"Computers in the future may ... perhaps weigh only 1½ tons."So little Timmy is watching a show from the 1990s. 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:
— Popular Mechanics, 1949
- Show takes place in modern or modern-ish times, usually the not-so-distant past.
- Show makes reference to something, usually a form of 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.
- "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
"Check Out Life Before Cell Phones"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 They 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. There is also the matter of smartphones become common devices; with data service becoming common on top of voice/messaging service, looking up information online can done near instantly where wireless data service is available. It's gotten to the point where you can tell the age of a show on how large their cell-phone is — cell-phones went from being battery-powered with rechargers the size of briefcases, to being the size of bricks with call-time lasting about an hour, turning into slim texting machines, to doubling as cameras, to the slim creations from around 2008-2010 that could make short videos with battery times that can last for days, to the big touchscreen multipurpose internet devices of 2016 that can make long full HD videos and have battery times that barely last more than a few hours. Do note that while cell phones are everywhere nowadays, cell phone service is not. It is still possible to lose coverage in remote areas, especially since signal coverage is operator-specific (e.g., you can have full AT&T signal, so-so Verizon signal, and zero T-Mobile signal in the same spot), so stories where the heroes are stranded in the middle of nowhere can still be plausible.
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Anime & Manga
- Becomes a plot point 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.
- 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.
- One of the main reasons why When They Cry takes place in the eighties, in a countryside village or in an otherwise isolated island. Word of God stated that the reason for this setting is that many of the problems the cast are confronted with could be dealt or rendered moot in a much easier way if they had access to the Internet or to wireless communications from their locations.
- In Heat Guy J, Clair still has a rotary phone, even though the series takes place 20 Minutes into the Future. Other characters are shown using flip phones, as well.
- There was a time when Iron Man, maker and wearer of a flying super-strong suit of armor, had a rotary phone built into his armor. (This was the same era when said armor was powered by that wonder of the age, the transistor.)
- Batman and Robin have been known to use a hotline to talk to Commissioner Gordon. Several stories implied that the Batphone worked off 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 One 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, about ten years out of date (long story; his soul opted to remain in heaven, but he allowed Hal Jordan 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.
- In IDW's More Than Meets the Eye, Empurata was the punishment of removing a robot's face and replacing it with a single open box and optic, like a television screen. Roberts suggested that when it became common practice in a Bad Future, to make it more severe the Functionists replaced it with what was basically a text message screen with pop-up-adverts, basically resembling a mobile phone.
- 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 (originally written in the year 2000). In this fanfic, the character Lucas has a cell phone. Back in 2000, this was unusual for a 13-year-old in the 8th grade — the author included this to show that Lucas was the most scientific, intellectual, and techno-savvy of all of Joshua Christopher's friends. Nowadays, the author would have to have Lucas have at least an iPad in order to show his nerdiness.
- The Intrepid Reporter heroine of the 1957 Big Creepy-Crawlies film Beginning of the End has a car phone. Interestingly, it's treated in a matter-of-fact way, not like an unusual technology that has to be explained to the audience.
- 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 involved in the supposed accident has a cellphone.
- In American Reunion, Stifler, Finch, and Oz go to Jim's neighbor's house and ask to use their phone to get roadside assistance, and are actually trying to distract them so Jim can sneak their underage daughter, who has been drinking, back into the house. The neighbors question this immediately, wondering how none of them have a cell phone.
- 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!
- ... and Super 8mm film!
- 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. Another note is someone playing a video game with clearly very old vector-style graphics, as opposed to the high-resolution and/or photorealistic games that have existed since the mid-2000s.
- 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 Alan Bradley telling Sam Flynn that he got a message on his pager from Kevin Flynn. Sam seems almost as surprised that Alan 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 and there are Skype/Facetime apps for cell phones.
- The rapid evolution of the cell phone is given a nod in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Among the personal items 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 calling the police. If he had had a mobile phone, the movie would have gone much differently. Humorously, Argyle spends most of the film luxuriating in the fact that he can call his friends on his limo's car phone.
- In Scream, the killer uses a cell phone to call his victims, so Billy is considered a suspect simply because he also has one. The film came out just before cell phones were about to take off, in spite of Billy's protest that "everybody's got one".
- Used for dramatic irony in Drive Angry; the protagonist, who has been — well, out of touch for a while — picks up a cell phone, has no idea what it is or what it can do for him, and tosses it aside. He eventually figures it out and later asks a companion if she has one of those "portable phones."
- The Haunting (1999) 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.
- 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. The film came out in '94; it's a pretty safe bet that within the next five years or so the extended family would have had cell phones and could have been called off with a convincing lie.
- In To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, a Road Trip 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 without it, 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 in the car.
- Invoked in Kingsman: The Secret Service — when Harry is showing Eggsy all the cool spy gadgets hidden in mundane objects, Eggsy points to a wall of smartphones and asks what kind of gadget is hidden inside them. Harry admits they're just off-the-shelf smartphones, as civilian technology has caught up with the spy game in that area.
- Part of the plot of The Wiggles Movie (Magical Adventure: A Wiggly Movie in the North American release) involves the titular group trying to find Dorothy to bring her to her surprise birthday party. The film originally was released in 1997 in Australia, and 2003 in North America. If it was released today, the Wiggles would have easily be able to call her on her cellphone, and be able to find her, direct her to the party, or clarify the whole situation with the Wally the Great. (He and the Wiggles only meet up at the end of Act 3.)
- The plot of the '50s film Pillow Talk revolves entirely around the brief phenomenon of "party lines," where two people were hooked up to the same phone line. The heroine is frustrated that she's sharing a line with a womanizer who's constantly tying it up talking to his dates.
- 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 short story "Graveyard Shift" (contained in Stephen King's Night Shift collection), King illustrates the large size of a rat by writing that it had a tail "as thick as a telephone cord." The phrase was written in 1969-70, when the cord that connected a phone to a wall outlet was about the thickness of a telephone cable. Today's readers are likely to say either "So what?" (as the cord that plugs a modern phone into a wall is considerably thinner, close to the thickness of an ordinary rat's tail) or "A 'telephone whaaaa'?"
- 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.
- One of the frustrations with Mr. Quimby's unemployment in Ramona and Her Father is the fact that he, and by extension, Ramona has to stick close to the phone for calls about job interviews, making for many boring afternoons with a cranky father.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
- The titular device is an electronic book, a revolutionary idea in 1978. It's a self-contained device with only one purpose: To serve as an electronic travel encyclopedia. Ford was researching the new edition. The author anticipated over-the-air downloads, as Ford eventually downloads an update and finds that the original, longer entry on Earth he wrote exists in the plural sector he was visiting. However, today the Guide would be a website on the galactic Internet or an app, and the device itself would be something like a smartphone or tablet. Ford would be able to send electronic messages (email, text) after getting stranded, but probably wouldn't get help anyway because most of the people he knows hate him. Even if it was a single electronic book, it wouldn't be as expensive as is hintednote . Real stand-alone electronic books are usually reference books or religious material, made from the same (obsolete) tech as PDAs.
- The electronic thumb would probably be met with all sorts of firewall/filter-type blocking, preventing the Dentrassi from being able to get Ford and Arthur aboard the Vogon ship. (That last bit does get somewhat referenced in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, which says half the electronics engineers in the galaxy are trying to find ways to block the thumb, while the other half are trying to find ways round the blocks.)
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).
- Agent 86's Shoe Phone in Get Smart, which was a parody of spy film gadgeteering to begin with.
- 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.
- In Community episode "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" Britta points out they don't live in a Jane Austen novel and can use cell phones to stay in touch over the summer.
- 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
- Rescue 911's cases were all taken from The '80s and The '90s, 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.
- The show itself caused this: Quite a few segments showed people in distress because their local region did not have 911 as an emergency number and the person making the titular call would have to find the phone number for their service. The popularity of the show caused the system to become universal in the United States.
- One segment was featured because the use of cutting edge technology. A woman driving down the high way was approached by an unmarked police car, but the "officer" was acting weird. He was showing his badge, motioning her to pull over, and had no sirens. The woman used her car phone to call 911 to let them know that she was complying with the officer but wanted to drive to a public place because she was uneasy with the behavior... only to learn from the police they had no unmarked cars in the area and that was not protocol for their operation. The real police responding continually talked about how it was only cause the woman had her cutting edge car phone that this was a happy ending.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- The Doctor Who story "The Invasion" predicts a future where everyone has videophones, but everyone still has to go through an operator to collect their calls. This is briefly relevant to the plot when a mid-Villainous Breakdown Tobias Vaughn is forced to affect a smooth and flirtatious manner while making a phone call so the operator doesn't suspect anything's amiss.
- When the series returned to TV in 2005 one major piece of day to day technology that didn't exist when it was last on TV in 1989 was the personal cell/mobile phone. The series acknowledged this by having the companions and the Doctor begin to use them too, with the Doctor "upgrading" his friend's phone to be capable of reaching him through time and space. Once made a big deal of, this is now taken as a given for any ongoing character. Due to the revival itself now having Long Runner status, the phones upgraded by the Doctor back in 2005 are considered well outdated compared to Clara's iPhone of 2015 — as evidenced by the fact that several episodes broadcast in 2015 show her using real-life features of the iPhone that did not even exist for mobile devices in 2005.
- 3-2-1 Contact's "The Bloodhound Gang" stories would have been much different if the gang had access to smartphones. For instance, the villain in "The Case of the Dead Man's Pigeon," would have been thwarted in seconds with one look through Wikipedia at the will reading instead of one of them running to call the Audubon Society.
- There's an episode of Married... with Children that goes around Al's desires to watch his favorite John Wayne movie Hondo that, according to him, airs every 17 years, and of course as he's Al Bundy he missed the film after getting trapped in a store due to a computer malfunction and then after getting knocked off by said computer. When he awakes he hears the channel advising that they schedule the film to be presented again... in 2011 (the episode aired in 1994). Nowadays modern audiences will have problems grasping the concept of not being able to watch a movie whenever they want.
- How I Met Your Mother: Before Marshall and Lily's wedding in 2007, Brad accidentally injuries the photographer and offers to take pictures of the ceremony with his camera phone instead, much to Lilly's horror. Modern audiences used to smartphones that take high resolution images won't understand that back then the quality of a camera phone picture to that of a regular camera was laughable.
- 7th Heaven: Reverend Eric Camden had a pager for the entirety of the series, even when people were ditching those for cell phones. Granted, the Camden family were on a strict budget, so it partially justifies this. It wasn't until the last three seasons where the technology (kind of) was keeping up with the times, but that's not saying much.
- 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.
- The video of Savage Garden's 'Truly Madly Deeply' follows two lovers who failed to meet because one of them was running late. They rush through the city of Paris to find each other. This would have been solved in seconds with cellphones.
- Though it isn't about life before cell phones, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "First World Problems" has the singer becoming angry at the fact that somebody actually called him on his cell phone, since in the 2010s, everyone prefers to communicate almost exclusively through text messages and social networks.
- 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.
- Phoebe and Her Unicorn regularly invokes this trope for laughs, such as when Phoebe discovers her Mom's CORDED phone.
- 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...
- The ClueFinders has a videophone — in the days before cell phones.
- Deus Ex: The game is set in the 2050s, but pay phones are still seen in public. And this in the same world that has infolinks, which are pretty much radios 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 2, which is set in 20 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.
- Averted 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.
- Surprisingly enough, Megaman Battle Network actually invoked this trope — Lan carries a device that has a cell phone functionality.
- Similar to the Weird Al example above, in Dumbing of Age, when a character isn't responding to texts, the other characters get worried and try calling them, which doesn't fare any better. When the character finally shows up, Walky is outraged.
Walky: You made me use my phone like a phone!
- CollegeHumor is on this trope very extensively:
- 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
- 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:
- Behold, the unaired 1994 pilot of 24.
- 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.
- The "Technology Ruins Romance" series by Wong Fu Productions.
- Cracked's 6 Technologies Conspicuously Absent From Sci-Fi Movies explores technologies widely available when several well-known science fiction films were first published that would have completely broken their plots: Bicycles, night vision goggles, unmanned combat vehicles, Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell phones.
- ClickHole parodies examinations of this trope with "7 Classic ’80s Movies That Would Have Been Over In 5 Minutes If Cell Phones Had Existed", which shows that cell phones would resolve the plots by being used as lethal weapons.
- 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!".
- The Simpsons:
- In the episode "Lard of the Dance" (1998), 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" (1994) 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.
- Towards the end of "Homer Badman" (1994), Marge's line "As long as everyone keeps filming one another, justice will be done." was a joke. Since then, cell phones with built-in cameras have become commonplace, making it possible to film various transgressions and incidents.
- 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 as a new invention has rendered cell phones obsolete, and people no longer need to carry them to all places. This incredible invention of the year 3010? Phone booths!
- Played straight when Amy has a cell-phone about the size of her thumbnail, so tiny that it must be kept in a large recharger so that she doesn't keep losing it, and is small enough to get accidentally swallowed. At the time the episode aired, the real-world trend was to make cell phones as small as possible and that was the comical conclusion. But in the 2010s with touchscreen phones taking over the market, there has been a push towards larger screens, and thus, larger cell phones, making the joke obsolete.
- 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 MyGovernmentCellPhone, 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 , 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. They're also essentially the modern version of the Game Boy.
- 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 that instantaneous communication didn't exist before the Internet or cellphones. But it did, since 1837, and certainly since 1876. The first transatlantic telegraph line was built in 1858, and public pay phones were introduced in 1902. Kennedy conspiracy theorists posit 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.
- 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.
- Lampshaded by this Jack-in-the-Box ad.
- Wristwatches rapidly gained favor over pocket watches during the First World War, as large-scale, synchronized artillery and infantry attacks made quickly accessible timepieces a practical necessity; indeed, the first "wristwatches" were just pocket watches attached to a leather bracelet. (Such a bracelet is also more rugged than the traditional and rather flimsy watch chain, which is no small consideration given the many rigors of trench warfare.) Wartime utility later gave rise to civilian fashion, which survived for as long as it did primarily because even a mechanical timepiece could easily be made small and simple enough for convenient wear on the wrist; with the advent of modern miniaturization, and the consequent popularity of pocket phones which can keep track of time alongside their many other functions, the wristwatch came to be regarded as more or less redundant. Whether smartwatches can reverse this trend remains to be seen.
- For the most part the actual telephone dial◊ became obsolete by the 1980s, but the term 'dialing' survives.
- 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. A lot of call boxes still get active maintenance, though, especially in deserted areas where cell signal is spotty or nonexistent. The dispatcher would also know exactly where you are without having to wait for cell tower or GPS triangulation from the caller. Call boxes are also useful on college campuses (where students are always getting robbed of their phones, or misplacing them during wild nights out), suicide hot-spots (in case the perpetrator intentionally leaves their cell phone behind and suddenly has second thoughts), if you need help immediately (cell phone emergency calls usually have to go through a statewide highway patrol dispatcher first, who has to first figure out where you are, then route your call to the appropriate local station), if you survive and escape a car accident and your phone is still in your possibly dangerous-to-go-back-into vehicle or if your cell phone just dies on you.
- 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. And, on the other side of the coin, many cities went out of their way during the 1990s to remove pay phones in order to curtail their use as anonymous contact points for drug dealers, who are now forced to make do with disposable prepaid "burner" phones instead. 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 also because 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 of 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.
- They might not actually hear a knock on 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". These days, if the retail clerks in any given store want to talk to each other, they'll typically all have two-way radios, sometimes with ear pieces and microphones. In addition to not bothering the customers by blaring an announcement over the whole store, it allows the staff to talk to one person or one department specifically, which saves time.
- 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.
- The reason for this is that most, if not all, people have very private information and items saved on their phones, such as PINs, passwords, photographs, contact lists, etc. Many lawyers advise that during a police encounter, you immediately lock your phone. The police officer cannot take it without a warrant, but it can be confiscated if you are arrested. If it is not locked, everything on it is available to them, and many corrupt police officers have availed themselves of personal information stored on a confiscated, but unlocked, cell phone. Once locked, do not give them the passcode under any circumstances. Let your lawyer handle any questions they have regarding your phone.
- 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.
- Telephone cards used to be very common. They ranged from crude "scratch off" cards (the user scratched off the code to make the calls) all the way to credit card like systems that the user could swipe on a payphone or dial the code on the back. Users purchased minutes of talk time, the price depending on how many minutes and where the calls were going. First there were domestic calls, then international "calling cards." They were very popular with people who were in the military, had relatives overseas, traveled a lot or didn't want to pay for long distance. The rise of cell phones has killed off most of these cards except for calls to locations like the Middle East or Asia. Many cell phone companies offer special packages for calling neighboring countries or traveling abroad. The rise of internet services like Skype has also taken away the appeal of telephone cards among younger people.
On a similar note, there were also special phone numbers (such as the widely remembered 10-10-321) people could use to make long distance calls which only added a few more cents or dollars on their phone bill up to a certain amount of minutes before the caller would be charged at normal rates for long distance calls. Nowadays, phone companies include long distance calling in their standard package/billing, so needing to dial a specific number to make a long distance call was no longer needed plus it quickly became a pain for everyone who had to dial an extra set of numbers on top of the phone number just to make a call.
- Averted in whichever country phone cards are commonly used to make international calls to, as that's because phone cards are still common there. Japan still makes extensive use of phone cards, for instance, and there are even licensed property phone cards there, with special artwork from anime and video games on them. Phone cards are also still in wide use in the United States and Canada among communities of people who come from these parts of the world, as well as by people here and there who rarely use their phones and find it cheaper to just buy individual calls or small amounts of call time from these cards than paying monthly bills.
- In the case of technology having long moved on, many elderly people still lease their home phones from the telephone company. In the early days of commercial telephone service, 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 seniors 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 discount 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.
- An Internet meme that first appeared around 2013: "20 years later and all of these things fit in your pocket."
- Due to the proliferation of cell phones, and nationwide long-distance calling, it's very rare that one would actually have to place a collect (or reverse-charge) phone call these days. It's also important to note that some VoIP services are unable to accept collect calls.
AgricultureA 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.
- Also, tens of millions of New York residents live off yeast that's nourished on wood pulp, which comes from New Jersey forests that have been harvested for more than a thousand years without pause.
- 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.) Also, if the entire planet is underground, what exactly is stopping the Trantorians from putting the dirt back on the unused surface and growing their own food?
- Compounding the problem yet again is that Asimov was self-admittedly bad at scale and bad at remembering how many people were supposed to live on Trantor, causing its population to vary from 40 billions to 4 trillions, depending on the book.
- 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. Population, seven billion.
- Make Room! Make Room! (the book on which Soylent Green is loosely based): The year is 1999. As stated in the book:
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...
- Warhammer 40,000: Zigzagged.
- On the one hand, hive cities easily reach populations in the billions, but the reason they exist is that they're the only habitable (sorta) places on the planet (usually a Death World, in desert, an ocean, or so polluted and/or radioactive even bionic systems only last a few minutes variants), so a planet of ten billion people has them in three or four hives. These get pretty much all their food from off-planets, with other worlds entirely devoted to agricultural production (using both mind-bogglingly advanced machinery and manual labor techniques medieval peasants would have laughed at).
- On the other hand Holy Terra is so densely populated that its soil is utterly barren and its atmosphere is a fog of pollution. Massive, labyrinthine edifices of state sprawl across the vast majority of the surface. Its oceans have long ago boiled away. Many mountain ranges have been leveled, perhaps all of them except the Himalayas, which seemingly remain all but untouched due to the laboratories said to be underneath and the chambers of the Astronomican that course throughout the whole mountain range. No specifics are given on the population anymore, just "billions", possibly at least a trillion depending on the source.
AutomobilesDrifting 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. Well, if a car still works well even after a decade, it can become What a Piece of Junk.
- 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 wouldn't drift. Maybe this is the reason Q retires the Aston and gives Bond a BMW instead.
- James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 was an exceptional vehicle... for the 1960s. 284hp may seem a lot (and 71bhp/L wouldn't be bad for a naturally aspirated engine today) until a turbocharged Ford Focus RS or Subaru Impreza WRX zips past. And it's 4 times cheaper. The DB5, however, is still undeniably about 470 times cooler. How many wankers do you see rolling past with an ill-fitted trumpet exhaust on an Aston Martin?
- 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".
- Nash Bridges' ultra-rare and expensive as a Renaissance sculpture Hemi'Cuda is beaten senselessly in both drag racing and maneuverability by a modern Mitsubishi Evo. Any Evo since the late 1990s. Then add a few hundred dollars' worth of mechanical improvements for the Evo...
- Racing simulators such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo often showcase the huge gap in automotive performance over the years. In Forza, for example, the roaring first-generation Mustang GT will get curb-stomped around a race track by a modern Ford hatchback due to the newer car's better power delivery, tires, and more advanced transmission. However, older cars often end up being more upgradeable due to their layout and simple design, allowing tuned muscle cars to thrash (lower-end) supercars around the track.
Electrical ComponentsWhen 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.
- In James Blish's Cities in Flight series, written in the 1960s, the galactic economy runs on germanium as a treasure metal. Because it's essential to electronics.
- Gordon Korman's The War With Mr. Wizzle was written in the early eighties, and as such the computer he introduces to MacDonald Hall is a monstrosity of a machine that has to be fed punch cards. The 2003 reprint updates this to the modern era, noting that the school would now be filled to the brim with computers. So Wizzle instead introduces software he's written to control the school.
- 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 from 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 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 from 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. This is due to the CRI (Color Rendering Index) of incandescents being closer to that of sunlight than any fluorescents and cheaper run-of-the-mill LED light sources. Though, if you're not used to it anymore, incandescent's yellowishness seems wan.
- The second is that fluorescent and some older LED bulbs flicker: Fluorescent tubes glow very briefly and need a constant hammering of electrons to stay "constant", while older LED type bulbs are driven by pulse width modulation (PWM), where the LED shifts rapidly between on and off, the proportions of which give off a certain level of light. For some more sensitive people, this causes headaches, and it can be very irritating to many people on the autism spectrum, 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.
- However, Tech Marches On once again: Newer LEDs are current-controlled and as such flicker-free save for minimal amounts of noise, PWM technology has been improved to the point where the pulses vary at tens of thousands of hertz, far above the most sensitive human's perception. CRI has also been taken into account, and LED's can come in colors varying from a milder version of fluorescent lighting (cool white) all the way to a 60w incandescent bulb's (warm white).
- Pinball machines can be modded to accept LEDs instead of the incandescent lights they were designed for, but the ones made prior to 2006 were programmed to coordinate the lights with incandescents in mind. A few of them, such as Fun House and Ripley's Believe It or Not!, will cause the LEDs to strobe constantly instead of blinking on and off, blinding the player. Hence, even in the days where LEDs are largely replacing incandescent lights in everything from street lighting to filmmaking, some pinball machines from the '90s and earlier still undergo maintenance using incandescent bulbs. With the United States phasing out sales of incandescent bulbs in 2020, however, this will soon become averted, as pinball fans who do programming are hard at work reprogramming these machines so the LEDs function in the same way their incandescent counterparts do.
- 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.
- It is the case that old-fashioned clocks, with hands moving around a numbered face, are sold in stores in a way that capitalises on a quirk in human psychology. If the hands are set approximately to ten and two, they evoke a happy smiling face and it has been demonstrated that people are more likely to buy clocks if they see, at least subliminally, a smiling face. This is known in marketing as the "ten-o-eight" phenomena. Observational comedian Dave Gorman wondered if this is still the case today when so many clocks and watches are digital. What he discovered was that in sales photos and displays, clocks/watches with a digital face are 95% of the time set to... 10:08. in numbers.
Storage MediaWho else here has ever talked about "taping" a show on to a hard disc, or "rewinding" a DVD? Some media applications call it "seeking" or "skipping", but those are even older terms, even if they're not tied to specific medium. It's also still a trend to call any solid-state storage media a "tape", after audio cassette-tapes and video-tape formats like VHS.
- In the mid-2010s, distribution of films on, uh, film, has pretty much died off. Copying a file onto a bunch of cheap terabyte hard drives is much cheaper than printing thousands of reels of film. Theaters have had to upgrade to digital projectors or close due to movies no longer being distributed on film reels.
- 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.
- In Cloak & Dagger everyone calls the game cartridge with the hidden data a "tape".
- 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.
- 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.
Live Action — TV Series
- 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.
- The "DVD rewinder" even exists as a joke appliance.*
- Topps' Wacky Packages has exposed tape sticking out of the package of "Stupid Moron Bros. 2".
- The Transformers franchise has a few characters who in the original incarnation of the brand turned into at-the-time current technology, most famously Soundwave and his minions (who respectively turn into a (micro)cassette player and cassette tapes). Owing to the fact that no-one uses cassettes anymore, most new toys of the characters either refer to their alt-modes by different names or give them entirely new (or slightly different* ) alt-modes entirely.
- Soundwave, being such a distinct character, thanks to both his cassette minions and his distinct voice, is generally an exercise in creativity as to how to render him for a new day and age. The consistent themes that he needs to hit are audio communications and Creepy Monotone. Such themes were covered by Predator Drones, Stealth Planes, Communication's Satellites, bats, and the Nissan Cube (one of the first cars designed with MP3 music devices in mind).
- In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven Jotaro Kujo time travels from 1989 to 2011 to team up with his Kid from the Future, who's dealing with a villain that can steal people's memories with special CD-ROM's. Jotaro...understandably doesn't know what a CD-ROM even is (even though the CD had already been out for seven years from Jotaro's perspective).
Jotaro: "Wait, did you say disc? Is it like a cassette?"Jolyne: "Generation gaaap!"
- In World in Conflict a Running Gag is Mike's inability to find batteries so he can show off a high-status gadget of his, a portable CD player. Granted, World in Conflict is a Period Piece set in 1989, but in the modern day, when CDs have gone the way of the dodo, it stands out.
- 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.
- The Ace Attorney series tends to use technology more or less consistent with the time the games were made, despite generally being set 15-20 years in the future. By 2009, when Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth came out, DVDs were common enough that any security footage was presented on DVDs, even in the flashback case that took place chronologically earlier than any case in the series to that point...in 2012, still shortly in the future. Earlier games, however, frequently used VHS despite being set even later.
- 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.
- The "Sega tapes" of Homestar Runner. Like a lot of elements in the series, this is deliberate parody of this trope.
- For people that work in facilities that deal with confidential information there is actually a battle to get CD players. Since facilities trying to protect confidential information may not allow phones or MP3 players, for fear of someone saving information on them and walking out the door with it, but generally will allow older cd and tape players. The problem is some areas no longer stock CD players, so if you want to be able to listen to music at your office you're going to have to find an old player that still works. If your office is large you may be fighting hundreds of other people who are also stalking the local thrift stores for this outdated technology. Still, it's a pretty niche need.
TelevisionsTVs have changed a lot and tropes that applied to analog black & white models don't always carry over to the digital HD multipurpose display devices of the present.
- Numerous shows and comedians use to make a joke that "in the future there will be hundreds of channels, and nothing to watch". Congratulations, it's officially the future.
- A TV without signal, even on most modern media, is shown with TV static. This has largely fallen out of favor due to the shift to digital TV, where one without signal is usually just given a "no signal" message (although it can still be seen if you try to get over-the-air analog stations). Even many analog TVs since the late '80s have the ability to mute static and blank the screen if there's no signal. Of course this can be partly justified, as it's much easier for the audience to notice an entire screen being covered in static, and they're of course conditioned to know that it's broken if that's what they see.
- There have been a few shows set in the far future which feature static-y TVs for added color (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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For that matter, the very concept of Poor Man's Porn is mostly obsolete. Actual porn is freely available, in huge quantities, over the Internet. Admittedly, you're probably not going to be viewing porn at the local library, so you do need your own computer and Internet service. Still, the most common users of Poor Man's Porn weren't the poor, but children who weren't allowed to view anything else. Nowadays, like it or not, any kid who has hit puberty has probably looked up some illicit porn at some point.
- The advent of the DVR and On-Demand services (along with streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and, to an extent, YouTube) changed things in a lot of ways. Nowadays, kids (and even some adults) will struggle to grasp the concept of only being able to watch TV shows while they were actually airing.
- Back to the Future:
- 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, Marty tries to explain his knowledge of an episode of The Honeymooners as having seen it as a rerun. In several non-English dubs of the movie, the word 'rerun' doesn't exist (usually because the country concerned had not adopted the policy of re-airing episodes of television shows as of the mid-eighties), so Marty says instead that he saw "The Man from Space" episode of The Honeymooners "on tape".
- 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!"
- A notable example of the ubiquity of curved CRT screens in the future 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.)
- Men in Black II: Kids who grew up with DVDs and digitally downloaded movies probably won't get the locker-aliens' "Be Kind, Rewind" reference. The "Adult section in rear" gag, teens can probably figure out, though it also dates the picture.
- 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.
- Lampshaded in X-Men: Days of Future Past when Hank is showing off his device that enables him to record ''...all three networks and PBS."
Logan (Sarcasticly): All three? Wow!Hank (Not getting it): And PBS.
- A passage in Atlas Shrugged (written in The '40s and The '50s and set in something like an alternate crapsack Diesel Punk universe) mentions a "super-color-four-foot-screen television set" being "erected" in a public park like it was some sort of monument.
- In Red Dragon, the killer works as a film developer for home movies, a profession now decades obsolete. The film updates this to him working in film-to-video transfer ... another profession that, if not yet completely obsolete, is now so obscure that it's a story-breaker: If both victimized families had been having old filmstrips transferred to video, the FBI's investigators would have noted this incongruity as an immediate common link without the profilers' help.
- At one point in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Dudley is complaining about the fact that Vernon taking the household to a rickety old shack on an offshore rock in an ultimately futile attempt to throw off pursuit by Hagrid means he'll miss one of his favorite TV shows. This happens in late July of 1991. If it were set today, while Dudley, being Dudley, would still complain, it wouldn't mean quite as much. If anything, a first-time reader (especially if they aren't aware of the time-frame, which wasn't firmly established until Deathly Hallows) will simply be confused about why Dudley is so upset at all.
Live Action — TV Series
- One of MADtv's earliest regular sketches was "Lowered Expectations", a video dating service for EXTREMELY maladjusted individuals. Despite being hilarious, the sketches quickly became dated due to the rise of online dating, which rendered video dating services obsolete. As a result, the sketch was quietly retired by the late '90s.
- 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.
- The signature opening Control Voice lines for The Outer Limits (1963), about how "we are controlling transmission", specifically reference a number of technical glitches - misaligned images, blur, color distortion, rolling or flickering - that commonly afflicted early analog television sets. These days, glitches typically involve pixelation, scrambling, or judders between adjacent channels, and even the idea of "transmission", i.e. broadcasting, seems archaic in the era of cable, satellite, and streaming video.
- In a MAD article about the fifty worst things about the internet, one panel showed a family huddled around their computer watching a movie on Netflix on their tiny monitor, while their large beautiful flatscreen TV sat in the background unused. The issue came out in 2009; nowadays there are several ways to watch streaming sites through your TV (even back then, the family could have used an HDMI cable to plug the computer into the TV if they really wanted to). Hell, many TV's now have online connectivity, eliminating the need for a middleman altogether.
- Our Miss Brooks: A particularly glaring example of "Technology Marches On" occurs in the episode "The Tape Recorder". Walter Denton causes trouble by purchasing an outrageously expensive tape recorder ($385 in 1950 funds!) for Madison High School — in the grips of Mr. Conklin's latest economy drive. A circa 1950 tape recorder, incidentally, isn't a small device, but one of the huge reel-to-reel affairs seen here. Hilarity Ensues as Miss Brooks and Mr. Conklin are forced to explain the purchase to school board head Mr. Stone. Even more Hilarity Ensues when the records Walter Denton made are played back in a mixed-up state.
- In Metal Gear Solid, 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 released on consoles made primarily for HDMI output.
- Final Fantasy VII has enormous white '97 CRT monitors appear here and there between fantastical SF designs; it's especially striking in the control room in Junon, which is wall-to-wall with them (and just outside a biomechanical gas chamber with no resemblance to real technology).
- The Simpsons had the Simpson family using a CRT television from their 1989 premiere up until they transitioned to HD in early 2009, adding a new intro sequence that featured an HDTV in the end. Though, the show itself wouldn't have the family owning an HDTV till the next season.
Other Thrift-store Tech
- When a work 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.
- 2010 has various 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.
- Credit to comedian Steve Hofstetter for trying to bring everyone forwards...
"I don't roll down my window. Because my car wasn't made in 1997. I vsshh down my window."
- Credit to comedian Steve Hofstetter for trying to bring everyone forwards...
- 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!
- People still use the term "dial a number" when telephones haven't used dials for decades.
- 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. 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.
- 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..."
- "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.
- 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.
- In April 2016, the National Weather Service announced that they would stop "shouting" at viewers. For decades, they transmitted their weather reports using teletype, essentially a typewriter connected to a phone line, which only allowed for all-caps, MEANING THEIR FORECASTS WOULD ALWAYS LOOK LIKE THIS. It worked fine for most of the 20th century, but once the internet took off in the '90s and teletype became obsolete, using all caps implied yelling, especially in forecasts posted to social media. They wanted to start using mixed cases back then, but unsurprisingly for a government agency, it took them an extra twenty years to completely phase out the old equipment that only accepted teletype.
- This is why the Weather Channel, back when they actually showed weather forecasts, looked like this.
- A positive variant is depicted in 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.
- In 1981's Escape from New York, a monitor displays a 3D wireframe model of NYC as Snake lands his glider in the city. The filmmakers wanted to use an actual computer model, but since technology wasn't there yet at the budget they had, they compromised by building a physical miniature New York, outlining it with reflective tape, and filming the result. This was the budget option.
- Seen in a 2015 era antique store in Back to the Future Part II:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. A typical teen in 1986 wouldn't know what to do with a computer, but every teen in modern times would like his or her own private computer for social messaging, file sharing, and pornography.
- 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 by Judy Blume 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.
- When Repairman Jack first appeared in The Tomb, written in the early 1980s, Jack had to put in a lot of work to maintain his anonymity but still find customers and stay off the grid. Actually renting an office under an assumed name with nothing in it but a phone and an answering machine, multiple mail boxes under multiple names that he would check for mail daily, always using pay phones, etc. Jump ahead to the present day and he's ditched the office and the answering machine and the mail boxes and just uses a web page with a phone number and email address displayed, buys cheap no-plan phones that he pays cash for and replenishes the minutes with using prepaid credit cards, etc.
- 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, a bit baffling by the early '90s (they had marched on from being impractical high-tech gadgets to a commonplace item nobody would call "neat"), rather on-the-nose now.
- The radio adaptations in the mid-2000s had novelty ringtones instead. Not quite as dated yet.
- Douglas Adams defended the original line from a copyeditor who wanted to modernise it to cellphones. According to Douglas, digital watches are inherently ridiculous (in the middle of a period defined by finding visual ways to show information clearly, we took the graphic display we'd had since medieval times and replaced it with a string of numbers, just because we could) in a way that cellphones aren't. As long as humanity continues to believe there's a point to digital watches, he considered the "pretty neat idea" dig valid.
- In The Space Odyssey Series, by the year 3,000 humanity has developed technology to match song lyrics to the Ear Worm stuck in your head for you for a fee. Uh... it's called a search engine and it's free.
- 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.note Soon it's likely that readers will 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 used vacuum tubes and 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 write 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).
- The iconic intro to Neuromancer, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel", is somewhat spoiled by the fact that on many modern TVs, the color you see when you turn your TV to a dead channel is bright blue. (In 1984 when the book was written, it would have been an ugly gray static.)
Live Action — TV Series
- 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, it's a museum piece, and even low-end modern computers have several gigabytes of RAM. Commodore, Radio Shack and Texas Instruments 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 was 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. Videophones differ in one key respect from all the other items in this entry in that nobody really wanted them. Video chat systems, the modern equivalent, are nothing like as popular as voice only or text chat.
- Speaking of music devices, one Sale of the Century shopping-level prize was a $12,000 video jukebox. Manufactured by Rowe Internationalnote , users simply deposited their money into the jukebox and chose one of the 100 (or so) selections; after the selection was made, the computer would pick out the appropriate video cassette the song was stored on, cue up the video and play it on the video screen above. This was a giant machine that likely cost a ton to maintain and was only modestly successful. Today, while certainly not cheap, video jukeboxes (such as those made by AMI Entertainment) are far more compact, using WiFi to access videos that connect to a nearby TV monitor.
Video jukeboxes date back to the 1930s. Music videos were called soundies and were played on 16mm film. You could find them in cafes, soda shops, restaurants, bars, train stations and other public places. The Scopitone type lasted well into the 1960s. American Movie Classics used to show interstitial soundies with a bit of historical info provided by Al "Jazzbo" Collins. YouTube has many examples of soundies in b/w and color.
- 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.
- Central Park West had characters use a very primitive form of email (which had just been introduced into the workplace around the time the series was created), and didn't have any modern functions such as inactivity timeout, password protection or full text editor. A large part of stockbroker Gil Chase's storyline is that several characters (including his ex-girlfriend and a romantic rival) are able to access his email without any password and nearly destroy his reputation by playing havoc with his contacts.
- The Dukes of Hazzard:
- "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?
- Beepers were parodied in the 2006 series 30 Rock via character Dennis Duffy the "Beeper King" who just knew that they would make a comeback.
- 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.
- Final Fantasy VII, despite having plenty of futuristic Magitek like giant robots and holographic arcade games, has Cloud owning a "PHS" and using it to contact the other party members. This was a stripped-down Asian cellular phone service based around CDMA technology aimed at the personal market, which had a reputation for only being used by children or poor people. PHS became obsolete around the time that anyone could get powerful mobile phone coverage for extremely cheap, and few people remember it even in its home market — in the West, where PHS was never used, it's Lost in Translation.
- 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.