, but today, a lot of books will be needed to fill fifteen pounds of storage medium appropriate for a Martian colony...
In the 1980s revival of Mission: Impossible, Jim Phelps' trademark reel to reel tapes are updated to a small CD-Rom device. In the pilot episode when he gets his first mission, he takes a second to marvel at the small disc in his hand saying to himself "Time DOES march on."
This process is justified in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009), where DVD were rendered obsolete and VHS tapes were phased back in when it was realised that nobody could get the DVD back into their cases. This may also be an in-joke since video boxes frequently appeared in earlier series, which were filmed in the late-Eighties and Nineties. Then there was that time they once digitally stored Lister's mind on an audio cassette.
Not just any audiocassette, either, they used a microcassette from a dictaphone. These are still around today, outliving their larger cousins, but are generally even shorter.
Two notable examples from the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997-98. When Angel loses his soul and reverts to evil, the information that Willow needed to restore Angel's soul was stored on a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk that fell between desks. Earlier, Joyce's boyfriend Ted, who worked for a computer company, curried favor with Willow by giving her freebies from work, including a new hard drive with a gargantuan capacity of 9 gigabytes - a tad more than a $15 USB drive could hold little more than a decade later.
Examples from Babylon 5 (written in 1994-99, happens in 2257-62):
Reports are routinely passed around on paper. This was supposed to be more realistic than Star Trek, in which paper has disappeared from common use. It remains to be seen which show's depiction of the 23rd century is more realistic, but bear in mind that the "paperless office" has been confidently predicted as imminent since the early 1970s. The series itself Lampshaded this in one episode, where a character bemoans the fact that "every time someone tells me we're moving to a paperless society, I get three new forms to fill out."
One thing that is pretty jarring to modern eyes is the frequent use of Universe Today (a reader-customizable Captain ErsatzIN SPACE! of USA Today), as a print newspaper. A decade later, and print journalism is a dying medium. Whoops.
In "Deathwalker", Garibaldi refers to a character named Abbut as a "vicker", a cyborg who acts as an all-purpose recorder (Kosh hired him to record Talia's thoughts). According to Garibaldi, the term "vicker" is a phonetic pronunciation of VCR. One wonders what they would have called him in the DVD and Blu-ray era. (A "daver"note from DVR, maybe?)
"Data crystals" are commonly used to carry important data, and seemed pretty cool and futuristic at a time when the CD-ROM was just starting to be widely used and "multiple floppy disks" was still a common storage method. But today, the data crystals are larger and a bit more clunkier than a USB drive, with no clear advantage in capacity over that 21st century storage medium.
In an episode of the Spin-OffCrusade the entire output of an alien culture was stored on a dozen or so crystals, implying that they have a very high data capacity.
The original Star Trek references tapes as data storage. The later series, did, at least, take measures to specifically avoid this trope by inventing their own fictional unit of data storage, the quad, and avoiding giving any quad-byte ratio, in the light of data storage capabilities constantly rising quicker than people might initially predict.
One aversion (though it might not be in a few years' time) was when they gave the storage capacity of Data's positronic brain in Star Trek: The Next Generation as "eight hundred quadrillion bits". In other words, one hundred petabytes, which is still one hundred thousand times larger than the average computer hard drive in 2011. Quite brave considering the episode was written in The Eighties.
In the TNG episode "Evolution", out-of-control nanites start compromising ship systems, and Wesley states that each nanite has a storage capacity of 1 gigabyte. Not very large by today's standards, but still quite impressive when you consider that it's all packed within a microscopic space (and that there are billions of nanites, for a total storage somewhere in the millions of terabytes).
The Disney Channel original movie Twas the Night (released in 2001) has Santa, Kaitlin, and Peter going to the computer store to use a top-of-the-line computer there to hack into the sleigh's computer. Kaitlin comments that the computer has an 8 GHz processor, a 1 terabyte hard drive, and... 512 megabytes of RAM. 8 GHz is just below the world record overclock as of 2013, with 4 GHz being about the maximum for high speed CPU's, a 1 terabyte hard drive is a stock standard part in even budget computers, while 512 megabytes of ram is below the common stand of several gigabytes of RAM.
In the Doctor Who episode Logopolis the highly advanced aliens who are holding the world together with pure mathematics use bubble memory. As the Doctor puts it, "Bubble memory is non-volatile. Remove the power and the bit patterns are still retained in tiny magnetic domains in these chips!" The writer was a computer scientist and bubble memory was quite cutting edge in 1981. Nowadays, not so much. This still isn't as bad as The Ark in Space where the entirety of human knowledge on a space station built in the 30th century is stored on microfilm.
In a 1970s episode of Columbo, the murderer was a rich TV actor played by William Shatner who faked an alibi using an amazing high-tech wonder called a VCR. (He tricked an acquaintance into thinking they were watching the ball game together at the time of the murder.) Columbo was appropriately awed when Shatner showed the VCR off to him and explained how such a device would cost about three thousand dollars. (Today you can get a DVD player for less than a hundred dollars and that's without taking inflation into account.) At the end Columbo commented that it was "very brave" of Shatner to show him the VCR, saying "you certainly like to take a chance."
A 1980s episode has Columbo fascinated with a fax machine in much the same manner.
In an episode of The X-Files, a FBI computer expert tells Mulder and Scully that the information they got from... somewhere would be enough to fill "seven 10 gigabyte hard drives". Not one seventy gigabyte hard drive, no, "seven ten gigabyte hard drives".
This might be more subtle than it appears. Until the early 2000s, you had to make a rather strange choice in hard drives for big systems: You could go for the types of hard drives used in PCs (which were rapidly growing into the hundreds of gigabytes in size) or you could go for the smaller but faster SCSI drives, which were limited to 10 GB for a long time. The latter largely died out when the former got as fast as them.
In a 1980 episode of Buck Rogers, Buck is put on trial for evidence taken from a Betamax videotape from 1987. The show seems to have assumed that VHS would have been supplanted by Sony's Betamax as the dominant video format by this time. In fact, by 1987, VHS had clearly won the format war, and in early 1988, Sony effectively surrendered when it announced the production of the company's first VHS-format VCRs. That said, Betamax didn't really die in the US until the mid-1990s, when Sony stopped selling blank tapes for it, and even had one more decade in Japan.
On the other hand, the tape in question was never specifically referred to as a Betamax tape by any of the characters, so this is probably just a case of the production staff using whatever props they happened to have lying around at the time and figuring the viewers wouldn't notice or care. (Seeing as how this was one of the last episodes filmed before the series was cancelled, it's likely the production staff didn't care, either.))
This, of course, assumes that the videotape (and the equipment needed to play it) was either preserved or restored in such a way as to render it playable five centuries into the future. Most magnetic media would do well to last 50-100 years under controlled conditions.
The grand prize for contestants who caught Carmen on Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? was a desktop computer with an 850 MB hard drive. 850 megabytes. Yeah. Now, those lucky winners can fit their whole computers on USB drives and still have space left.
JAG: In 3rd season episode “Impact” (1998), when escaping from the Bradenhurst facility, Harm captures a 3.5” floppy disc containing digital photos of the UFO-like UCAV, taken directly out from a digital camera.
In The Brothers Garcia (2001) George talks excitedly about wanting to give his mother a gift-a computer with 850 M Hz, 100GB of storage and a CD burner. Nowadays it's standard for every computer to be able to burn CDs and there are hard-drives capable of storing ten times that amount of GB.
In general, the amount of time that a particular storage medium is in general use for music has been rapidly dropping. Vinyl lasted nearly one hundred years before being superseded by compact discs. Cassettes existed alongside vinyl for around twenty five years before compact discs again replaced them as the default. Compact discs themselves were only on top for around fifteen years before digital storage began to replace them. Hard drives (at least on portable models) lasted less than ten years - all modern music storage is on flash or similar memory. With the advent of cloud storage, instant mobile streaming and other technologies the idea of even locally storing music may be on the way out.
No Aphrodisiac by the Whitlams (released 1997) contains the opening lyric 'A letter to you on a cassette...' Still a great song though.
Gotye and Kimbra's "Somebody I Used to Know", released in 2011, has a line in the chorus: "But you didn't have to stoop so low / Send your friends to collect your records and then change your number". Even considering the song was about a relationship that was some time in his past, there probably wouldn't have been many "records" to collect.
Even in 2014, someone who's dating a singer-singwriter is quite likely to own vinyl records, which have even been on an upward sales trend for the last few years.
Similar to the movie, Johnny Mnemonic recognizes the last player who accumulates 320 gigabytes of data as "The Cyberpunk".
In the first edition of Rifts published in 1991 and taking place about 300 years in the future, the hand-held computer listed in the equipment section is described as having a "dual drive system, 150 megabytes hard drive with 4 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and uses one inch disk." Later reprints removed specific capabilities on the computers and simply had it state that the computers in Rifts are 100 times better than the ones that are used currently (which is still bad; Moore's Law predicts computers reaching 100 times better in just over 13 years).
The song "Mix Tape" and accompanying scene from Avenue Q, which debuted on Broadway in 2003. The term "mix tape" itself is still commonly used, even though said "tape" nowadays would most likely be an MP3 playlist, but Princeton specifically tells Kate that he went through his CD collection and made her a tape, and later on they both mention "side A" and "side B" while they look through the songs he picked. The most recent off-Broadway and touring productions of Avenue Q have changed and updated some of the other lines and dialogue in the play in order to stay as current as possible, but so far this charmingly dated little scene remains untouched.
In many ways, Avenue Q is a love letter to The Nineties. Using Gary Coleman as fodder for comedy was a decade-old joke at that point, and even in 2003 few people were still making mix tapes. They were burning CDs instead.
In newer productions, it's changed to just a "mix," burned onto 2 CDs, but the lyrics remain the same. Just calling it a mix sounds clunky anyway.
Parodied in Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, set in the 1960s: Minuteman brags how the Freedom Fortress' computer (which is made from alien technology, mind you) can store "hundreds of kilobytes of information" (the game itself requires over half a million kilobytes).
And he's doing the bragging to their visiting allies from the 40s, who just act confused.
Many DOS-era games (Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit...) had floppy disks as collectible items. (Often said to carry a copy of the game.) CDs were used briefly like this as well before the 3D age took over.
Done intentionally for some 1980s nostalgia in World in Conflict, when one of the U.S. soldiers shows his buddy the latest and greatest gadget of the day....a portable CD player.
In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, set in 1999, a scientist stores the secret of his genetically engineered petroleum-excreting microorganism on an MSX cartridge. There's a partial justification in that the scientist is supposed to be into the homebrew scene, but Snake still immediately knows what an MSX is and calls it 'the legendary worldwide computer' (laughably wrong).
In-Universe - in Metal Gear Solid, the character Psycho Mantis' claim to fame was reading data off your memory card. In Metal Gear Solid 4, Psycho Mantis' ghost comes back to haunt Snake and tries the same trick, only to freak out when he sees that the PS3 uses internal data storage and thus has no memory card.
Earlier in the latter game, Otacon tells Snake to switch to CD2 before suddenly remembering that the game is on Blu-Ray and thus swapping disks isn't necessary.
In Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall - which is set in the future, the player happens upon a pile of ancient optical discs that are identified by an older character as DVD re-writables. A brief quest ensues to find a DVD-player in the year 2054.
In "I Dated a Robot" the people at KidNappster have Lucy Liu's personality copied onto a floppy disk, which they use to create evil duplicates of her. Of course this also might be Rule of Funny. It's pointed out in the DVD Commentary if you want to take a look.
Though Word of God is that because the world has ended before, technology is a little...funky.
Played with in another episode, "Mother's Day", when Mom gathers all robots together and declares she won't be around forever... When a cassette player goes "Oh, shush."
And humorously averted with a library housing the largest collection of literature in the universe... on two CD sized disks labelled "Fiction" and "Nonfiction".
For some reason, any attempts to update the Transformer Soundwave's alt mode from tape deck to a more modern audio storage device is very likely to be flat-out rejected before coming to fruition, which is odd, since - as a communications specialist and spy for the Decepticons - you'd expect him to keep with the times and alter his alt mode, accordingly to keep from being spotted due to how Zeerust his original form looks. Even a recent toy of his that doubles as a functional MP3 player is modeled wholescale from his original tape deck form. Evidently, his underlings aren't as picky as he is.
This is parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch where Soundwave is sent to infiltrate a science lab. He disguises himself as a boom box; the scientists are quick to laugh at the out of date equipment. Rumble, labeled as '1985 Summer of Love' has his tape pulled out and dies, and Soundwave's D batteries are removed and he's sold on Ebay.
Shockwave:Request permission to buy it now!
Part of the problem is that Soundwave's G1 toy was insanely iconic and popular, that changing him to a new vehicle (like a car or satellite or drone aircraft) eliminates why people love him.
An issue of the Marvel comic takes the cake, though, by ending with Optimus Prime's mind being copied onto a floppy disk.
The live action films managed to change him into a satellite in the second, then a car in the third. Specifically, Carly's car, which she was given by Dylan Gould so he could spy on her.
Recess: Gretchen Grundler has a Personal Digital Assistant called Galileo, which was a big deal in the 1990s. Forward to 2010 and beyond, where having Smartphone is Serious Business.
In the South Park episode "Here Come The Neighborhood", circa 2000, the kids mock Token for being from a rich enough family to have a DVD player and not knowing what a VHS is. New viewers could soon have the same question.
Arthur used the record player joke in the episode where Francine plays Thomas Edison in a school play.
Mr. Ratburn: Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph. (deadly silence) The ... record player? (more silence) It was before CDs. Plastic hadn't been invented yet.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law parodies this trope as it applies to The Jetsons. When they come back from the "far off future year of 2002" (Harvey glances at his 2004 desk calendar) to sue the people of the past for ruining the environment, they bring evidence in the "futuristic" form of punch cards and a Betamax tape.
In both reality and in fiction, a physical Porn Stash of videos and magazines is an Unintentional Period Piece. These days people buy a USB storage device or keep it buried on their hard drive - or just leave it all on the Internet and bookmark it.
Video especially. Each physical format had a narrow window between invention and obsolescence.
Anyone remember Digital Audio Tape? Thought not. Think of them as digital 8-track tapes...Oh, you don't remember 8-tracks? DAT seemed to be around in the early 1990s in radio/audio, as a more stable digital recording format than CDs, which tended to scratch and skip. DATs were replaced by minidiscs. Oh, forget it...
Well, not quite — DAT and MD (MiniDisc) actually hit the market at roughly the same time. DAT died fairly swiftly in the consumer-audio world due to the RIAA throwing a hissy-fit over how its ability to make perfect bitwise copies would promote piracy (sound familiar) and threatening lawsuits if it was marketed to consumers, but it hung around in the professional-audio world for quite a while, and as a data-storage and backup format as well. The MD, on the other hand, was quite popular in Asia and Europe, but didn't do well in the US due mostly to some mis-aimed marketing by Sony which made people think MD was supposed to replace the CD (this in the early-to-mid-90s, when most people hadn't even finished making the leap from LP to CD yet!) when what it really was, was the logical successor to cassettes because you could record and erase them at will on a portable device, which couldn't be done with CDs back then.
A common complaint about "obsolete computer entities we still use" (the fifty-cent term for which is 'skeuomorphisms') is the floppy disk icon for saving. A lot of people probably don't even know what it is now.
Funnily enough, it feels like optical disks are going this route, due to the cheapness of external hard drives and the capacity of thumb disks. When was the last time someone asked you to burn them a CD/DVD for data?
Emacs uses an icon of an arrow pointing down at a file cabinet — although any real Emacs user knows the toolbar is for newbies, and that the proper way to save a file is by pressing Control-x Control-s, or Control-x Control-w to "save as".
Similarly, Lotus SmartSuite, last updated in 2002, uses an icon of an arrow pointing into a file folder. Naturally, in its successor Symphony, ever-state-of-the-art Lotus has replaced that icon with...a floppy disk.
LibreOffice has also reverted to the floppy disk icon as of version 4.
Computer Science has a trend on this:
Hard Disks are usually represented as a tall cylinder on disk activity LEDs. There haven't been hard disks shaped like this in decades. Similarly, some logical HDD addressing schemes still use cylinders, heads and sectors.
Eventually, hard disks themselves will be this trope, as Solid-State Drives are making headway — although SSDs' uptake will continue to be limited by the fact that flash memory can't be written non-destructively, meaning that every time you save a file to that shiny new SSD, you're measurably shortening its remaining lifetime. Mechanical hard disks, in spite of those who disparage them as "spinning rust", have no such inherent limitation; especially when power cycles are avoided (i.e., the disk is kept constantly spinning, which is actually easier on the hardware than stopping and restarting it would be) it's not unusual for a server-class hard disk to remain continuously in service for ten years or more.
Some PCs identify Ethernet ports with an icon showing 2 or more PCs connected to a single line. The bus architecture represented by such icon is no longer in use, and current Ethernet interfaces don't even work like that anymore.
Virtual architecture still reflects the designs of yesteryear. Originally, A:\ was the floppy directory; many early operating systems had to be booted from a floppy rather than the hard drive, meaning it was the first drive that would be accessed, hence A:\. Hard drives were relegated to C:\. Today, floppy disks are long obsolete, but on most computers the default hard drive directory remains C:\. (The B:\ directory became this even earlier - it was the 5.25" floppy drive, which was obsolete before even the 3.5" disks.)
Many large mainframes still use magnetic tape drives for data storage. When you get to the Petabyte range they're considerably cheaper and the cassettes are easier to swap out than hard disks.
Unfortunately for John Logie Baird, his AVD was a no-starter. Still, recording an actual image on something other than a roll of film was really something for the 1920s.
Around the same time the leading Soviet electronics magazine, "The Radio", discussed recordingmechanicalTV programs on the blank phonograph disks or celluloid tape, with sound.
In 1956, this was the modern day equivalent of a flash drive.
Never mind the size, note the price - it leased for $3200 a month. For $2500 you could own, outright, a new Chevy convertible.
As of 2011, motion pictures are still often called films, despite the fact that a large number are no longer shot on or projected with film. Similarly, directors often talk about filming a scene.
Editing is done digitally now, but we still use terms like left on the cutting room floor. Traditional animation is sometimes still called cel animation although actual cels have mostly been replaced by digital ink and paint.
As anyone with eternal (or near-eternal) archive legal requirements knows, in the 80s, it was popular to microfilm important documents for easier mass storage. As anyone trying to digitize these archives knows, these neat, little microfilms are a pain in the neck to use and quite time consuming to transfer to computer.
Might be somewhat subverted by the fact that, when properly stored, microfilm is an amazingly durable medium. Computer storage systems have a typical life expectancy of a few decades at most (before the medium starts deteriorating and causing reading errors.) Microfilm, on the other hand, has a life expectancy of about 500 years.
Brazil had a magazine called Revista do CD-ROM (Magazine of the CD-ROM), which had an attached CD with programs. 15 years and 175 issues later, it evolved into Revista do DVD-ROM in 2010. Then in 2013 it became Revista dos Apps, ditching the bonus media for only web and computer journalism.
In his landmark 1945 essay "As We May Think", Vannevar Bush predicted many technologies we take for granted today, like a desk-mounted appliance (i.e., home computer) that gives the user access to vast sums of human knowledge quickly (i.e., the World Wide Web), and the ability to cross-reference related terms instantly (i.e., hypertext). But he thought the total of human knowledge would still be stored on microfilm.
Interestingly, storage for MP3 players has actually regressed a bit nowadays. Around 2005 it was possible to buy them with capacities in excess of 40GB; the Creative NOMAD Zen Xtra ranged from 40GB to 120GB, for example, and the firmware can apparently support up to 250GB. This trend reversed quite quickly because a), probably not even the late John Peel owned that much music and b), the only way to achieve this was using 2.5-inch hard drives. The kind with moving parts, which don't tolerate rough handling very well. Solid state Flash-based players that were both cheaper and less fragile rapidly became the standard. Not to mention some MP3 players, like the Sansa Clip, allow users to expand memory with Micro SD cards.
Old computer interfaces certainly didn't look like a modern one; computer programs came in the form of punch cards, and they were ugly. It mostly applies to works from before the 90s.
Live Action TV
The creators of Star Trek: The Next Generation were aware of how outdated it looked by having starships in the future being run by dials, switches, sliders, knobs, and buttons (really, The Original Series has not aged well in this regard,) so they decided to invent a new interface to run the starships and computers by: The LCARS interface. This let the actors look like they were controlling the ship entirely through a touch interface, and that touching the same small series of buttons could read out numerous different functions. The catch is, back when this was first envisioned, Windows had only just begun its fight in becoming the most preferred interface to use for computers, so all the starships and computers in the future are run by what is basically a touch screen version of DOS.
This in turn, was intentionally Inverted in Star Trek: Voyager by history and pop culture enthusiast Tom Paris. When given the task of inventing a new type of shuttle craft for Voyager, he intentionally designed the cockpit with an entire section of knobs, switches, and a flight stick to control the craft with because of the nostalgic feel it gave, despite being pointed out by Tuvok that it was functionally unnecessary since the LCARS was still just as efficient. Paris also included this because he was well aware that the computers could fail, and having a flight stick for manual control would allow him to fly the craft better during an emergency.
The communicators used in the Original Series were basically a Walkie-Talkie version of Flip-Phones.
Also in Jurassic Park, when Nedry's seemingly talking on a videoconference call, he's actually just talking to some QuickTime movies. Moviegoers these days are more likely to detect and understand the scrollbars on the bottom of the screen.
The fact that technology marches on is the driving force behind the entire plot of Space Cowboys. The main character, a remnant of the defunct Air Force space program, is chosen for the mission to repair an old Russian satellite because he is intimately familiar with several outdated computer technologies which are present in the satellite. His fluency in COBOL is particularly noteworthy.
Isaac Asimov's The Fun They Had mostly avoids this trope, aside from the digital books being on a TV screen. But when the only things keeping school days from being utopian is the computer being large and ugly and the tedious punch cards (the elimination of a facet of society doesn't count, as the main characters don't mind that and it eliminates many, many problems.) this becomes a Plot Hole. And the computers are glitchy and require an actual repairman to come in and fix problems. You'd think that Asimov would expect such problems to be fixed by the 24th century in which this short story takes place.
In The End of Eternity, everyone walks around with a decoder for punch tapes - and no one thinks to put one in a mainframe.
Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has Mike, a computer that can be programmed from multiple locations!! However, when he gets glitchy, they have to call in a computer repairman (who got expensive training in microcircuitry back on Earth) who can program him at the main computer using the powerful microtools of his mechanical arm.
Stanislaw Lem's old fifties novel Astronauci ("The Astronauts"), set in 2003, features a spaceship's computer which has no textual interface at all, instead displaying all its output as wavey graphs without any numbers or words. The operators must specifically learn to read these.
Those would be analog computers. Unlike digital computers, which solve scientific problems by number-crunching (not unlike manual computations on paper), analog computers compute by forming an electrical circuit whose behaviour matches the mathematical formula of interest. The output device was typically an oscilloscope or a roll of graph paper. Due to imperfections in the electrical components (in particular, they tend to be sensitive to temperature) the results were always only approximate, but the same is true for slide rules. The number of components needed to do useful scientific calculations with analog computers are orders of magnitude lower than for digital computers, so before integrated circuits were invented, analog computers were a more natural match for manned spacecraft.
Also the spaceship's computer (The Predictor) is designed to actually fly the ship - until it gets into an Asteroid Thicket and it begins to manoeuver like a crazy World War II fighter pilot to avoid them. The crew has to painfully crawl to it and push a few buttons to return to a normal trajectory. Any computer, regardless how primitive, designed to predict a spaceship's trajectory would gain data from sensors and plan in advance.
Command Line Interfaces (CLI) still exist, despite the fact that only a small fraction of computer users can use them effectively. While commonplace up until the early 90s, they're a mystery to the mainstream world, so much so that some people actually think such interfaces are magical tools capable of Hollywood Hacking. Which is actually kinda-sorta-somewhat true; a well-used CLI handily outdoes a GUI for whole categories of tasks - like, say, making a text file listing everything in a given directory, or batching a hundred repetitive jobs into one single instruction.
For the curious, the UNIX command to write a file listing everything in a directory is ls > output.txt - Windows is similar, dir > output.txtnote From the command prompt. What do you mean, what's a command prompt?. Handy tip - Shift-right-click on a folder allows you to open a command prompt at that folder... with Windows 7, at any rate. How long before that is declared obsolete?
Command-line interfaces are still widely used for accessing and maintaining remote servers (especially Unix servers). These servers often don't have even any kind of display hardware. An experienced system administrator will usually find the CLI significantly more flexible, expressive and powerful than any kind of graphical administrative tool (which by its very nature will often be limited in functionality.) A CLI is like writing in a scripting language on-the-fly. (Many Linux/Unix users, especially those with decades of experience, will also often use the CLI even on their local computers for maintenance and other tasks.)
Go up to a server running a VMWare ESXi host and you may be surprised that everything is operated from a simple text-based menu with an option to access a command line. The justification for this is that the simple interface will allow the server more resources to run it's virtual machines.
The pioneers of the Modern Internet as it grew by bounds in the 1990s assumed their children would use desktops with keyboards and mice - that's still around of course, but many people in the 2010s are enjoying sitting on the couch or lying on their bed (or as they sit on the toilet) as they interface with their portable tablet or smartphone through WiFi and a touch and swipe interface.
Interface changes have rendered a number of programming languages (many developed at MIT for reasons related to one of the things that helped kill them) effectively unusable. A whole group of languages were developed that required a wide range of exotic characters to be typable from the keyboard, usually using a special keyboard known as the Space Cadet Keyboard. This interesting (and obsolete) interface had a total of seven different keys that performed functions analogous to the Shift, Control, and Alt keys on a modern keyboard, allowing direct typing of over 8000 distinct characters (using double-width key codes, this thing produced 14 bit keycodes in an era when 7 bits was the norm). This keyboard was invented at MIT, and was used on many machines there, and the design influenced the development of dense, symbol-laden languages like APL. (The Space Cadet Keyboard dying out in favor of IBM-style keyboards helped kill languages like APL, as did their extreme lack of readability and difficulty of debugging. The poem "There are two things a man must do before this life is done, write two lines of APL and make the buggers run" isn't really a jest.)
As an example, the notoriously hotkey-heavy and unwieldy (on modern keyboards) interface of the aforementioned GNU Emacs, sometimes called in jest "Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift", among others, was directly influenced by the Space Cadet Keyboard, because its author Richard Stallman happens to hail from MIT. All those escape characters and modifier keystrokes? — there was a dedicated key for any of it!
Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Serial ATA (SATA) killed off a lot of connectors. PCMICA, SCSI, most of the "serial" and "parallel" connectors. Before The New Tens it was common for printers, cameras and other devices to have special connectors so they could be hooked into a computer. Some programs required a "dongle" to run, lose it and your software won't work. Copy protection schemes advanced as did connectors. Aside from Apple, most now use USB and most drives use SATA. Dongles are a thing of the past.
A quite common connector-that-no-longer-exists problem is the parallel port, commonly used for printers before USB came along. There are a lot of high-end laser printers out there in commercial and industrial installations that will last for decades (because they were both very well made and were designed to be repairable). The solution is the USB-to-parallel adapter, essentially a parallel port that connects to USB. You can also gets USB adapters for serial, base-T ethernet, and just about anything else you can imagine. As well, the old PS/2 style keyboard and mouse connectors aren't likely to go anywhere on high-end systems, since they will work under conditions where USB won't (and yes, USB can and does have software failures that will lock you out of the system, but that doesn't happen with PS/2).
Ironically despite the ubiquity of USB and the extinction of parallel ports, there are still headers for a standard RS-232 port if you really need one. From 2005 to roughly 2009 mainboards with parallel ports were practically extinct, none could be found in ordinary shops. After 2009, producers brought back the classic mainboard configuration (2 serial ports, 1 parallel port, 4 to 8 USB ports, 1 PS/2 port), due to public demand. The DIY computer market uses serial and parallel ports for homebuilt devices to talk to computers according to The Other Wiki, since it's relatively cheaper and far less complicated than USB while still doing exactly what it needs to.
AGP ports have been made extinct by PCE-Express ports, while PCI has generally been reduced to a single 'legacy' port on new chipsets, with various types of PCI Express being used for the majority of slots on a motherboard.
Despite all the stereotypes about Japan being on the edge of technology, most of the economy is still being run by the older generations who refuse to upgrade technology. This Cracked article has no qualms about shattering the illusions of many a Japanophile of how glorious the country must be by pointing out that most banks do not have outdoor ATMs; many businesses do not accept credit cards of any sort; and most businesses still operate using fax machines, paper, and a good old-fashioned no. 2 pencil. Much like the NASA examples listed above, many computers being used in businesses are likely to be primitive 80s or pre-Windows 95 systems just because they know that the systems work. It's like the old adage: "If it isn't broke, don't fix it."
The widely-available cellphone is a major Trope Breaker, leading to many clumsy explanations for why cell phones don't work in particular circumstances. And far fewer characters get murdered in a phone booth these days, for instance.
The mobile phone is actually Older than You Think, though, especially in the form of a "car phone." While expensive and limited in many ways, commercially-available car phone technology dates back to the late 1940s, often with radio used to contact an operator, who then would patch the call into the regular phone system. An episode of the 1950s TV series Superman shows editor Perry White using the MTS radiotelephone in his car to call his office. There are several episodes of Perry Mason showing Paul Drake using one.
Related to the cell phone trend is Caller-ID, which has put a damper on the once-common childhood pastime of prank phone calls. On most phone systems, it's possible to override Caller-ID on a per-call basis... but then the problem becomes the fact that many people won't answer calls from "Unknown Caller" or "Blocked Number".
Do note that while cell phones are everywhere nowadays, cell phone service is not. It is still possible to lose coverage in remote areas, so stories where the heroes are stranded in the middle of nowhere can still be plausible.
Anime & Manga
Lampshaded on Detective Conan, when Conan realizes something was amiss that a famous novelist is still writing plots that have been outmoded thanks to just about everybody and their brother having cell phones. It turned out that the said novelist's brother locked him into an attic and forced him to go on writing.
In the final arc of the Patlabor manga (written in the late '80s - early '90s, set in the late '90s - early 2000s) the bad guys attack the police station where the protagonists are stationed during a hurricane to force a Griffon - Ingram match. To prevent anybody from interfering, they blow up the bridges leading to the station and wreck any landline phones and radios they can find (including a car phone) so the protagonists can't call for help. Considering how common cell phones were in the early 2000s... Yeah.
Which is strange because they averted this in an earlier episode where the same bad guys use the Phantom, a robot with a retractable electronic warfare suite in its torso that jams communications.
Most cell phones probably don't have coverage inside the belly of a retrofitted alien warship that is currently somewhere out near the orbit of Neptune. Macross can also get a pass for having a history that diverges from ours beginning with a prolonged global war that only ends after the catastrophic impact of said warship in 1999. Technological innovation has simply gone in different directions.
In Sailor Moon, for something that is from the future, Luna-P is extremely dated in her (its?) function as a communication device. The sound quality is absolutely awful, and Sailor Pluto is barely recognisable on the screen. Could be excusable however seeing as how she's calling THROUGH TIME.
In Revolutionary Girl Utena, super rich and powerful playboy Akio drives around town (and pretty much everyplace else) in a souped-up convertible. Everything about the car is meant to emphasize extreme luxury, and its crowning feature is the inclusion of a car phone. When the show came out, this was an item only typically only used by powerful and wealthy businessmen, so it underscored what a well-connected player Akio was. Nowadays, it looks downright quaint, and makes the car look like a 20 year old model that Akio got second hand.
Batman and Robin have been known to use a hotline to talk to Commissioner Gordon. Several stories implied that the Batphone worked off of a direct physical phoneline that went all the way from Wayne Manor to police headquarters. One example is an actual phone, cord and everything, in the glove compartment of the Batmobile. Also, they've used radios to talk to each other, but it was something hidden in their belts.
The iconic Bat Signal itself may qualify. Originally introduced in the 1940s, it was a handy way for Gordon to tell Batman he needed to see him when Bats wasn't near the hotline phone. Once tech rendered the Bat Signal unnecessary, later stories have dealt with the problem by implying that the real purpose of the signal is to inspire hope in the people of Gotham, and remind them that there is someone looking out for them.
The series beginning with Batman: Year 1 actually gives Gordon a Bat-Pager initially, which he throws off the building as being "too secret", to be replaced with the Bat Signal as an open acknowledgement and endorsement of the police to Batman.
The Green Arrow story Quiver has Ollie brought back to life after dying. But the version of him brought back is about ten years out of date (long story; his soul opted to remain in heaven, and he allowed Hal Jordon to resurrect a version of himself from before his life was screwed up). Since the story was written in 1999, this means he was unfamiliar with cellphones, mistaking one for a walky-talky, and believing it to be an expensive piece of tech when he was told it could call anywhere.
El Negro Blanco is a 1990s Argentine comic strip. Chispa, who was avoiding her boyfriend, instructed her friend to tell him that she wasn't there if he calls to the office. And what if he calls to her cell phone? "Oh, this thing? Tell him that it's broken again", and she tosses into the trash bin, compacting everything that was there. A comic strip from the times when cell phones did exist, but had the size and weight of a brick or even more.
The fan fiction "The Prince" is an alternate retelling of the story of Jesus Christ from the New Testament set in the Midwest USA and in the present day. It was originally written in the year 2000. In this fanfic, the character Lucas has a cell phone. Back in 2000, a 13 year old in the 8th grade was unlikely to have a cell phone- so the author included this to show that Lucas was the most scientific, intellectual, and techno-savvy of all of Joshua Christopher's friends. Nowadays, this would not work so well, since many kids that age do have cell phones. Author would have to have Lucas have at least an iPad in order to show his nerdiness.
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex's gang's MO for breaking into houses is to knock on doors reporting an accident and ask to use the telephone. These days it would be more suspicious that no one has a cellphone in the supposed accident.
In Richard Lester's 1965 Swinging London movie The Knack, a pompous guy is using a limo phone. Tom, a rather mad young man, holds up a potted plant and taps at the window. When the guy rolls it down, Tom tells him "Pardon me, sir, you're wanted on the other fern."
The famous "Birth" sketch (also known as "The Machine that goes Ping") from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life was, at the time, a cutting satire on what was seen as unnecessary spending on medical equipment. Nowadays, anyone who's seen a modern medical drama, with the surgeons surrounded by massive banks of electronic equipment, may wonder what all the fuss is about — to the point that operating without such equipment nowadays would be seen as unusual and dangerous. Other parts of the sketch though remain relevant.
Also, Cleese and Chapman tell the woman after the birth that she can get a video of the birth of her child on VHS and Betamax!
Soylent Green is set in 2022, and yet Thorn is forced to rely on police call boxes, opposed to a radio or a cell.
In Time Bandits Evil asks Robert to explain "subscriber trunk dialing", which is a means of direct dialing a long distance number (rather than going through an operator), which is now largely obsolete now that every call is direct dialed.
TRON: Legacy lampshades this with Allen Bradley telling Sam Flynn that he got a message on his pager from Kevin Flynn. Sam seems pretty much as surprised that Allen still has a functional pager as he is that the message came from his father, who disappeared over twenty years ago.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Floyd uses a video payphone. Payphones are obsolete now and video phones flopped, though video conferencing over computers is fairly common.
The rapid evolution of the cell phone is given a slight nod in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Among the things that Gordon Gecko gets back once he leaves prison is his (formerly) extravagant and top-of-the-line brick-sized cell phone.
Zoolander (2001) is an odd half-example. The joke is that Derek's cell phone is teeny-tiny, less than an inch long, again in reference to his pampered lifestyle and expensive tastes. But it's still a black, only-slightly-flattened brick, with its little antenna. It failed to anticipate that the advent of smart phones would stop dead the trend they were exaggerating.
In the original Die Hard, John McClane's inability to contact the outside causes him some problems initially, as he's forced to use a captured radio to try and call in the police. If he had had a mobile phone, the movie would have gone much differently.
Throughout Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Simon Gruber has John McClane and Zeus Carver driving all around New York City to answer specific payphones where Simon issues different instructions, and he bluffs the NYPD off their radios by insinuating some of the bombs were keyed to police frequencies... then he locks up the entire New York switchboard by calling a popular radio station about the fake bomb he planted in a school, to destroy the other means of communication the NYPD could've had. Cell phones would've beaten both in a second (but then, Simon would've probably had something forthateventually as well.)
Under heavy loads, cellular phone networks jam as well. A real life example would be during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
In Scream Billy is taken to the police station and questioned as a suspect because he has a cell phone (the calls made by the killer were from a cell phone). The film came out just before cell phones were about to take off and Billy even tells the sergeant "everybody's got one".
The remake of The Haunting has Dr Marrow saying he has a cell phone in case of emergency. Naturally it gets broken and the characters can't contact anyone for help. These days the likes of Theo and Luke would definitely have one too. Eleanor perhaps not considering how repressed she was.
Lampshaded in The Hangover. When they're checking in, Alan asks if the hotel is pager friendly. The woman behind the counter plainly has no idea what he's talking about, even as he's waving his pager at her. He then asks if they have a bank of payphones he can use in case he gets a page.
Clueless (released in 1995) is a bit of an odd example: the teen protagonist and her friends all have cellphones...which was meant to show how ridiculously wealthy and privileged they were. Since nowadays every teenager regardless of social class has a cell phone, anyone watching the film today would simply comment on how dated the phones look.
Likewise, the scene where the girls are talking to each other on the phone while walking side-by-side isn't quite so hilarious because, even if they're overwhelmingly texting each other rather than talking nowadays, it's entirely possible to see people doing this in real life.
In The Birdcage it's a fairly major plot point that while a character can dial out from her car phone, she can't receive calls on it. Thus while she can call out for her messages, and then call the protagonists, they can't call her back to say that plans have changed yet again.
Casino Royale (2006): The presence of mobile phones were probably intended to show how gadgets aren't necessary in the modern world. They looked terrific at the time (remember that GPS?) but amusingly, in the smartphone era, they all now look terribly out of date.
In a Check-Out-Life-Before-Smartphones example, when one of the passengers in Snakes on a Plane suggests they e-mail the herpetologist photos of the snakes they've killed so he can identify them, everyone else assumes they need to find a digital camera and computer. She holds up her smartphone and tells them it has both.
In Commando, a group of baddies kidnap John Matrix' daughter and try to use her as leverage to get him to do an assassination for them. He rebels, (of course) and begins trying to get her back by tracking down the members of the group and getting them to reveal where she is. One of the first such members, Sully, frantically tries to get to a phone booth to inform his superiors about what's going on and in one case is in the middle of dialing when Matrix destroys the phone booth to stop the call from going through. Starting about 10-12 years later, Sully would almost certainly have had a cell phone and could have placed the call within seconds of seeing Matrix, leading to the grisly demise of his daughter.
Matilda: A point of tension in the film comes from the fact that no one believes the children about how ridiculously abusive the Trunchbull is to her students (and Miss Honey). The film was released in 1996. Nowadays, such a problem would very easily be fixed by the fact that most cell phones have video-capture capabilities.
In The Ref, the One Last Job of cat burglar Gus goes badly wrong, and he forces a local upper middle class couple to hide him from police patrols in their house. There's a problem though: it's Christmas Eve, and the extended family is already on the road, so there's no possible way to cancel them coming over now! Instead they have to improvise by having Gus pretend to be the dysfunctional couple's marriage counselor, pretending to attend the dinner with them.
In To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, a 1995 Road Movie about a trio of drag queens, it's a big deal when Vida tosses their road map after a bad encounter with her parents early in the trip. Chi-Chi wonders how they'll get to LA, and when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they have no idea where in "Gay Hell" they are. Had the movie been more contemporary, the queens would have had smartphones with Google Maps or a standalone GPS.
For all of Gibson's eerie prescience in Neuromancer, he didn't foresee the mass saturation of cellphones.
As even Gibson admits, it wasn't that he was prescient, it's that a lot of people read the book, looked at some aspect of the technology and went "That's so cool! I want to have that!" and went out and made it happen.
Cujo. The mother and son could have called animal control and gotten out of the car in an hour if they had a cellphone. Instead, they are trapped for a couple of days.
In the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, there was almost always a scene of someone scrambling to find a pay phone to call for help. In the newest books, they just zip off text messages. It makes trying to get a kid interested in the old books difficult when they keep asking "what's a payphone?"
Deliberately invoked in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Business Unusual, written in 1997 but set in 1989. Mel's dad sees his G1 mobile phone the size of a brick as a bit of a status symbol (he's a businessman involved with computers). The Doctor is not impressed.
Ray Bradbury's "The Murderer" not only described a world with universal personal phones (though he imagined them on your wrist like Dick Tracy's wrist radio,) he predicted the drawbacks - being called at all times by salesmen and phony surveys, the noise of other people's phones around you - to the extent that the story is told from the POV of someone who's been driven mad by it.
In Back to Methuselah, written in 1918-20, the 21st century has videophones, but in the far future people communicate at a distance by holding a tuning fork by their head and speaking at the same pitch. No hint how it works: it's future tech, it's meant to be baffling.
In the My Teacher Is an Alien series, Peter is given an incredibly useful device called a URAT (Universal Reader And Translator) by the aliens, which just goes to show how amazing their tech is. It can be used as a video communicator, can look up pretty much any information, can give you directions to anywhere you want to go, and can even be used to order merchandise that will then be delivered to your home! In short, it is a smartphone, which sounded a lot more futuristic in the early 90s when the books were written. Considering that one of the major plot threads in the story is the aliens being afraid of how quickly the human race is advancing, this could be Hilarious in Hindsight.
The gimmick of the children's book Calling Questers Four is that the pre-teen protagonists have the unique ability to contact each other without having to look for a payphone — they own a pair of walkie-talkies.
In The Baby-Sitters Club, published in the late 80s-early 90s, a big deal is made of Claudia's having her own phone line so that they can use it as the Babysitter's Club number.
The first Red Dwarf novel from 1989 has Rimmer reminding Z-Shift to "stay by a 'phone" in case of emergencies and Petrovich trying to get through to Rimmer for "over an hour" because Rimmer isn't answering a pager-like device.
Live Action TV
Little House on the Prairie: Although filmed in the 1970s and early 1980s, there are abundant examples of the early workings of technological marvels that we take for granted today in these episodes, set in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The telephone is first referenced in Season 4's "Whisper Country," where Mary explains to the family the new invention called the telephone. Season 5's "The Godsister" saw Charles work on a crew installing telephone line; and in Season 6's "Crossed Connections," the contraption is seen in use. All episodes were set circa 1880, which was about the time some smaller communities started to get connected.
The Brady Bunch: Before cell phones and iPhones, there was pay telephones. These all-but-obsolete devices make up a large part of the plots of two first-season episodes: "Sorry, Wrong Number" (where Mike installs a pay phone inside the house to teach his kids phone-related lessons) and "Tiger, Tiger" (where the family dog runs off and the family – making liberal use of pay telephones – work with Carol and Alice to track the pooch down). The former episode could easily be re-written today, with Mike being frustrated that his kids are running up cell phone bills, going "over their minutes" on their family plans and so forth; "Tiger, Tiger" has, among other reasons, become a relic of its time, as the use of other modern technologies (such as vehicle navigation systems and GPS-chipped dog collars) has also come into play along with cellular phones and iPhones.
Game Shows:" Oohs" and "aahs" abounded when a car phone was shown as a prize on many game shows of the 1980s era, including (but not limited to) Wheel of Fortune, Sale Of The Century and The Price Is Right. Always, said item was at least $2,500, and on $ale was one of the end-game prizes (during the shopping era).
The cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003, would have been saved from many a scrape if they'd just had cellphones. Quite a few episodes use a character being in peril and unable to contact Buffy as a plot device. This wasn't a big deal in the earlier seasons, but the show hit it big just as cellphones were starting to become mainstream, so after a few years it began to seem rather odd, especially since the cast was full of teenagers (later, young adults), the group most likely to carry a cellphone. This was lampshaded at the start of the final season (in September 2002) when Buffy gives her sister Dawn "a weapon" to help protect herself, which turns out to be a cellphone. From then on most of the cast had cellphones - although ironically, they hardly ever needed to use them, since that season also saw every single character move into Buffy's house.
One episode reveals that Giles does indeed own a pager, joking that they should page him if the apocalypse happens when he's not around.
Angel. In order to hand-wave it, they explained it as Angel being a cranky old man unwilling to adapt to new technology. Also, bad coverage.
The first episode of the '60s series The Prisoner uses a cordless phone as an eerie, impossible-seeming device that the protagonist does a double take at. Though it does still have an odd Zeerust design so nowadays it can seem like that's what he's noticing.
The first season of Due South (1994) had Fraser track a drug dealer by triangulating the signals from the cell phone towers the dealer's cell phone was using. The script establishes Fraser's solution as innovative and clever, and has Fraser's partner loudly doubt that it will work. Cell phones weren't very common in 1994, and it wasn't common knowledge that they even could be tracked. Today, it's routinely done; and using triangulation is neither a quaint relic (Fraser introduces the idea as "the way we used to track caribou up north") nor especially obscure. In fact many modern Smart Phones can use the same technique as a local GPS equivalent.
In a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, Kevin Nealon says "And a recent study indicates that cellular phone users may be more likely to develop brain tumors. The problem has gotten very little public attention, however, since most people don't care if people who use cellular phones die." Probably wouldn't get that much applause now.
One of the reasons the 1960s Batman show used the Bat-phone far more than the more well-known Bat-signal was because it was supposed to be cool that Batman would have a phone in his car and would let the show seem more high-tech. More recent comic storylines even lampshaded this, with Commissioner Gordon asking if he could just have Batman's cell phone number instead of having to turn on the Bat-signal every time he needed help.
In an episode of Ellen, she and her friends are in a limo and one of the characters wants to call someone to brag that she's calling from a limo, and another character retorts "Do you think Steven Spielberg calls his friends saying "Guess where I'm calling from!"
Seinfeld relies a lot on Poor Communication Kills, with various characters' inability to communicate vital information causing an unending series of humorous escapades. One memorable example would be George's frustration at being unable to use a pay phone at a Chinese restaurant because a patron is hogging it.
The "cutting-edge" technology seen in Miami Vice is quite funny to look at in retrospect. Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs have to pose as undercover drug dealers for the purposes of their job, and subsequently have access to all the latest tools and technology. The series establishes this early on in the third episode, with a scene shot solely to emphasize the fact that Crockett has a car phone (and the receiver looks like a giant brick).
The idea of the swingin' bachelor's "little black book" of women to call up was referenced in many 80s and 90s sitcoms, but this has been made obsolete by cell phone "contact lists". Which leaves the 2004 film Little Black Book with something of an Artifact Title for younger viewers, as the eponymous item is a PDA, not an actual booklet.
Not to mention the fact that, in the years since the film came out, smartphones have supplanted PDAs in almost every professional field.
Younger viewers may also be confused as why having the phone number of everyone you know is a signifier of anything at all.
A good one from The West Wing: Bartlet sees Leo after not being able to get in touch with him when he needed him, and does a little sarcastic speech about how "if only there was some sort of telephonic device with a personalized number we could call... perhaps it would look something like this, Mr Moto" — he says, pulling Leo's pager off his belt.
Though this was also because Leo was old; most of the staff used and were comfortable with cell phones from the pilot onward, even in the flashbacks.
JAG: In "Sightings", Harm asks a ten year old girl: Do you know how to operate a cellular phone?
Read All About It had a bulky communicator about the size of a small beverage cooler that sends text messages in 1983. It's redeemed by its extraordinary range that not only reaches vast instances without the need of a cell network, but also can communicate into different time periods, perfect when you've been thrown centuries into the past via accidental Time Travel.
Ghostwriter was about a group of kids who solved mysteries with the help of a ghost who could communicate with them by rearranging letters. Distance was no issue and the kids could write messages to each other without being in the same place. A cellphone could have produced many of the same results. note One thing they wouldn't be able to duplicate would be his ability to read and repeat any sort of information in the form of text, including digitally. In other words, a modern GW would be more akin to the NSA.
Rescue 911's cases were all taken from The Eighties and The Nineties, and a lot could have been made much easier with cell phones. however; during that timeframe, cell phones were expensive, bulky, and all around uncommon.
One episode shows a woman noticing people breaking into her house run to call 911. She at first grabs the rotary phone (still actually existed in the 90s!) but decides it takes too long, before going to the digital phone.
Another episode about a five year old girl finding her house empty would seem like an Idiot Plot today. What normally happened was that she rode the bus to another school where her mom would pick her up. However; instead that day, her friend's parents gave her a ride home, and word didn't make it to her mother, who was at the other school. Nowadays; her friend's parents would surely have called her mom's cell phone if they were going to drive her home. Or, if she came home and found it empty, she should have thought to call her mom's cell phone to tell her she was home.
One case did involve a cell phone — and you can see just how big they were at the time.
Zack in Saved by the Bell has a cellphone in High School in 1991-1992. The joke at the time was that this kid has is such a High School Hustler that he's able to invest in a tool associated with big-shot executives. Now it's the size of the thing that's the joke.
This is seen in Switched at Birth; texting is the go-to means of communication among the main cast with the Deaf characters all having smartphones (specifically iPhones) with video-chat functions. Carlton School and some of the more established Deaf households have TTY/TDD machines (which could transmit text to each other over landlines but require a relay service for communicating with regular phones); these sit unused, being a clunky special-needs workaround obsoleted by the above-mentioned mainstream tech.
Parodied in That '80s Show, where at one point (and heavily used in the commercials) one of the characters is in a bar, yelling into a big gray brick "Guess what? I'm calling on a portable phone! No not a pay phone, a portable phone!" While cell phones were obviously not the ubiquitous devices they are now, they weren't mysterious space-gadgets and most folks would at least understand the concept.
Subverted with The X-Files; cell phones were commonly used by Mulder and Scully. Chris Carter himself stated that he made cell phone usage by the heroes a regular feature, in order to sidestep critics who would complain that the characters having cell phones would have allowed them to solve their cases faster.
In the early seasons of Frasier, there are frequent references to pagers, and Niles is the only one of the cast wealthy (and pretentious) enough to have a cellular phone (his first one isn't quite a brick, but you can watch cell phone technology change with his upgrades). One episode even highlights how relatively rare the devices were when Frasier notes that a recently-arrived professional juggler must have been contacted on her "car phone", prompting Niles' near slack-jawed shock that "Street performers have car phones?!" Of course, most of the various Fawlty Towers Plot styled antics wouldn't have worked quite the same if the characters could just call each other at any time.
A seventh season episode has Roz enthused by the fact that Cafe Nervosa has put in a phone line to allow people with (rather clunky) laptops to go online.
Sheeler & Sheeler's 1990 parody of "Convoy", "Car Phone", is doubly dated: not only does it praise a type of phone which is long since obsolete, but it describes people freely using them while driving — even to call the highway patrol and report a drunk driver — without any suspicion that doing so will soon be illegal.
The coke dealer who narrates Steely Dan's 1980 song "Glamour Profession" subtly brags about having a car phone ("When it's all over / We'll make some calls from my car / We're a star"), as a benefit of having high-end customers like pro athletes. By the late 1990s even street-level dealers had their own cellphones.
Dick Tracy had his wrist communicators for decades before cell phones starting in the 1940s. Furthermore, they are upgraded about every twenty years for additional functions. Interestingly enough, there have been various versions of wrist-cellphones - often compared to Det. Tracy's radio - since the early 2000s.
Lampshaded in one of the examples in the 5th edition Champions genre book. A villain cuts the phone lines to isolate the bank he's robbing, and everyone trapped by his mooks immediately goes for their cell phones.
The first couple of editions of Shadowrun had "The Crash" to explain using the internet as a 3D virtual reality network. After cellphones and wifi became commonplace, the later editions added "The Second Crash", changing everything to wireless, since searching for a terminal to plug in to started seeming a bit ridiculous...
Deus Ex: The game is set in the 2050s, but pay phones are still seen in in public. And this in the same world that has infolinks, which are pretty much radios built augmented into your head.
Possibly in reference to this, the prequel Human Revolution still has payphones scattered around Detroit, albeit high tech ones. This game came out in 2011.
Grand Theft Auto II, which is set in Twenty Minutes into the Future, resorts to using phone booths as points where the player receives missions (as is in earlier GTA games). Being a game that incorporates Zeerust aesthetics, though, this bit of detail can be forgiven as being a stylistic choice.
Pay phones and pagers are the only communication devices used by the player in Grand Theft Auto III, a game set as late as 2001. While it's lampshaded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that the main character of GTA III is implied to be a man of few words, it doesn't fully explain how silent characters from both the first Grand Theft Auto (set in the late 1990s) and Grand Theft Auto London (set in the 1960s) also receive calls on mobile phones or walkie-talkies. Grand Theft Auto Advance (set a year before GTA III) is a similar offender.
L.A. Noire requires the player to call up dispatch on various phones, often using the witness or suspect's house phone without asking permission, in order to research names and information. The speed with which the clerk finds such information matches the speed of a Google search, however.
Lampshaded in Scarface: The World is Yours. Tony snags a box-shaped cell phone off the body of a high-level henchman early on in the game, and uses it to call various people throughout the rest of the story. Several characters (including Tony himself) reference how rare and top-of-the-line the phone is, and how lucky he is to have one.
This video demonstrates a number of cases where a movie plot conflict could easily be eliminated or the story shortened because characters had cell phones to call for help/look up information/reveal information to people that had been withheld from them/etc.
In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet gets the message to Romeo that she will fake her own death, instead of the miscommunication caused by a plague outbreak that closed the road.
The Home Alone clip shows Kevin being called by his mother right after he finds himself all alone, and she tells him to go to a friend's house - which if done in the actual movie would have reduced the running time to about 45 minutes. Except for the fact that this doesn't explain how then booby trapping the house to stop Harry and Marv would work.
And this video shows similar examples of plot conflicts being resolved because the characters had the ability to go on the Internet:
For example, in Basic Instinct, the damning evidence against Catherine Trammell is that Nick Curran looks at her Internet search history that indicates she's been reading websites with information about how to use an ice pick as a murder weapon. note While several criminals have been caught this way, someone with a little forethought and knowledge would've just used Incognito/Private Mode, which is now standard on all mainstream modern browsers.
The plot twist of The Sixth Sense (that Malcolm Crowe has been Dead All Along) wouldn't be a surprise because he'd be looking himself up on the Internet when Cole asks him if he's a certified doctor.
This video continues the concept with smartphones:
In The Usual Suspects, the reveal that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze would come simply by Agent Kujan looking up Keyser Soze's Facebook page.
A 90s episode of Arthur had Muffy, the rich girl, the only character who had access to a cell phone. There was another episode from the same decade that had Arthur lost downtown, and unable to reach home since he had no money for a pay phone (and apparently didn't know how to call collect). Recent episodes of course have everyone with a cell.
One of the pre-cancellation episodes of Family Guy aired in 2000 - "Brian Wallows as Peter Swallows" - has Brian singing a song to a shut-in about all the modern things she's missed over the last 40 years. One of the things he sings about is that a guy with a cell phone would make everyone think "that guy's life must rule!".
In The Simpsons episode "Lard of the Dance", new student Alex Whitney has a cell phone; it serves as an indicator of how mature and grown-up she is, or at least is attempting to act.
The earlier episode "Bart Gets Famous" had Bart given one only because he was Krusty's assistant. If the episode aired today the joke of an elementary school student answering a phone in class wouldn't be as funny.
Going along with the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law parody example mentioned above, the Jetsons' quaintness was shown when George proudly showed off a cell phone almost as tall as him as one of their 'technological marvels', which is promptly lampshaded when Peanut pulls out his pocket sized cell phone.
Played with in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, where Billy tries desperately to make a successful prank call, but everyone in his house has Caller ID, which hilariously even contains his personal information. After even wearing a costume to not be recognized and failing, Billy looks in Grim's trunk for some way to beat caller ID, and discovers the dangerous Phone of Cthulhu.
Inverted in Futurama, where a new invention has rendered cell phones obsolete, and people does no longer need to carry them to all places. This incredible invention of the year 3010? Phone booths!
This was mentioned in a true-crime documentary about an unsolved homicide of a taxi driver near Edinburgh in 1983. Two teenage witnesses who saw the crime in progress cycled two miles to a nearby hotel to get to a telephone. One of the original case detectives observed that had mobile telephones been common then the police would have been alerted much sooner and the perpetrator perhaps would've been caught.
Many older humans mention that if someone got on the wrong train or off at the wrong bus stop they'd have to hope that the person they missed either waited for them or followed them to the right station or stop. Could go very very wrong if people's instincts were different.
Many people today still don't wholly understand how profound the consequences of the cell phone age are. For example, lots of people still routinely get outraged to see homeless people with cell phones, thinking that they're enjoying an undeserved luxury, without stopping to notice how cheap prepaid cell phone service is these days, or more importantly, how valuable a phone can be to a homeless person. Cell phones mean that the homeless can now leave callback numbers for interviews or odd jobs, dial 911 anywhere they are, call their family and friends, etc. There are actually charities that accept used cell phones as donations and give them to the homeless.
Not to mention programs like SafeLink, which provide free cell phone service to anyone on federal aid (Medicaid, food stamps, and the like) or below the poverty line. People need to keep in mind that many people on assistance, including homeless people, are employed, they just don't make enough to afford rent.
This point is raised in Polly Toynbee's book Hard Work, about minimum wage jobs in the UK, in relation to unemployed people having mobile phones. She points out that if you're looking for work you need to have access to your phone at all times: one missed call from an employment agency and a potential job opportunity is lost.
Barbara Ehrenreich, trying to see if you could really earn a living wage working incognito at low-end jobs in 2000note If she'd tried to do this project a few years later, she wouldn't have been able to., often used pay phones for this purpose. The hole-in-the-wall "apartments" she could afford either had no phones or charged extra for them.
Along these lines, in some very poor developing countries, cell phones are more ubiquitous than most people from developed countries would imagine, because it has been cheaper to set up cell towers than to finish the extremely arduous task of running additional landlines to remote or poorly-maintained areas. More info here and here.
Many people have a similar reaction to children with cell phones, believing them spoiled, not realizing that a phone lets them keep in touch with their parents (and vice versa), call 911 wherever they are, and talk to their friends without tying up the house phone.
Before cell phones were widespread someone who owned one and called the local emergency number from their cell phone while they were travelling might have been connected to an emergency operator hundreds of miles away from where they were. Before the American GPS and Russian GLONASS global positioning systems were available to civilians, cell phone calls were routed by the caller's area code and emergency operators would then have had to relay information to the local emergency responders.
People sometimes say "instantaneous communication didn't exist before the internet/cellphones." But it did, since 1837, and certainly since 1876. Public pay phones, 1902. Kennedy conspiracy theory posits that Cronkite couldn't have gotten the initial news within scant minutes of the shooting. There was a telephone in the press car. Merriman Smith grabbed it the moment he heard the shots. He spoke to local UPI, which transmitted to UPI teletypes everywhere, including CBS. Four minutes, tops. And it would have been sooner if the news bureaus hadn't all started sending at once, fouling up the UPI transmission. Cronkite was on the air six minutes later, as Smith continued to phone in bulletins from the hospital.
Wristwatches are falling out of style these days, as most people simply check the display on their phones. But didn't wristwatches replace such pocket watches in the first place?
In David McCullough's book The Johnstown Flood the author mentions this trope in action as he interviewed survivors of the 1889 flood in the 1960s - some people he interviewed mentioned knowing the time of the flood by looking at their wristwatches, however wristwatches didn't become popular until the 1920s, 30 years later. Over the years they had become so accustomed to wearing them, they assumed they had them at the time of the flood.
But your great-grandfather's windup hunter-case probably does not play MP3s or have GPS function. Why carry two pieces of electronics when you can make do with one?
The 6th generation iPod Nano capitalizes on its small, square formfactor with a clip that accessory makers make wristbands for it so said iPod can become a watch. Not to mention there are dedicated wristwatches with cell phone functions like Dick Tracy, made practical through bluetooth tech.
It is still useful in areas where cellphones and other similar devices are prohibited, or if you turn your cell phone off for whatever reason.
Or for swimmers who want to time their performance while in the pool.
Old-style watches do have one massive advantage over cell-phone; battery power. A decent battery-powered watch can last months or even years before it needs to be replaced. Even a really, really good cell phone power supply won't last more than a few days to a week, if you aren't using it much.
Forget batteries: you can get digital watches with solar cells on the face so that you don't need to replace any battery, and analog watches can use old-fashioned winding or more sophisticated kinetic energy systems that store energy when the watch moves so there's no need for any electrical power.
In any case, wrist watches replaced pocket watches in the trenches of World War I because it was much easier and quicker to check the time on your wrist than to have to put down what you were holding (likely a shovel or a gun) and pull it out.
Another reason some use wristwatches over cellphones for checking the time is for convenience, oddly enough. Pulling up your sleeve and turning your wrist is somewhat quicker than pulling it out of your pocket, and much faster than rummaging through a handbag or backpack where you're not sure where it exactly is. You can also check the time while holding something in the hand its attached to.
There also the fact that smart wrist watches, often working in conjunction with smart phones, are the consumer item that various tech companies are gambling will be the next hot accessory.
For the most part the actual telephone dial◊ became obsolete long before you were born, but the term 'dialing' survives.
Nor do you hang or place the phone on a cradle anymore to disconnect - you press a button. It's still called "hanging up", though.
The term "hanging up" for that matter. Hanging a receiver on a hook (instead of putting it unto the cradle) died even earlier that the rotary dial, except for certain wall-mounted phones, which still have a specially designed cradle, rather than an exposed hook, and maybe certain pay phones.
An actually "hook" that held the receiver and also functioned as the switch control for accessing the network was generally used on wall-mount rotary phones. Rotary desktop phones generally had a button in the handset cradle that performed the same function. Interestingly, while modern residential touchtone phones (early models often just replaced the rotary dial with the touchtone pad) usually use something more sophisticated and harder to bypass (like a magnetic sensor and an embedded magnet in the handset), many professional phones retain a physical switch as well as adding external software control of this function, so office workers of different types can control their phone in the way best suited to the work they are doing.
While still around, highway call boxes are starting to fade out due to the proliferation of cellphones.
In the same vein, pay phones have disappeared from some areas but still remain in others. In some areas, the government has stepped in to prevent payphones from being taken out of service because they're still commonly used by the poor. It might also be cheaper to keep a payphone in operation than to erect a cellphone tower in a remote location where few people would use the cell service.
In many places, especially in railway stations and airports, phone booths have been replaced by public terminals, that still function as payphones if you really need one, but their main function is to allow Internet access for tourists without laptops.
In the past in North America, apartment buildings were equipped with buzzers that were basically columns of buttons; each button was hard-wired to a console in one of the apartments, where tenants would be advised of visitors by a literal buzz coming from the console. (You can see this in Breakfast at Tiffany's.) As buildings became larger (and as tenants balked at the ugly plastic consoles that disfigured their walls), a new system was devised whereby the buzzer on the main floor was instead connected to a telephone line and would send the buzz instead directly to the tenant's telephone. (Still used in many gated communities and apartment complexes.) Unfortunately, tenants don't always have landlines, so the buzzer would often be connected to a cellphone number - which could be both expensive and insecure if the tenant were out of town or had an out-of-town cellphone number. This is why landlords often specify that tenants must have landline phones. (Apartment buildings outside of North America may still have the old style of buzzer due not just to the above problems but due to the fact that in many countries it can take months to get a landline telephone installed.)
In Canada especially the smaller provinces like Saskatchewan still use buzzers primarily.
The fear of burglars made (quite literally) all apartment buildings in Romania to install intercoms in the 1990s. Complete systems, with a separate (from the "true" numbered phone) landline phone for each apartment, digital buzzer panel and digital keyboard at each entrance. Economies of scale made the expense affordable even for the years of poverty after the fall of Communism.
It's becoming more and more common for people to eschew knocking on doors in favor of calling the person's cell phone for a couple reasons.
The front door of an apartment complex may be locked, and the resident is expected to answer the call, come to the front door, and unlock it.
It can be a safety issue. If a person is underage, elderly, or disabled, getting a knock on a door can be scary. It's a gamble between whether they should even look out the window (if there even is one) or just sit very quietly and hope the knocker goes away. A call telling them that so-and-so is coming over, or a call that so-and-so is sitting in the driveway gives a sense of peace and safety and is far easier for someone with limited hearing to understand than a shouted name.
Calling also gives residents who have skittish dogs a chance to reassure or restrain their pet before it starts barking its head off about the strange intruder at the door.
Remember those strange chimes that used to be heard in department stores? Those chimes were actually used to page departments in the store (instead of using a PA system), though they are rarely used today. Sometimes those are used as Stock Sound Effects, such as the "perfume department" scene in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Shanghaied".
The chimes, themselves, were the descendants of an even older obsolete technology: the use of differently-pitched bell-pulls to summon household servants in wealthy homes. Household intercoms and/or cell calls are the norm now.
In 2000, the police department in Ontario, California, disciplined two of its officers for using their digital pagers to send personal text messages, some of which were sexually explicit, in violation of department policy. Since the department had obtained the messages by asking the pager company for transcripts to see (ostensibly) if the officers needed a higher character limit than the city had contracted for, the officers took the city to court, arguing their privacy rights had been violated. Ten years later, it had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, by which time no one was using digital pagers anymore. Appropriately, the court's unanimous ruling in the city's favor declined to set what might have been a precedent in its first-ever case involving privacy in personal electronic communications technology, citing the fluctuating state of the technology involved.
The SCOTUS has Marched On since then, decreeing that personal smartphones are now comparable to personal homes in terms of how much private information they contain, hence can't be searched without a warrant.
This trope shows a key difference in thought between generations. Most older adults in the West still have land lines—their "home" phone—and wouldn't dream of getting rid of it despite being redundant with cell phones (good luck getting your grandparents to drop the service they've had for decades). Meanwhile, most younger adults don't have land lines in their homes at all.
The extremes of this are the term "cell phone" becoming less common, especially among younger speakers who assume the term "phone" on its own refers to a device carried in one's pocket.
One factor tending to reduce the elimination of landlines is the proliferation of DSL and cable modems with landline support. If you're getting DSL, the extra for a landline in minimal, and the extra cost for adding landline service to cable modem service is also generally quite low.
Parents will sometimes get a landline for several reasons - for instance in case there is an emergency in the house and the parent's cellphone is broken or lost or unavailable (or the parent is out), plus more simple reasons like the parents are tired of their children's friends calling the parent' cellphone asking if they can talk to their child. Other parents want to give their children experience using a telephone before actually giving their children their own cellphone.
In the case of technology having long moved on, many elderly people still lease their home phones from the telephone company. Back in the Ma Bell/Klondike-5 days, most people leased their phones from the service provider for about $6 a month per phone. Obviously, it has since become cheaper to just buy a phone, but hundreds of thousands of senior citizens never got around to cancelling their lease as it has been part of the bill since day one. This means that they have paid thousands of dollars over the years for a basic telephone that you can buy at a dollar store for eight bucks. The telephone companies, unsurprisingly, have had no incentive to inform elderly customers of this and cancel what's basically free money.
Thrift Store Tech
Recently, many thrift and second-hand stores have stopped accepting Cathode Ray Tube televisions – and in some cases, video cassette recorders – because of their outdated technology and lack of interest by the public. Most of the old CRT TVs and VCRs sit on the shelves for months, unsold, before the stores wind up taking the items to an electronics recycling center (often at a financial loss to the thrift store), and signs at the stores often direct people wishing to make such donations to go to the nearest electronics recycling center. (Although most stores do still accept VHS videotapes, much like it's relatively easy to find eight-track tapes at thrift stores.)
In countries where analogue transmission has been turned off in favour of digital (a large chunk of Asia, Europe and Australasia), CRT televisions are outright worthless without a set-top box, which has added to second-hand and thrift stores turning them away.
This trope is deliberately invoked and lampshaded in Half In The Bag. Mike and Jay run a VCR repair store, and their main source of income is from Harry Plinkett, who they defraud and lie to in order to have him constantly return his VCR for repairs.
There have been a few shows set in the far future which feature static-y TVs for added colour (Cowboy Bebop, for example). However, since digital television is replacing all forms of analog TV, the only way you could have old-style static or bad reception on future TVs is if you intentionally put it in. Bad reception does happen on digital TV, but differently; instead of static, you get horizontal strips of garbled blocks like a badly scratched, worn out DVD.
Unless the video was a recording that had at some point in the past suffered decay in analog transmission or storage — converting a static-y analog recording to digital is going to perfectly preserve the static. That's no excuse for live transmissions, though.
Somewhat related to the analogue transmission idea is the ubiquity of curved CRT screens in the future. A notable example is 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which used small CRTs everywhere on the sets for the Discovery. (This is especially ironic as Stanley Kubrick used rear-projection to accomplish the illusion of flatscreen monitors for the same ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
Similarly, the producers of Babylon 5 tried to hide their use of CRT monitors by embedding the screens in bulky, futuristic looking equipment with lots of lights and buttons. Unfortunately you can still see that the screens are curved, like the screens of CRT monitors in the early-mid 1990s.
Earth: Final Conflict, produced in the late 20th century and set in the late 2010s/early 2020s, also used bulky CRT monitors in government buildings, corporate offices, and the Taelon Embassy, despite flat screens becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous late in the show's run.
2010 has other examples of thrift-store tech. (i) HAL's "memory module" room was reconstructed for 2010, but alongside the original futuristic-looking memory modules, a previously unseen keyboard is used to interact with HAL (due to his damaged speech circuits). Not a dead tech, but unfortunately it looks like a typical early '80s keyboard, contrasting badly with- and looking more dated than!- the original film's inventive design. (ii) Floyd's secret failsafe cutoff for HAL is to be activated by him typing nine 9s on a hacked calculator. Again, not a dead tech, but one which would be a far less obvious "first choice" gadget for that use today than it would have been in the mid-80s when calculators were still (somewhat) new and high-tech.
In Kevin O'Donnell's novel ORA:CLE, published in 1985, personal names are replaced by alphanumeric strings encoding personal attributes (including allotted public time and computer-related knowledge [!]); for example, the main character's name is ALL80 AFAHSC NFF6 (Ale Elatey for short). However, it's set in a universe where all computers run unprotected operating systems like DOS and all news are shown in Bulletin Board Systems. In 2188.
On the subject of Cyber Punk, many of the genre's works (print and video) featured extensive virtual realities that today are being realized with applications such as Second Life. While we can see the usefulness of VR for entertainment, education or training purposes, is it really more efficient to walk through a fully rendered VR representation of an automated factory to control and maintain operations, or would a screen of text and numbers and a keyboard be sufficient?
The US Navy is actually incredibly enthusiastic about using VR and Second Life in particular to train servicemen and -women on things such as submarine operation. However some of their other applications reek of "we must retroactively justify this expense."
When you pull up next to someone in traffic and motion to them to roll down their window, what do you do? That's right. You motion like you're rotating a lever, despite the fact that a vast majority of cars on the road these days have buttons to roll down windows... not levers. Still, everyone knows what you mean, presumably because levers are recent enough that everyone driving today can remember the days when they were common and also lever controlled windows are still included on vehicles (mostly base-model trucks and very cheap subcompacts) without power windows installed.
"I don't roll down my window. Because my car wasn't made in 1997. I vsshh down my window."
Similarly, the accepted icons for saving (a floppy disc) and a movie (a roll of film) are both representations of entirely obsolete technology - but likely to last longer than the memory of the media themselves!
Theater movies are still largely released on film, digital distribution (and even projection) still being rather new and expensive technology. Downloading a feature film at a high enough resolution that it doesn't appear blurry when projected onto a large screen is a large file download even by early 2010s standards.
The editing is cheaper than it might appear. Editing on film requires large quantities of film, lots of chemistry, and lots of time. In contrast, you can do a year's worth of film editing in two weeks on digital editing equipment, meaning you can quite feasibly rent the editing rig instead of buying it, and the film processing lab, and hiring all the support staff needed for it, and come out ahead, even if you don't already have a more-or-less finished idea of how the film needs to come together (which is almost a necessity in editing on film). Home PCs are to the point now where there's really only two things inhibiting private production of Hollywood-quality feature films: It's hard to get hold of the specialized video cards needed for the special image format used in high-end digital movie editing, and the cameras available on the home market usually have tricky restrictions built into the licensing agreements for the video and audio CODECs they use.
People still use the term "dial a number" when telephones haven't used dials for decades.
Similarly, we still "call" other people, whether it's on a telephone, cell phone, or VOIP services like Skype, even if it also includes video.
Many pictograms of telephones are also hopelessly out of date, ranging from the depiction of just the phone receiver, which looks a bit too clunky for today's standards, over the "classical" key phone with the receiver sitting on top like a torero hat, to the same design, but with a dial plate. Likewise, pictograms that tell you to switch off your cell phone can hardly keep pace with the rapidly evolving appearance of said cell phones.
We also turn our finger in a twisting motion when we're asking someone to turn volume up or down, despite the fact that most devices now have buttons with up and down arrows on them. Granted, some speakers have dials, and so do many MP3 players, but those are outnumbered by the buttoned devices.
The use of double-spacing at the end of sentences, like this.—This is a hold-over from the days of typewriters with their monospacing (where every character occupies the same amount of space), to help the period stand out. Such a necessity has long been rendered obsolete by digital word-processors and just plain looks silly when used nowadays, but a lot of older typists (or younger ones taught by them), still use two spaces after periods. Even on this very wiki, though That Other Wiki and other MediaWiki-based wikis generally format pages so only one space is displayed even if more than one is typed into the code for the page.
It's still a handy method for students to pad papers that are to be a certain number of pages long. Two spaces at the end of every sentence adds up.
And this practice continues to serve its original purpose if something is to be printed in Courier or another typewriter-like font.
Ever proving the ancient maxim, "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way," The U.S. Department of Defense (which shows up on this page in several places) still uses the "two space" rule in official correspondence, even though the proportional Times New Roman is the mandatory font, and still has instructions like "indent three spaces," which don't make much sense when using proportional fonts.
Calling solid-state storage media a "tape":
In Cloak & Dagger everyone calls the game cartridge with the hidden data a "tape".
The Starfire books by David Weber and Steve White often has warship personnel say "on the tape" to mean they've recorded a message for transmission. The series is set several hundred years in the future but was written in the mid 2000s.
The "Sega tapes" of Homestar Runner. Like a lot of elements in the series, this is deliberate parody of this trope.
Who else here has ever talked about "taping" a show on to a hard disc, or "rewinding" a DVD?
The "DVD rewinder" even exists as a joke appliance.* It's simply a base with a powered spindle and a button turning the motor on and off.
Even though Wheel of Fortune switched to an electronic puzzleboard in 1997, people still refer to the letters being "turned" as if they were still physical trilons.
Bill Cosby has an old and hilarious routine about how he wants Polaroid to develop a way to produce a baby quickly. "Kiss your wife, wait five minutes and BOOM - there's the kid! Of course you have to dip him in the lacquer or he'll fade..."
A third partyDungeons & Dragons book (not quite SFW) refers to that with the spell "Irnar's Polaroidic Pregnancy" (shortens the pregnancy to 9 hours). The guide isn't quite complete, and the name is yet to be changed.
The trope page for Poor Man's Porn has a whole section (Type C), dedicated to people trying to watch scrambled porn on TV. This is now outdated (except in 80s-90s period pieces), as newer television sets recognized the scrambled signal and replaced it with a blue screen, and nowadays you simply get a screen saying you do not get that particular adult video channel.
"Hi-fi" used to mean a stereo system, and is a bit outdated in these days of MP3 players. (As a term for high-fidelity sound it is still used by people in the sound industry). This is a bit troublesome tech-wise for people having Fun With Palindromes because "If I had a hi-fi" is still a popular palindrome in books, etc.
In the Appleseed universe cyborgs and typewriters exist side by side.
When a factual show requires background music to suddenly end for humorous purposes, nine times out of ten they'll STILL put on the sound effect of a needle skating across a vinyl record. This even applies to kids' shows, where it is otherwise assumed that the audience won't have a clue what vinyl records are and need it explained every time they're mentioned.
People are often told to cut the doors off refrigerators before throwing them away, to keep playful children from being locked inside and suffocating. However, this only applies to older fridges with latch handles that are impossible to open from the inside. Fridges built since the 80s, however, use magnetic strips to hold the door shut, which can be easily opened from either side.
A positive variant is depicted in the film, The Magdalene Sisters, which the notorious Magdalene Asylums, de facto Irish gulags for women who didn't conform to local religious mores (Like being raped), earned their main income from doing laundry which had to be done by hand in earlier years. Later on, the first washing machines were installed and although the Nuns and their prisoners didn't know it then, the very ubiquity of these relatively inexpensive and obviously practical appliances in personal residences would destroy the economic viability of those prisons.
From The Wall the alienated rockstar complains he's "Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from." Bruce Springsteen claims "57 channels and nothin' on." These days it's more likely to be hundreds of channels of shit.
In 1981's Escape from New York, a monitor displays a 3D model of New York as Snake lands his 'plane in the city. The film makers wanted to use an actual computer model, but since technology wasn't there yet, they compromised by building a physical miniature New York, outlining it with reflective tape, and filming the result. This was the budget option.
Antique store saleswoman: Now this has an interesting feature - it has a dust jacket. Books used to have these to protect the covers. Of course that was before they had dust repellent paper. And if you're interested in dust, we have a quaint little piece from the 1980s. It's called a Dustbuster."
Funnily enough, the Dustbuster continues to enjoy popularity and has even taken on Brand Name Takeover.
And paper books may be on their way out, dust-proof or otherwise.
Lampshaded twice during the first film. First, when Marty dines with his future maternal family in 1955, Lorraine asks whether his family owns a television set, to which Marty says "Yeah, you know we have two of 'em...", making her younger brother say "Wow, you must be rich!", to which their mother says "Oh, honey, he's just teasing you. Nobody owns two television sets!" Later, as the 1955 Doc looks at Marty's camcorder, he says "Now this is truly amazing: a portable television studio. No wonder your president is an actor, he's got to look good on television!"
Kids who grew up with DVDs and digitally-downloaded movies probably won't get the locker-aliens' "Be Kind, Rewind" reference in Men In Black II. The "Adult section in rear" gag, teens can probably figure out, though it also dates the picture.
In Time Bandits, the embodiment of evil explains that he knows better than the Supreme Being because he has knowledge of "Digital watches. Soon I shall have knowledge of video cassette recorders and car telephones. And when I understand those I shall understand computers. And when I understand computers I will be the Supreme Being." In 1981, those really were cutting edge and were meant to be. Now they can be considered evidence that Evil is a little out of touch.
In Trading Places, Louis Winthorpe tries to sell his watch at a pawnshop, mentioning how it's waterproof up to 3 atmospheres as proof of how top-of-the-line it is. Today, many watches are waterproof to as many as 50 atmospheres.
Lampshaded nicely in The Wedding Singer: Glenn brags about buying a CD player for around $1,000, and Julia promptly offers to get a record to play on it.
One Hour Photo was made in 2002, probably at the last possible moment before it'd need a period setting to explain why anyone would need to take pictures somewhere for them to be developed.
One of the Alien Nation TV movies had people using CRT monitors well after flatscreen monitors had become cheap and readily available in the real world. This was deliberate on the part of the filmmakers... while they were still using CRT monitors, they were using much more advanced interface devices and streaming video was slightly ahead of where it is even today, several years later. This was to highlight that technology had developed in entirely different ways due to the Newcomers.
In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris' line "I asked for a car, I got a computer. How's that for being born under a bad sign?" seems strange today, because having your own computer is almost as much a status symbol for teens as having your own car.
Also appears in the Dragonriders of Pern series. The Skies of Pern, written in 2001, has cell phone-ish tech cropping into usage. All the Weyrs of Pern however, written in 1991, essentially has the Dragonriders saving the world by what amounts to handling ships' embedded electronics via console (Take That, graphical interface!) because the "real" computers were removed millenia ago. Funny part is that lots of things that are only one notch above PIC but run OS-s used to support telnet terminal access are already here.
The original (circa 1980) edition of Superfudge had Peter asking for and receiving a pocket calculator for Christmas. Later editions change the gift to a check from Grandma since, by about 2000, a regular calculator was a standard school supply and could be bought for about a dollar. He asks for a stereo in the original, but only in jest. Current editions have him ask instead for a laptop and mp3 player, and by 2010, it's hard to tell whether the latter was supposed to be an outrageous request.
In the original print of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume, Margaret is instructed in the proper use of a belt to secure her menstrual pad. The invention of menstrual pads with adhesive backing (something often taken for granted these days) had to wait until women's undergarments became snug enough for adhesive pads to be practical, which in turn required the invention of Spandex and cheaper methods of creating inexpensive fine-gauge cotton knits.
The protagonists in Ken Grimwood's Replay are stuck in a 25-year "Groundhog Day" Loop from 1963 to 1988, so it isn't surprising this pops up. The author had shown his work though, by pointing out that some devices could be procured before they caught on with the public (though they were expensive) there were appearances of the Wang 1200 and Sony VTR. The following quote happens in 1974:
"Near the window was a large desk stacked with books and notebooks, and in the center of it sat a bulky, greenish-gray device that incorporated a video screen, a keyboard, and a printer. He frowned quizzically at it. What was she doing with a home computer so early? ... 'It's not a computer,' Pamela said. 'Wang 1200 word processor, one of the first. No disk drive, just cassettes, but still beats a typewriter. Want a beer?'"
The famous quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that humans are so primitive "they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." Funny in the late '70s, rather on-the-nose now.
The radio adaptations in the mid-2000s had novelty ringtones instead. Not quite as dated yet.
An instructor in Starship Troopers was blinded in combat. Towards the end of his class, he feels the watchface to see how much time is left. Maybe he couldn't afford a talking watch.
Soon it's likely to be asking why he didn't get prosthetic eyes.
An inventor in The Dead Past by Isaac Asimov demonstrates his newest gadget, a time viewer. He turns on the monitor, then warns his impatient colleague to "let it warm up." When the story was written, televisions frequently took 30 seconds to a minute to display a picture after being turned on.
Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1862 and taking place in the distant future of 1960, makes some rather impressive predictions about the future. One of the reasons it wasn't published had to do with the publisher finding stuff like electro-mechanical calculators, widespread use of automobiles, fax machines, skyscrapers, automatic security systems and remote-controlled warfare too unrealistic. On the other hand, people still writes using quills, records are still kept in books (that is, a colossal book apparently four meters tall, whose pages are turned with machinery) and there is apparently no air transport (except the odd airship or two, probably).
Live Action TV
Game Shows: Watch any classic episode of a game show that offers prizes, particularly prior to 1990 (or even 2000), and you'll see electronics and other items that were cutting edge then that are today outdated.
Examples include the countless video cassette recorders (first offered circa 1978, when they cost $1,000 or more and were considered a "grand prize"(!)), the Muntz projection TV (the "deluxe" style of television viewing, with a (gasp) 3-by-4 foot viewing screen) and the large satellite dishes (from companies such as General Instruments). Cellular car telephones, which were worth $3,000(!), was a common top-level prize, as were portable telephones.
Several shows also offered an "entertainment center" basically a stand with several dividers, which went along with the TV, VCR, audio equipment, connectors and remote control – whose components today would be worthless (except for perhaps the audio components, even though there's virtually no market today for cassette tapes and even compact discs are declining in share).
Computers are another common example. Take a look at, for instance, a Tic-Tac-Dough episode from 1979, when the Apple II computer was offered as a prize (worth $2,000-plus(!), counting the disk drives, monitor and printer that came with it) ... state of the art for the time with its 64K memory (expandable to double it), and people were truly excited about winning one. Today, they're junk - and all the computers today have hundreds of gigabytes. The Commodore 64, Radio Shack and Texas Instrument computers also saw their computers given away as game show prizes (with and without the other items), and likewise, except for hobbyists, these computers have long since become obsolete.
Speaking of Tic Tac Dough, each of those video screens on the big board were generated by its own Apple II, in stunning 16-color 40x40 lo-res graphics, with the nine Apples networked by an Altair 8800. Compare, at the time, the 1978-79 version of Jeopardy!, which still used printed cards on their big board! By 1984, when the Alex Trebek edition of Jeopardy! debuted, its 30-screen board made Tic Tac Dough's board look quaint by comparison.
Years before Skype and other no-cost proprietary voice-over-IP services, there were videophones. At least one episode of the 1980s version of High Rollers, which is uploaded to various video sharing sites, offers video phones (a $500 item) as a prize; it was touted as state-of-the-art way to see and hear the people you're talking to.
However, videophones differ in one key respect from all the other items in this entree in that nobody really wanted them. Video chat systems, the modern equivalent, are nothing like as popular as voice only or text chat.
"Double Sting," from the first season, sees Rosco using a large "field telephone" to communicate with Enos. The field telephone was typically used only by law enforcement (and in large cities, more populous counties and state agencies at that) and the very rich in 1979. Today, everyone – even in the most backwoods of communities – is using cell phones and iPhones, perhaps videophone sites like Skype just like the rest of us.
"Uncle Boss," taped in 1979 but aired during the third season, sees Boss Hogg's corrupt nephew, Hughie, introduce Boss and Rosco to the state-of-the-art technological marvel ... the video cassette recorder! Quite a bit of time is dedicated to explaining how one of these contraptions work. Although its purpose in the plot is to attempt to frame Bo and Luke for bank robbery (as a security camera is attached to the VCR), there may have been a subliminal message in it all – buy a VCR and you capture the Dukes on tape ... every week! In any case, the VCR has long met its match, and banks typically now use hard drives and hidden security cameras to monitor banks. In addition, note that Boss (along with Hughie) hand-deliver the videotape with the incriminating evidence to the FBI ... but get detoured into a junkyard and are held up briefly by Cooter's magnet(!), which erases the tape; today, Boss could simply send the footage of his "bank robbery" to the FBI via a private internet connection (such as file transfer protocol, or ftp, site), making his favorite scheme of hiring impersonators to pull off a "Duke boy bank robbery" even easier to accomplish without Bo and Luke even having a clue what's going on ... until federal authorities converge on the farm with warrants for their arrest.
Sesame Street: Around the mid-1980s, Oscar the Grouch owned a "grouch computer." The buzzword back then was "friendly computer," which simply meant easy to use; of course, with Oscar involved, the "friendly greetings" were replaced by "grouch" ones. Other Sesame Street residents (notably, Luis and Maria) also owned a computer. All segments with computers were used to teach basic computer skills and workings of computers. And of course, these were computers that were state-of-the-art for the era, at a time when they were far less common.
In the pilot of Lois and Clark, the Kents' use of a fax machine was presented as evidence they weren't subject to the old-time "American Gothic" farmer stereotypes. Now it has the opposite effect of making them seem out-of-date.
On Rescue 911, the prevalence of carbon monoxide poisonings looks weird to modern audiences because carbon monoxide alarms are about as common as fire alarms. Possibly a case of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, as said poisonings were what led to demand for the development of an alarm that would detect carbon monoxide.
On an older episode of Law & Order Lenny got a lead by looking at the victim's pager. Remember pagers?
In an episode of Saved by the Bell, Bayside High decided to put their yearbooks on videotapes. Good luck to them finding a VHS player in the 21st century.
In the original Carrusel, video games were not present at all. While this was Mexico in 1989-1990, the Brazilian 2012 remake did insert them, since it would no longer be credible to have a show about children's school and daily life without video games present in any way.
In Metal Gear Solid, made in 1998 and set in 2005, the Briefing segments are presented through the inserting-ejecting sound effects and screen artefacts as a series of VHS tapes (in a world which also has fully immersive virtual reality simulations). Otacon also has the original PlayStation in his lab, though it's not out of character for an Otaku to be into retro games. Finally, Psycho Mantis's television-breaking powers imitate the Video mode on a specific brand of 90s Sony CRT TVs, making the holdover quite odd when they reappear with Mantis's cameo in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, a game on a console only compatible with HDTVs.
Barely 10 years after the series Hey Arnold! aired, younger viewers seeing the show the first time would wonder what exactly Helga's father (the "Beeper King" of "Big Bob's Beepers") was selling.
Cellphones are present in Godzilla: The Series, but the designs are that of the old clam shell style with antennas, having aired from 1998 to 2000.
When transistors came around in the 70s to do everything a vacuum tube could, it'd mean that the old vacuum tube would go the wayside, right? Or when integrated circuits came around, who needed a discrete transistor? Or hell, why are we even using electricity? Optics would be way cooler.
It's not uncommon these days to find audio amplifiers with vacuum tubes. The reason being is that audiophiles say it gives audio some kind of "warmth" to it. It's probably the same thing as an incandescent bulb does for light versus a fluorescent tube.
Apparently vacuum tubes also react to different harmonics than transistors, and overdriving a guitar on a tube amp sounds infinitely better than overdriving a transistor amp.
The difference is in the kind of distortion that gets generated when the amplifier stage is driven hard enough (or overdriven) that the amplified signal would exceed the actual supply voltage (which, of course, can't happen). Because of the way tubes work, their output can never actually reach 100% of the input-supply voltage; instead, as you approach the limit, a tube's output "rounds off" in an asymptotic curve (look it up) known as soft-clipping. A transistor, on the other hand, will go all the way to the limit and then simply "hard-clips" any part of the signal that would drive it any higher. Both are, technically, distortions of th(!)), the Muntz projection TV (the e signal, but a tube's soft-clipping produces "low-order harmonics" which are more pleasing to the human ear than the "high-order" harmonics produced by a transistor's hard-clipping. (Transistor circuits can be designed to simulate a tube's natural behavior, but it vastly increases the complexity of the amplifier, and is a lot more difficult to pull off convincingly than you'd think.)
Tubes also amplify in a fundamentally different way than transistors. Tubes default to manipulating the current, while transistors default to manipulating the voltage. They both manipulate both, but the default is the primary way the output is manipulated for typical amplifier circuits. This means that tube and transistor amps sound different regardless of what you're doing with them, even if you aren't overdriving them.
Quite a few people prefer incandescent type bulbs versus fluorescent and LED lights. The first is that the warm light an incandescent bulb gives off is very pleasing (YMMV - if you're not used to it anymore, incandescent's yellowishness seems wan). The second is that fluorescent and LED bulbs flickernote . Fluorescent tubes glow very briefly and need a constant hammering of electrons to stay "constant". LED type bulbs are driven by a PWM. For some people, this causes headaches. And it can be very irritating to many autistics, who can see the flicker and hear the constant humming.
The flickering of fluorescent and LED bulbs is dangerous for machines that reciprocate or rotate. If the machine is going at the correct frequency, it may appear to be going slower than it really is, or in the opposite direction, a phenomenon called the Wagon-Wheel Effect.
This problem is made worse by the fact that some electric motor designs want to spin at a speed directly related to the AC power line frequency (which is what LED and fluorescent lights normally flicker at). While all three can also be made to not flicker at the line frequency, it takes extra components (and extra cost) so it's not normally done unless there's a reason.
The Soviet Union MiG-25 was built with vacuum tubes for a substantial amount of its electronics, mostly because it was more robust to the environment and could withstand an EMP blast better than transistors.
Vacuum tubes are also much easier to manufacture than the types of transistors that are more reliable than vacuum tubes. The early (and most easily manufactured) types of transistors are actually less reliable than vacuum tubes under normal operating conditions, and are particularly prone to failure due to vibration (which is almost impossible to avoid in an aircraft, especially a relatively small one that travels extremely fast).
Never mind vacuum tubes: British Naval officers still learn to use slide rules and Morse signals, on the assumption that none of the fancy electronics can be relied on in a pinch.
They are, as far as it goes, correct. They also still teach celestial navigation in at least some navies for the same reason. Very simply, all your electronics can fail, for many reasons. If you can't use your sextant and slide rule, you're probably already dead anyway.
For the same reason, soldiers on the ground are taught to use a paper map and a magnetic compass, and artillery crews learn how to calculate their shots manually.
Schizo Tech: there are many apps for modern smartphones which turn the magnetometer inside into a magnetic compass. Reason: data transmission needed for maps may fail or simply you're too far away from a cellphone tower, GPS signal may be too weak, but the Earth's magnetic field is still there.
The same goes with leisure boating, especially blue-water voyaging. Electronics not only can fail; rather, they will sooner or later fail, especially when least desired, and knowledge on how to use sextant and slide rule has saved many long distance sailors. Especially crucial this is on single-handed sailing.
Drifting is cool, right? Keeping your head cool and your car in balance while on two wheels is the epitome of badass driving? It might have been ...until the 1970s. Most modern cars, not just performance cars, have tire sizes which a few decades ago were just for Ferraris and Porsches and the quality of tires and suspension is ages beyond. Even a humble modern hot hatchback may pull stunts which in the past were barely imaginable outside racetracks.
In GoldenEye, James Bond pulls a few stunts in his old companion the Aston Martin DB5 while street-racing Femme Fatale Xenya in a Ferrari F355. While impressive by 1965 standards, the chassis and suspension of the DB5 would have never held up to a modern GTI, leave alone a F355. To film the chase, the F355 had to be modified, otherwise it won't drift. Maybe this is the reason Q retires the Aston and gives Bond a BMW instead.
Obviously, quite a lot of books were written before the automobile was invented. We could probably have a whole "Check Out Life Before Cars" section on how some classic works of literature might have easily resolved themselves if cars had been available.
While a period piece, in The Grapes of Wrath the Joads have to deal with a broken transmission - they have to find an old one in a junkyard and then install it themselves with only basic hand tools, something only the most hardcore car guys would attempt on a do-it-yourself basis and would require at least a hoist in any post-WW2 vehicle.
Invoked in Booth Tarkington's Penrod (set and published in 1914), the 12-year-old title character temporarily has use of a small outbuilding since the family horse has died and his father hasn't decided whether to get another horse or a car. One later edition's professorial introduction describes it as "no longer a stable but not yet a garage".
A lot of the old science fiction features a world with food shortage and rationing due to extreme overpopulation. 90% of the food is yeast or synthetic. Except that... the figures stated have been surpassed or near so, and there is significant overproduction. This is largely thanks to the Green Revolution which, in addition to mechanization of planting and harvest, also included breeding a lot of high-yield and drought- or pest-resistant crops. (Not all "technology" is machine-based.)
It should be noted that some of the agricultural technologies depend on petroleum and other materials which can soon run out... assuming we will not have enough energy to synthesize more, or develop alternatives. A society with no energy shortages depicted that way...
The Caves of Steel. Everyone lives in megacities, almost all the food is yeast, efficiency is necessary to the point of a personal cubicle in the communal bathroom being a luxury, and there is strict Population Control. Population? Eight billion.
Foundation. Trantor needs twenty agricultural worlds to feed its forty billion people. Today, over half the population of Earth is urban, meaning the agriculture of a single planet should have little problem feeding four billion people who produce no food. If you take into account that later sources claim Trantor has significant artificial food production on its own...
A related problem is that Trantor is stated to be a single, planet-covering city hundreds or thousands of levels deep, and there are special observation towers that you have to use if you want to see the sky. There's absolutely no way that you need that kind of urban structure to house a mere 40 billion people when we have 7 billion on Earth with cities covering only a few per cent of the land surface and most of that you can't travel around in much without going outside. (Yes, there are places where you can travel around significant sections of cities entirely indoors, but you have to do it intentionally and it's both limiting and inconvenient in most places where it's possible at all.)
Lucky Starr: Earth has a population of six billion. Enough to be dependent on food imports from Mars and Venus.
The Lathe of Heaven. The year is 2002. A man can afford an egg maybe once a month, and it's been twenty years since any grain could be spared for making alcohol. Seven billion population.
Now the oil is gone, the topsoil depleted and washed away, the trees chopped down, the animals extinct, the earth poisoned, and all we have to show for this is seven billion people fighting over the scraps that are left, living a miserable existence...