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Computer SizeSome people predicted that computers would indeed become smaller and more powerful, but nobody expected it to happen as quickly as it did, or to the extent it did, and certainly not that Average Joe would be able to use them for tasks as trivial as listening to Linkin Park for hours on end on YouTube. Interplanetary travel is just around the corner, but desktop computers for Mister and Mrs Jones? Not in this lifetime! Today, the smartphone you carry in your pocket has more computing power than the fastest supercomputers of the '80s. For example, the Cray-2, released in 1985 and the fastest supercomputer until 1990, performed at about 1.9 gflops (Giga Floating-point Operations Per Second). An iPhone 5S performs at about 75 gflops.
Anime & Manga
- A.I. Love You: Koube gets all excited because he finds an HDD that's one whole gigabyte. Also, he's quite clearly using 5-1/4" floppy disks, which are probably unrecognizable to anyone born after 2000. Ken Akamatsu, the series creator, commented on this five years later when the manga was re-released, well aware of how dated his earlier manga was as a result.
- Averted by the original Astro Boy (created in 1952 or thereabouts) which mentions an Apache scientist developing a computer small enough to fit in the palm of a man's hand sometime in the 1970s which eventually led to the development of intelligent robots (the scientist's background is also interesting in the context of art imitating life, as there is now a reasonably successful Apache Software Foundation). Of course it looked like a tiny version of the Univac-style computers of that era and was said to run on Nuclear power, but it was still pretty groundbreaking for its time. Portable computers also show up a handful of times during the series proper, although they're still quite primitive compared to the modern laptop.
- Sailor Moon: Sailor Mercury's Mini Super Computer was practically a super-power back in the early 1990s. It looks very dated now.
- Lampshaded in the fanfiction Sleeping with the Girls, where the main character comments that with the advent of smartphones, palm pilots, blackberries, and iPads, the most extraordinary thing about it is how extra-ordinary the device is.
- Continuity Reboot Sailor Moon Crystal makes a point of updating prior versions' outdated tech. In Act 2, the computers now all have flat screens and slim towers, while Usagi herself owns a laptop, as opposed to using a dated, ungainly school desktop in the manga and 1992 anime.note
- The computers in Serial Experiments Lain (1998) still lack the flat screens commonplace today and computer hardware seems pretty normal for late '90s technology. However, the Internet or "the wired" has become interface-able with virtual reality, and the GUI looks like a crazy-cool animated wallpaper that conveys "futuristic" very well.
- Many of the computers were actually running a real workstation operating system, NeXTSTEP. It should be noted that NeXTSTEP is the direct antecedent of macOS X and iOS making the series even more ahead of its time. Also, if you have Linux you can actually install a NeXTSTEP-like UI on your system — it's a window manager called Window Maker and quite a few people still use it because it's small and lightning fast.
- In the first episode of the 3rd Tenchi Muyo! anime, we're shown Noboyuki setting up the Masakis' first computer. Despite the fact that the anime was made in the 2000s, the series is still stuck in the mid-'90s, we're looking at a big, bulky Desktop that not even holds Sasami's interest.
- Makes for some great dramatic irony in Apollo 13:
- Mention is made of NASA's most advanced computer at the time, during a spiel where Lovell is also mentioning Saturn Rockets and Apollo 11 as things which people would have thought were impossible. The rockets are powerful, Apollo 11 worked, and the computer "fits in a single room!"
- Lovell is panicking minutes after the explosion, and asks Ground Control if he got his trajectories right — the scene then cuts to a room full of engineers frantically moving slide rules to check his math. Ironically, slide rules couldn't actually be used to solve the equations, but hardly anyone knows what slide rules do these days anyway, so few people notice.
- In Take the Money and Run (1969), Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen) attempts to bluff his way through a job interview, padding his resume with preposterous lies. Among these: When asked whether he's "ever had any experience running a high-speed digital electronic computer", Virgil answers in the affirmative, adding, "My aunt has one." Cue laughter.
- Parodied in Mystery Team, where the "wacky facts" book Duncan reads from includes the fact "Did you know that one day, computers will be as small as your own bedroom?"
Duncan: "How old is this book?"
- Cruelly used in the last few minutes of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. After the heroes arrive to blow up Skynet's mainframe, they discover that due to all the changes they've made to the timeline in previous films, this current iteration of Skynet is actually a distributed computing network spread all throughout the Internet and thus impossible to destroy, just as its military creators intended.
- Demonstrated in the 1957 Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie Desk Set. Hepburn plays Bunny, a research librarian for the imaginary Federal Broadcasting Network who is worried that EMERAC, the "electronic brain" being installed by computer engineer Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), will replace the whole department. EMERAC is cutting-edge for 1957, a huge machine with whirling spools of tape and panels of lights that flash for no good reason, but is rather hilarious to modern eyes. Equally funny is the treatment of the computer: The characters type out questions in standard English and are given answers in the same. For instance, in a demonstration, EMERAC is asked, "What is the total weight of the Earth?" and in reply prints out, "With or without people?" (which presumes that people are the weightiest form of life on earth, we are not even close).
- Arthur C. Clarke:
"The great room, which had been one of the marvels of the world [...]. No living eye would ever again see that wonderful battery of almost human Hollerith analyzers and five thousand million punched cards holding all that could be recorded on each man, woman and child on the planet."
- The Sands of Mars, includes a journalist taking a commercial space flight to the colony on Mars. A journalist who uses a typewriter.
- Into the Comet is even worse: A spaceship exploring a comet loses its navigational computer, and the complex orbital calculations cannot be performed by hand. There is not a single calculator on board. The ingenious solution? Building dozens of abacuses, and implementing a production line of crew members using said devices.
- Clarke had a massive Author Appeal for broadcast satellites well before they actually existed. This qualifies because all of his stories set during this pre-Space Race period that feature this technology have it being used on manned Space Stations with crews required to install and run the broadcasts. One of his stories involves a famous broadcaster deciding to stay up in space to do weather reports because of how much he liked being up there.
- In Rescue Party, a story written in 1946, highly advanced aliens find an abandoned Earth. These aliens discover, amongst other things:
- In Superiority, a computer containing just short of a million vacuum tubes requires a dedicated battleship to house it and a crew of five hundred highly trained people to operate and maintain it.
- Isaac Asimov ran up against this one a lot. He wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, and liked to write about computers, so this was pretty much unavoidable. One story, The Feeling of Power, featured the use of humans with calculators in guided missiles to be an improvement on computers because computers are oh so very bulky — and expensive — in the far future. However, pocket calculators were used, and Asimov foresaw that they would have the effect of eliminating basic arithmetic skills. The story was based on the exciting new science of multiplying by hand. More to the point, computers powerful enough to make decisions (rather than just make calculations) were expensive. People were much cheaper.
- Another example is Multivac, a supercomputer of the size of many kilometers, that in some stories had enough computational power to solve the problems of mankind and in one story called "All the Troubles of the World" was able to predict when, where and by who every crime will be committed based only in psychological information, and then in "The Last Question" it became a deity in and of itself. Oh, yeah and it worked with either vacuum tubes or relays (although "The Last Question" did have it switch to smaller circuitry around 3000).
- There's a U-turn on this is Asimov's Foundation Trilogy: In the first volume, two psychohistorians have palmtop computers capable of the massively complex math used by psychohistory, but in the last volume (centuries later), the protagonists are using slide-rules — futuristic slide-rules with lots of whizzy sliders, but still... This is because the first story of the original trilogy was the last to be written; the others originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction as short stories, but "The Psychohistorians" was written specifically for the book collection when it was first published.
- Downplayed in The End of Eternity. One of the biggest mainframes fits in the leader's office (and there is still room for a desk), and there are numerous laptops. It all uses punch tape, however.
- In his short story The Last Question, multivac continues to get smaller and smaller until it all but disappears... but it's actually getting bigger and taking up room in hyperspace. Years later he lamented that he 'almost' got it right in this story.
- In the various Robot novels, robots have "positronic brains" that, in more advanced models, provide not only Artificial Intelligence, but can also be upgraded to enable Telepathy as well! Bizarrely, at the same time, machines actually considered to be "computers" are big mainframes and often use things like punch cards and microfilm, and cannot even come close to the cognitive capabilities of a robot. Probably the result of a cultural blind spot in the 1950s as "computers" and "robots" were perceived to be very different technological concepts at the time. This led to situations bizarre, to us, like robot AI police officers reviewing case records by walking to the records room and reading index cards or a robot that spellchecked a manuscript by picking up the bound typewritten copy and leafing through it page by page.
- It could be said that Robert A. Heinlein didn't get computers at all, which is all the more jarring, given that he used them in his books a lot. However, the technologies he presented as a cutting edge for his far future stories were quite often already obsolete by the time the respective books were published. And then there's his obsession with the slide rules...
- The young adult novel Tunnel in the Sky showed a character who, contemplating the flow of people through wormholes transporting them between planets, decided to calculate how long it would take the current population of the earth to go through, accounting for deaths and births along the way. He uses a slide rule.
- In his other juvie Have Spacesuit Will Travel, the hero makes a big thing out of receiving a top-of-the-line slide rule as a birthday present.
- Actual line from that book: "Sliderules are the best thing since girls!"
- The story Misfit has a scene where nuclear explosives are being configured based on calculations made on the spot with a (circular) slide rule. Later on, the navigation computer for the asteroid being moved fails and a (very exceptional) human is able to step in and do the computations required in his head in real time at least as well as the computer could have.
- Starman Jones, also by RAH, has starship navigators using huge tables of 8-digit binary codes for navigation data, because the starship navigation computers have an 8-bit binary interface practically identical to the Altair 8800 computers that would come out in the early 1970s, 20 years or so after the book was written, but a couple centuries before it was set. Also, personnel records were indexed with punch cards.
- It was even worse than that: Not only the computers in this novel were apparently unable to convert the data between binary and decimal system, but so were the people. All conversions were done through precalculated reference tables, and the hero's ability to remember them verbatim was a large plot point later on when the navigation tables were destroyed, and the protagonist remembered them as well: Apparently they were too massive to fit in the computer memory, and they haven't thought of things like magnetic tape, for example.
- To make matters worse, devices that were internally binary but converted to and from decimal in hardware at the external interfaces already existed at the time. They also weren't even using the computer for navigation per se, but just to do raw computations to speed up the work of the human navigators, while it would probably have been more efficient to build a machine to do it directly. And this technology had literally not changed in a generation, since the hero's memorized tables were from the books of a deceased relative.
- In another Heinlein work, The Puppet Masters, the main character has the equivalent of a modern Bluetooth earpiece implanted in his skull, people travel around in aircars, and major cosmetic surgery (at least for government agents) takes at most a couple of hours. All well and good, but when the main character goes to do research at his local library, the data is all stored in microfilm spools.
- Citizen of the Galaxy is guilty as well: Targeting computers for the cee-fractional missiles that the spaceships shoot at each other were able to calculate the targeting solutions almost immediately, but were utterly incapable of such things as following the target and even roughly predicting its movement, thus necessitating a quick-witted human operator.
- Fully automated point defense guns (quad coaxial .50 caliber machine guns with their own target detection and tracking RADAR and an analog computer that could identify an incoming aircraft and accurately lay fire on it) were deployed on Allied ground vehicles in Western Europe before the end of WWII. Antiaircraft guns in England had gun-laying RADAR that could tell when the gun was aimed optimally to get the shell to burst on the target and fire the gun when it was also were in operation during the war, as were similar systems for self-defense guns on some bombers. In short, much less sophisticated technology than was available to the operators of the ships above was able to do essentially the job that they couldn't do.
- Gay Deceiver, the onboard computer of the protagonist's groundcar/aircar/spacecraft/trans-universal conveyance in The Number of the Beast (1980) is described thus — "She stores sixty million bytes, then wipes last-in-last-out everything not placed on permanent. But her news storage is weighted sixty-forty in favor of North America." On top of that, the computer is a limited AI and has speech capability and voice recognition. It's programmed using semi-natural language with specific command words, which can be redefined or created on the fly; for example, "Gay, bounce!" instructs her to translate extradimensionally to a point ten thousand meters "upward" relative to her own frame of reference. (The command is just "Bounce!"; "Gay" or "Gay Deceiver" is used as an attention word, to let Gay know she's being given a command.) Many times during the course of the story, the computer is quickly and easily programmed by all four main characters. At one point they clean things up due to all the multiple programs they've input, which might cause unpredictable conflicts. All that with "sixty million bytes"! In other words, about 57 megabytes, about a tenth of Chandler's computer in that 1995 episode of Friends discussed above.
- The very name "Gay Deceiver" evokes a related trope: Have a Gay Old Time
- Also of note, RAH describes a near future where Ford Motors has build a roadster that runs on a reaction-less drive, and can make orbital insertion. And a computers with less storage and CPU as in your cellphone (that is, Gay Deceiver) can be programmed with 'turing test' software to become self-aware. Wonderful optimism.
- If This Goes On— has the hero mentioning a late 21st century autopilot built out of discrete components and without printed circuits. And later a family-car equivalent helicopter with a piston engine (with a valve knock the hero doesn't like at all), that also has an autopilot that would, if permitted, have kept up his terrain-following orders right across the Grand Canyon.
- Roger Zelazny wrote a series of stories about an agent who was able to 'blank' his existence because he was part of the team that created the first world-wide person database. He did this by ripping up his punchcards!
- The early Kurt Vonnegut novel, Player Piano, feature EPICAC, an ENIAC parodynote that takes up the entirety of Carlsbad Caverns.
- EPICAC also appeared in a short story named after the device (included in the collection Welcome To The Monkey House). It goes into more detail about the computer — gargantuan, slow for almost every task, all of its output was on ticker-tape, and it apparently could become sentient and an incredible poet if the dials were set just right.
- In the James Blish quartet of novels, Cities in Flight:
- Slide rules are apparently still being used for course calculations for interstellar space flight.
- New York City has an AI collectively known as the City Fathers, which reside in a set of self-reconfiguring servers so large they ride around on their own system of train tracks.
City Fathers: We conclude that we are the city.
- In the A. E. van Vogt novel Star Cluster, they are even connected via antennae (radio?) to the otherwise room-sized server.
- In Diane Duane's 1988 Star Trek novel Spock's World, data storage allocation is a high enough priority that changing it requires Kirk's signature. Early in the book, he significantly increases the allocation for the Enterprise's message board, saying that the extra cost is worthwhile. This is shown to be a simple forum and message board. In the same novel, the problem of running out of onion dip is solved by cloning the culture to make more sour cream, but 430 people on a message board can overload their system.
- The novel Venus, Inc. has a mission to Venus where they decide the required computer would be too large to be practical, so instead they just use a midget. The book being about an ad exec creating a marketing campaign for Venus, that's not the only case.
- One famous example of getting it right is Murray Leinster's short story A Logic Named Joe, written in 1946. The story comes close to correctly predicting the use of small home computers interlinked into a global network, along with search engines, parental filtering, using the Internet to find weather, stocks, useless trivia, and YouTube. Leinster even predicts that The Internet is for Porn. He wins at predictions.
- Lensman popularised most of the tropes recognised today as Space Opera — but when the hero remotely seizes control of the enemies' computers, what he means is that he has just telepathically taken control of a room full of men with slide rules.
- Crystal Singer trilogy:
- Crystal Singer, set in the distant future, mentions the discovery of a crystal that permits miraculously high-density data storage, at 1 gigaword per cubic centimeter. Assuming today's standard 32-bit word length, this equals 32 gigabits per cubic centimeter. Impressive when the book was written in 1982, but less so in 2016 with SD cards having about 10 terabits per cubic centimeter range. However, word length does vary between computer designs and the book never does mention what word length is common in that setting...
- The third novel in the series, Crystal Line, has a scene with an inept office assistant unable to locate a computer file. Killashandra locates it under a filename consistent with the format supported by Microsoft Windows in the late 1990s.
- Then there's Andrew M. Greeley's novel God Game, a rather forgettable piece of fiction apart from the assertion that a computer with a 286 processor apparently can do enough calculations per second to simulate an entire world, right down to blades of grass.
- Although the novel does hint that the computer may be only linking to an Alternate Universe rather than actually simulating it.
- Pretty much any depiction of an artificial intelligence from before the 1960s or so will involve vacuum tubes. Then after that there are transistors. For example, in the original Astroboy, at one point Astro is put out of commission because one of his tubes is damaged in battle and in a later story Professor Ochanomizu says "All you really need for a robot's head is a bunch of transistors". These days, most writers have abandoned this sort of thing, as it's unlikely that even modern microprocessors can support a true artificial intelligence and rely on ill-defined fictional Applied Phlebotinum to explain how their robots can think and feel the way humans can, such as the Transformers' mystical "Sparks" and later incarnations of Astroboy's "Omega Factor" and/or "Tenma Chips".
- In Ivan Yefremov's Andromeda Nebula (written in 1955) the crew of the latest Earth starship compute their trajectory on what amounts to a programmable calculator, but takes at least a large desk and a couple of cabinets. They are aware of its shortcomings and complain that fully functional computers that are able to completely automate their vessel are too large and fragile to be mounted on starships.
- The irony of the story lies in fact that it's an entirely true description of the situation of that time: In 1955 a programmable calculator would indeed take a large desk and a couple of cabinets at best, and the universal computers only just have started to appear and indeed couldn't be put on any moving vessel.
- In Jack Vance's short story Sail 25 a ship's computer's hard disk is sabotaged on a training flight in the asteroid belt. The students apparently have only that one computer on the entire ship, and no calculators or similar electronics — they get home by computing their orbit on abacuses.
- Referenced and royally mocked in George Alec Effinger's short story "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything": The titular aliens use vacuum tubes to run their spaceship. Needless to say, they're more than a little interested in trading their knowledge of space travel for modern hardware. (As for how they're intergalactic when humanity's advanced tech hasn't gotten out of the Solar System, well...)
- In an odd non-SF example, Rachel in Pet Sematary (which was written in the mid-1980s) recounts a lecture about the human brain's superiority over computers: "He made a persuasive case for this incredible assertion, telling them that the human mind was a computer with staggering numbers of memory chips — not 16K, or 32K, or 64K, but perhaps as much as one billion K: Literally, a thousand billion.". In other words, a terabyte. By The New '10s, you could fit a hard drive several times that in your pocket. If you want to go with thumbnail-sized 128 GB MicroSDXC cards, you can fit a petabyte inside the volume of a human brain. Of course, as of spring 2014, it will set you back about a million dollars. And we've yet to figure out what the closest approximation to the "storage" capacity of the human brain is, estimates range from 1 TB to 2.5 PB to "not a clue".
- In Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity and Star Light (as in 'not heavy'), the humans in the stations orbiting the supermassive "Terrestrial" type planets Mesklin and Dhrawn use slide rules. "Star Light" was published in 1970.
- The desk computer, not desk top computer — i.e., the computer is actually small enough that it can be fit into an executive size desk. Seen in John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit (1969) and many others into the 1980s. Some computers in the 1970s actually were built into office desks.
- The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas Ryan. A 1977 tale of an artificial intelligence that propagates itself by way of punched cards, acoustic coupler modems, and reel-to-reel tape spools that necessitate signaling human operators to change tapes.
- In The Pendragon Adventure, Bobby uses a 5000-6000 AD holographic computer. While we still don't have holographic computers, the use of the computer (like an encyclopedia), can be accessed today using That Other Wiki.
- In the Evil Genius Trilogy, Cadel's first major challenge is to make himself a computer phone — one that even connects to the Internet! There's an app for that, but Cadel does it the hard way, developing some new DNA-based technology so that it will all fit in his cell phone.
- In Robert L Forward's Dragon's Egg (written in 1980), at the university in the future year 2000, there are no personal computers and no Internet. Indeed one of the issues is the department has to pay for computer time — one professor even dips into his personal bank account to help a student, which is rather hilarious knowing how widespread and easy to come by computers actually were long before 2000.
- Never mind 2000, you could get your own computer (admittedly much simpler than anything you'd have to buy time on) for less than a thousand dollars by 1980. The savings on buying mainframe time would pay for it in remarkably short order.
- In Greg Bear's book The Forge Of God, copies of the Library of Congress are purchased in CD-ROM format. They are inconveniently bulky.
- In the Gene Wolfe short story Alien Stones, it is somehow possible to determine the last number held in the main register of an alien computer (a bearing). Modern computers have their registers buried inside chips, and the number never stops changing. Also, the computer is identified as the main central computer by the vast number of very fine wires feeding into it from all over the ship. Modern cars eschew complicated cable looms by running a simple 1 or 2 wire bus all over the car, and decoding the messages on that bus using many micro-controllers dotted all round the vehicle.
- Global satellite broadcasting was first used in 1962, but a handful of years later Rene Barjavel has his Antarctic explorers relaying their discoveries to the Trio satellite to be broadcast live on a 24-hour news channel in his 1968 novel La Nuit des Temps (The Ice People). One executive is watching this proto-CNN on an airplane.
- In the 1960s Doctor Who serial "The War Machines", one of the scientists developing WOTAN insists it's the most advanced computer in the world despite it not being the biggest.
- PADDs, and to a lesser extent Tricorders, in Star Trek. Device consolidation in the real world has led to tablets and smartphones matching them in terms of computing power, but also adding capabilities like voice/video communications and speech recognition, which in the various series were relegated to dedicated devices or else much larger computers. Often, processor-intensive tasks were performed at terminals directly linked into the ship's computer, implying that the PADDs were little more than ebook readers. They also seemed to have limited storage and no way of transferring data; many a captain was swamped by piles of PADDs. The commbadges were not an aversion. Although they seemed to have limited speech recognition capabilities, if they were somehow blocked from connecting to the ship's computer they would mostly just beep petulantly at the user. Tricorders hold their own mostly in terms of their sensor functionality.
- Communicators in general are in something of a strange place; on the one hand, their closest modern analogues (satellite phones) are indeed more like the classic Trek comms and less like smartphones. On the other hand, apparently that technology hasn't really advanced much over the intervening centuries. In general, the featurelessness of the communicator is seen as a trade-off for its range — reaching orbital ships with no problem unless the plot demands it — and ruggedness.
- In general, Star Trek is in a weird state of Zeerust. Some of it is astoundingly futuristic (for the time it was written in); on the other hand, in a post world-war three post-scarcity technological utopia they apparently haven't rediscovered circuit breakers yet because Explosive Instrumentation is a persistent hazard even in the 24th Century.
- There are some wonderful examples of "what the general public thinks computers are like" on The Rockford Files, gigantic structures full of spinning discs, flashing lights and tweeting sound effects, that can tell you practically anything about anyone just by typing in their name. One thing they did get right was the size of the air conditioners that would be required to cool these monstrosities.
- Various Columbo episodes feature tech that was advanced or uncommon for the time of the episode, but commonplace today. These include a home video camera security system (relatively common for anyone who wishes to install one now), sound activated electronics (the release of devices such as The Clapper brought that into the home), a staircase elevator for a wheelchair (relatively common in homes with stairs where an occupant uses a wheelchair), machines to record phone conversations (way too common to do this now), a watch that prints the time in digital numbers (for the early '70s, advanced—as of the '80s into today, nothing special), a home security alarm(being a late-'60s episode, something owned more by the wealthy rather than the common homeowner) a cell phone (something of a luxury at the time of the '80s episode, of course- not so much now) and as in the Rockford example above, a computer system that takes up a room yet takes 5 minutes just to print a single sheet of paper containing an employee's basic information, one line of text at a time (again, this was the '70s).
- The soul classic "Wonderful World" (often misnamed as "Don't Know Much About History") mentions slide rules as another thing the singer don't know much about.
- In the first edition of Rifts published in 1991 and taking place about 300 years in the future, the hand-held computer listed in the equipment section is described as having a "dual drive system, 150 megabytes hard drive with 4 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and uses one inch disk." Later reprints removed specific capabilities on the computers and simply had it state that they are simply a lot better than the ones that are used currently.
- Which is actually rather strange, as Rifts is a sort of After the End Scavenger World where much of the planet is struggling its way back to some semblance of technological civilization in the face of unrelenting attacks by various extra-dimensional threats, and has explicitly lost a huge amount of technology.
- What is even weirder is that the end the setting is after happens almost 100 years into the future, so it isn't that the tech everyone scavenges is from before the disaster, it is that the tech they scavenge is from 100 years before the disaster.
- It's not unknown for BattleTech (published 1984) players to express disbelief and/or poke fun at the game's 31st-century targeting computers, which tend to have weights measured in tons and take up corresponding space in a BattleMech or other suitable unit. This was later handwaved as all the additional peripheral hardware required to improve the linked (and heavy) weapons' performance significantly beyond the "regular" universe-wide defaults, not merely the processing unit alone.
- And they're still unable to hit targets at ranges that pre-digital gunnery computers routinely did in the 1940s... though that's as much a matter of keeping the battlemaps smaller than an auditorium.
- While Cyberpunk, as per Shadowrun below, does not give stats in Real Life units for its computers and has too an Internet a la Neuromancer, it did not predict smartphones and its ubiquitynote , nor how cheap telephone calls would be.
- Ace Attorney is set between the years 2016 and 2026. And people still use cellphones the size of a small notebook with monochrome screens and monotone ringtones and call them "modern". A reasonably modern (by 2009 standards) phone appears in Miles Edgeworth's spinoff, set in 2019, where it's still treated as a novelty.
- Also, Case 1-2 featured a Mobile Phone which would record every conversation you had and store it automatically. Phones nowadays can't do that, yet, or can they?, so it's a bit of a mish mash.
- Ultima VII largely takes place in Britannia, but has a little bit which betrays its time period in the opening cinematic when "you" as the Avatar thump the old CRT computer screen, which has gone static-y. Also in the game the "Save" Icon is a floppy disk — a 5.25 disk, which wasn't even the floppy disk's last incarnation.
- It's funnier, since the game was first sold in 3.5 disks!
- This whole concept is lampooned in The Simpsons in a flashback where a circa 1975 Professor Frink states "I predict that within one hundred years, computers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them." This is in turn a reference to the 1943 Thomas J. Watson misquote, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (The integrated circuit hadn't been invented back in his day...)
- The transistor hadn't been invented in 1943, either. It was going from tubes to semiconductors (and, once the bugs were worked out, their vastly greater reliability) that made really interesting and powerful computers possible.
- "Could they be used for dating?" "Theoretically yes, but!! the results would be so perfect as to eliminate the thrill of romantic conquest!" Computer dating didn't work out exactly that way...
- Thanks to the espionage conducted by Paul Smart, a super-advanced, AI-driven Robo-Buster X1 was set to put The Real Ghostbusters out of business. At its unveiling, the robot revealed it had an incredible 20MB of on-board memory.
- On Inspector Gadget, Gadget's niece Penny was the one who usually solved his cases, and her most iconic tool was her "computer book," a powerful computer shaped like a large book. Young viewers in the '80s when the show aired (and early '90s in syndication) thought it was the coolest gadget ever, but nowadays we would just see it as a glorified laptop.
- Most of the desktop computers used in Godzilla: The Series are that with the large square-shaped monitors that weigh about five pounds instead of wide flatscreens. The aversion comes in with the palm-size laptops Mendel and Randy uses to do half the tech-magic shown, from hacking, interface with a MUCH older computer, and various forms of remote controlling.
- Late '80s series C.O.P.S. was set in the year 2020. Despite the fact they have flying cars and robots with very advanced AI — the newspaper vending machine is of human intelligence with emotions, for example — and enough medical prosthetic advancement to replace many missing body parts or even implant a brain into a new body (or implant a set of machine guns with infinite ammo capacity into a criminal's chest), they are still using VHS tapes, computers still use DOS without even a mouse to operate them, and cell phones do not exist whatsoever. Much like Back To The Future (assuming they weren't inspired by that directly), they predicted video conference phones would be the common thing.
- Netbooks started a phase of "small, inexpensive computers for going on the Internet." Small indeed, as they started with 7" screens. However, this is now inverting itself as the concept took off and people were making bigger Netbooks that were more comfortable to use. Netbooks are now, on average, 10".
- Same with the Personal Data/Digital Assistant (PDA). What started as literally, a palm sized computer has marched in the form of smartphones (essentially a PDA with cellular phone capabilities) and tablet computers, such as the iPad. Though with tablets, the size inverted itself since most tablets are at least 7".
- Rules for keeping your kids safe on the Internet usually start out with keeping your computer in a public area. After all, there's no way your kid can drag the computer off to their room — the network cable is too short. Of course now with WiFi and tablet computers, it's all to easy to sneak off to your room...
- A smart parent could figure out the kid's MAC address and block it. Of course, an equally smart kidnote can figure out how to change the MAC address (although this has risky implications)...
- Schoolchildren of the 1980s (that in-between generation right before the Internet Age) remember hearing it: "You have to learn how to do this in your head — you can't carry around a calculator with your wherever you go!". Those teachers — who were trained in the 1950s-60s — didn't realize those schoolchildren would be carrying around cellphones which had a calculator built in — and upgradable to handle trigonometry and calculus!
- Even worse, by the mid-1970s, there were affordable scientific calculators (the TI SR-50) that included trigonometric and statistics functions and were small enough to carry in your shirt pocket, so you could carry it with you wherever you went. A decade later they were operating entirely on solar power. (This leaves aside the fad of wristwatches with calculators at the same time. They worked, but the buttons had to be impractically small for use... unless you were a school-aged child.)
- Modern day teachers, instead of fighting the unstoppable wave of computer-powered mathematics, instead go along with it and allow their use in the classroom as a learning tool. Instead of just grading the outcome, these teachers will have their students solve the problem with a calculator, ask the students to solve it themselves with the calculator's result as a known-good reference, and grade the students in terms of the procedure used to reach the correct answer. On exam day, all calculators and electronics must be put in a corner of the classroom, and the exam questions will be specially designed so that only small numbers will show up during their execution in order to negate the need to even use a basic numeric calculator.
Computer Speed and InternetNowadays, computer processing speeds and Internet capabilities often fall victim to this:
Anime and Manga
- For being humanoid computers in Chobits the specs of persocoms weren't so great. Although very rarely do you hear about the capacities of persocoms (especially Chii) those that you do learn are rather contemporary for early 2000s computers. Could be a case of Alternate History.
- Though, of course, Chii and Freya are packed with honest-to-goodness indistinguishable from human Artificial Intelligence, which still makes them much more advanced than modern computers (as of this update).
- Mnemosyne has a fantastic scene set in 1990 where Mimi says that with a computer this powerful, the guy they're tracking really knows what he's doing. Keep in mind that the show was written in the 2000s, so they were definitely playing the trope for laughs. Although in-universe, it really was top of the line for the characters. Since they're both immortal, they keep up with technology as it happens just like anyone else normally would.
Mimi: "This is a top of the line 16-bit 40MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM with a 300MB hard drive with all the bells and whistles."
- A minor one concerning Spider-Man character Cindy Moon/Silk. She'd been locked away in a Gilded Cage since the late '90s-early 2000s (or since the days after being bitten by the radioactive spider), thus she suffers a bit of Fish Out of Temporal Water when, in her attempt to find her parents, she's left utterly confused at the fact that the last web browser she used, Netscape Navigator, isn't on Peter's computer. Pete also realizes that something like Facebook would be way over her head as it would have been barely started when she was locked away.
- The film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower has the song Heroes by David Bowie playing in the tunnel scene. None of the characters know the name of the song at first until later. Today, they would be able to Google a few lyrics or so right when they hear it, or use a specialized app to do so, and know the song right away.
- The modems in WarGames are museum pieces today, but were so cutting-edge for their day that the film was many people's first introduction to the concept. The film even featured the first cinematic reference to the term "firewall".
- In Scanners, the very idea that someone could intrude upon a computer system via its connection to the phone lines seems to be an alien concept to ConSec's security director. He and the ConSec technicians ponder aloud exactly how it might work, presumably because audiences in 1981 would be equally confused by the notion.
- Hackers is rooted in mid-'90s technology.
- The characters are in awe of somebody's new, super-fast 28.8k modem.
- The main characters talking very highly of the RISC architecture (which is commonly used today in smartphones and tablets, but before those it'd faded into insignificance from a consumer point of view for about a decade and a half)
- The "battle of the tapes" scene — nowadays tape is pretty much unknown and they'd be fighting over digital files.
- The conspicuous absence of the Fate computer from V for Vendetta in the film adaptation. Understandably, a computer network where someone can just Google your arse is not going to have the same impact as it did in 1982.
- Back to the Future Part II predicted something like today's heavily inter-connected and information-driven society, but assumed it would be based around the fax machine, not the computer. It also assumed that, by 2015, Japan's economy would have completely overtaken America's. It wasn't such an odd concept at the time; Japan was (and still is) a major worldwide provider of technology and electronics. Even so, it comes across as fairly quaint.
- In GoldenEye, Natalya goes to an IBM office so she can contact Boris via the Internet, and gives the sales rep a purchase order as a rather clever lie to use their connection. Computers using 500 megabyte hard drives, with 14.4 kbps modems, seem woefully underpowered today. Although those were impressive specs at the time the movie was made, the fact that Bond films are always "present day, present time", essentially makes this an Unintentional Period Piece. Then again, the same is true of everyone struggling to adjust to the post-Cold-War era as a new thing, which is a big part of the plot.
- Johnny Mnemonic got the Internet both right and wrong; while there is in fact a widespread data network in the film that is used for information and communication all around the world, the interface to access it requires a (implied very expensive) virtual reality rig and is impractical at best — and despite the fact that such a graphically intense interface would require a massively wide data pipe just to work, a huge deal is made of ferrying a couple hundred gigabytes from one place to another. And then, despite all this, the spreading of pirate information from the LoTek — who would surely be able to steal the 3D-Internet technology — happens by analog TV transmission.
- Kids In America: In 2005, social media was just getting started, yet the students manages to get the news media's attention to their plate. Today, a cell-phone with the ability to film and quickly upload to a social media site, like Facebook and/or Twitter, would've got Donna much faster.
- Wayne's World (The Show Within a Show from the film with the same name, not the film itself) would not look out of place as a YouTube sensation today... but since the film was made in 1992, WAAAAAAY before the kind of Internet traffic speeds that make video streaming a reality, the guys broadcast it on cable access instead.
- A particularly good example is The Face On The Milk Carton, a baroque horror story/thriller/teen melodrama where every single thing the teenage heroine believes is a lie. The story is the long, painful process she goes through to find the truth... a process that would take ten seconds if online search engines had been invented at the time the book was written (1990).
- The existence of Google renders the main character's job in Foucault's Pendulum (finding the obscure connection between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, using a cardfile) completely unnecessary. Much of the rest of the plot is connected to how computers would go on to change the perception of information, as well, with one character spending half a chapter gushing over his new typewriter that let him delete words at will.
- William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer was one of the first works of Cyber Punk and popularized (or updated) common tropes and sci-fi setting elements like virtual reality, networked artificial intelligences, cybernetics and computer hackers. Today, though, its depiction of the "matrix" as a collection of brightly colored simple geometric shapes seems laughably old-fashioned. The countless sci-fi movies that shamelessly aped the look didn't help.
- The use of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) is also extremely dated, today it's adapted, diversified, and become many things, including wikis. Always keep in mind that the Internet is a connection system, which is simply better than dialing into a dedicated BBS.
- The infamous "three megabytes of hot RAM" are laugh-inducing to a modern audience who consider an 8 GIGABYTE MP3 player to be one of the cheap and low-capacity ones. Gibson's view of what computers can be capable of is still futuristic, but his prediction of how much actual physical technology would progress became obsolete barely out of the '80s.
- Phone booths are still omnipresent in the novel, since Gibson (to his shame and acceptance) didn't count on the creation and immense progress of cellular phone technology.
- Also from Neal Stephenson, his 1999 novel Cryptonomicon has a couple of scenes showing Randy connecting to the Internet on his laptop with a dazzling fast, state-of-the-art 56k modem. Sometimes he connects with a cutting-edge cell phone modem (which would now amount to a 3G dongle). Said laptop also has a makeshift webcam.
- Most of the time he's using this equipment he's either travelling or in places where the cell-phone modem (still used today, in the form of tethering) is the best or most practical option, though. Lots of business travellers continue to have laptops with modems in them, because there are lots of places in the world where traditional telephony is all that is readily available.
- In Aquila, the titular ship connecting to the Internet wirelessly was pretty mind-blowing back in 1998.
- In Speaker for the Dead, there is a character who has artificial eyes. He explains that he has to deal with a lack of depth perception, because only one of the eyes is actually a lens; the other is where the "jack" plugs in so he can download what he sees. Bluetooth, anyone? These books aren't that old, it is surprising that Orson Scott Card didn't see more widespread uses for wireless. Particularly since he did a decent job at predicting computer technology in Ender's Game. Written in the year 1985, it features both portable laptop computers and the Internet (albeit a very differently structured Internet from the one we know). Remarkably accurate for the time it was written.
- Parts of the Harry Potter books would be a lot shorter if wizards had some version of the Internet or at least if the Hogwarts Library had some kind of magical search engine to look up books on. Hell, if the first book weren't set in 1991-92 according to the official timeline, Hermione could have just Googled Nicholas Flamel (a real historical figure) on a Muggle computer while she was home for the holidays.
- The Michael Crichton novel, Congo, at one point mentioned the possibility that one day all of the world's computers would be connected. It also made reference to a counterargument that there would be no way to feasibly create and lay all the linking infrastructure, the advent of wireless communication was completely overlooked.
- It gets more plausible as the story goes on, but the first stage of Hari Seldon's plan in Foundation involves publishing an encyclopedia, with updates every ten years, which seems a little quaint from a post-Internet point of view.
- P.S. Longer Letter Later (1998) and Snail Mail No More (2000) by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger both date themselves just by the use of letters. The books are a series of letters between friends Tara Starr and Elizabeth after Tara moves away. The second novel introduces e-mail (hence the title), but is still dated, since it came out when e-mail and the Internet were still relatively new technologies. Nowadays they would probably use social networking sites, cell phones, or even video messaging.
- Paula Danziger's "This Place Has No Atmosphere" is even funnier on this score. Written in 1986, set in 2057, this book features a society where people live in malls and on the moon, take classes in ESP and telekinesis, get their music by video disks and holograms and watch TV on their watches, and write letters home to update their family with how it's going on the moon. An amusing interlude features the main character practicing writing backwards during downtime in class, and she notes that this is what she usually does at school when the projector breaks down. One of the overall themes of the book (mused upon by the main characters when putting together a school production of "Our Town") is that while times change, people are about the same as they have always been.
- Alex Packer's teenage-aimed etiquette book How Rude! may have been up-to-date and devoid of Totally Radical when it was first published in 1995, but by 2011, its 'Netiquette' section has not aged well at all. Gems that come to mind include keeping responses as succinct as possible, staying away from images, and not using allcaps in emails, a common early-Internet practice.note
- 1988's Chess With A Dragon presumes that none of the thousands of alien races who participate in the InterChange have a clue how to dig up the exact information they want from this gargantuan, out-of-control galactic data library. In retrospect, the humans could've dodged the whole indentured-slaves-and-meat-animals crisis by signing up as data-retrieval specialists and using search engines.
- A 1954 story written about baseball in the year 2044 has newspapers as the main source of news in the year 2044, severely underestimating television and completely missing the idea that there could be new types of mass media in the future. The author, like just about everybody else, hadn't seen the Internet coming.
- Matilda: Mrs. Trunchbull torturing and mistreating the pupils at her school remains a Dark Secret of the school, "because nobody would believe it if you would have told them." Nowadays, in an age of cell phones with movie cameras, Mrs. Trunchbull would have been sent to jail easily.
- The clues provided to teams 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8 in The Westing Game, if entered as keywords, all come up with the sought-after song title in seconds with a Google search, usually as the first result (discounting links referencing the book itself). Turtle and Flora could likewise have gotten the answer in a matter of seconds by googling " May God thy gold refine", a quote from the will which we know they remembered (because it inspired Turtle's stock-market solution).
- Done intentionally in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Blue Box, written in 2003 as though it had been written in The '80s. The narrator explains what ARPANET is, and adds that some computer scientists think it might double in size by the year 2000. In general, the book is very careful about writing a technothriller with (by 2003 standards) outdated technology; bulletin boards and Usenet instead of discussion forums, needing physical access to systems because everything is not online, and even having to gimmick payphones to gain network access. The Doctor's computer of choice is an Apple II, and at one point a "meeting in cyberspace" scene is handled through a Multi-User Dungeon.
- The Langoliers: Laurel Stevenson's reason for booking an expensive flight from Los Angeles to Boston is to meet a guy she's never actually met in person but corresponded with through a personal ad in a magazine. The story was written in 1990, so this was plausible at the time, but Laurel's gullibility aside (which she admits to), the internet and webcams have made this plot thread rather dated.
- Literature/Animorphs: Book 16 in the series, "The Warning" revolves around the protaganist typing the name of the alien species "Yeerk" into a search engine and is surprised to find it receives one return. Since the book came out in 1998, it's become the object of ridicule among fans for its portrayal of the Internet from that time period.
Live Action TV
- Audiences watching the various Star Trek series and movies today tend to feel some dissonance due to the apparent absence of anything resembling the Internet, or even a proper local area network on board Starfleet ships. For example, characters often carry PADDs around to hand to others in order to show them some information, because no equivalent to email seems to exist in the future. Similarly, all data seems to be tied to individual data rods, and whenever it needs to be transferred to another computer, that particular rod needs to be physically moved there. The idea that data could be copied to a server or transferred through a network doesn't seem to exist. Bizarrely, files could be moved, but rarely copied. Thus any given piece of data or software was fundamentally linked to some storage device. To be fair, many of these could be plausibly handwaved as security measures.
- Current viewers of Seinfeld probably wonder why George doesn't just ebay that book he took into the bathroom with him at the bookstore.
- Ditto for many of the plots on Friends, many of which could have been avoided with cell phones or the Internet. In one, Chandler mentions the chaos he went through to get a birthday gift for a girl he likes, a rare first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit. He mentioned having to hunt through book stores and contacting the author's grandchildren. Nowadays, he could have easily found a copy of the book on eBay
- There are numerous situations in books, television and movies that simply could not happen today because of cellphones, GPS and surveillance/security cameras.
- The season one Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "I Robot, You Jane," which was created right in the middle of the panic that online chat rooms were crawling with horrible perverts that wanted to kidnap you. Then there's the scene where Buffy doesn't quite catch on to Willow saying she met a guy online, thinking they were "on line" for something. Most amusingly, the demon Moloch ends up in a deliberately cheesy and ridiculous robot body to demonstrate how much he doesn't belong in modern times, except that it's almost impossible to pick this out from all the unintentional cheesy and ridiculous stuff around it.
- In Wishbone, the episode "One Thousand & One Tails" features a bad '90s understanding of the Internet. Joe and Sam ooh and awe as David logs onto the Internet for the first time, repeatedly gasping "Go to that one!" before he's even online. Also, the Internet is apparently a Viewer-Friendly Interface, labeled "Internet Online Access" and consisting of a few icons. David accesses a coded chatroom run by cybercriminals by clicking on the oh-so-not-suspicious icon of someone wearing a Conspicuous Trenchcoat, which is helpfully labeled "Private" and is apparently one of only four chat groups which exist on the Internet. He accidently logs into his dad's bank account while investigating this chatroom, which somehow causes three million dollars to get transferred into his dad's bank account. FBI agents show up at their house about five minutes later. Where to start??
- In The Rockford Files 1978 episode "The House on Willis Avenue", Jim's apprentice Ritchie types Jim's name into a computer terminal and a few seconds later receives a huge amount of information about his personal life. The rest of the episode, dealing with a villain's attempt at omniscient surveillance and information gathering on ordinary citizens, is frighteningly prescient.
- In an episode of Married... with Children has Marcy proudly list out the specs of a new, top-of-the-line 486 computer. To show how fast tech was changing, by the end of the episode, she described the same computer as "slow and stupid."
- The "megabyte modem" in the Doctor Who serial "The Trial of a Time Lord".
- Some of the jokes in Weird Al's song "It's All About The Pentiums" haven't aged well (Y2K, the trademark "Pentium" itself has moved from top-of-the-line CPUs to cheap bottom-shelf models, etc.), but the "Hundred Gigabytes of RAM" remains a ludicrously large amount, and the "Flat Screen Monitor Forty Inches Wide" is still huge.
- One can only assume that 50 Cent was trying to make his listeners envious when he bragged his car that contains, among other things, a fax machine and a phone. For reference, this song, "High All the Time" was released in 2003.
- Lampshaded by Kid Rock in "All Summer Long" when he sings "it was 1989" and "we didn't have no Internet".
- Everclear's song "AM Radio" similarly lampshades the trope in its first verse, which is an extended explanation that things like VCRs, DVD players, the Internet, and CDs didn't exist in 1970, and thus the singer had to listen to the radio and wait to hear his favorite music.
- In Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert, Scott Adams' commentary points out instances of this in early strips. For example, in one '90s strip the joke was that Dilbert and Wally were sending e-mail to each other despite their cubicles being right next to each other. Yes, that was considered funny all by itself. Also, when Adams started inserting his e-mail address into the strip in 1993, it was labeled "Internet ID" so newspapers wouldn't think it was an embedded advertisement. He further reports that much of the e-mail he got at the time essentially read "I contacted you because I don't know anyone else who has e-mail."
- Some of the older FoxTrot comics are susceptible to this. For instance, there's one from the early 1990s where Jason has a dream about finding an unopened present under the Christmas tree, and when he unwraps it he's absolutely thrilled to have been given a Macintosh Quadra 950 with 64 MBs of RAM and a 240 MB hard drive. Those specs made for a nice high-end desktop computer system in 1992; in 2012 it would make for a nice high-end graphing calculator.
- This sort of thing was eventually lampshaded when Jason spends a week (of reader and comic time) drooling over a high-end computer in a magazine. Andy just ignores him. Then we see Jason saying the computer is obsolete, and Peter goes "duh, it's been a whole week".
- Traveller's first edition is an offender here as well, with those huge computers that drive interstellar ships having a mere 16KB of memory.
- Shadowrun averts this by using a fictional measurement for memory (Megapulses, or MP). When asked how many megabytes were in a megapulse, one of the designers pointedly declined to answer the question, citing the Traveller example in doing so.
- And yet not totally, as the Megapulse is roughly plot-sized and it doesn't always line up nicely. In 3rd Edition, an implanted camera could take high-fidelity video at a rate of roughly one minute of video per Megapulse, or 60 still shots per MP... compared to the tables for program sizes for things like hacking, hacking countermeasures, or "skillsofts" which allow you to temporarily upload a skill into your brain. Given rough comparisons of the real-world sizes of similar programs, and how big they'll probably get to satisfy the vastly increased complexity of the Shadowrun future, well... that's ridiculously wasteful encoding and compression for video, even extremely high-quality video.
- The Hollywood Hacking simulator Uplink mispredicted the future in a telling way: It takes place in a 2010 where a 60 Ghz computer is considered slow. In Real Life late 2010 a quad-core 3 Gig is seen as solid. For the tech-savvy, this makes it a bit of a Period Piece. During The '90s, computing power was mostly boosted by increasing the clock frequency and this prediction was no doubt based on that trend continuing, probably helped by the PC market focusing on the MHz as selling point. In reality, clock frequency didn't change all that much during other decades, and is unlikely to ever grow much beyond current values. For one thing, current clock frequencies are well within the microwave range, and microwave electronics are different. There is also the matter of clock cycle length putting an upper bound on the physical size of the computing device, by speed of light. You are able to buy better computers with space for more processors, in a core-like fashion, but really only for a higher amount of clock cycles.
- In The Legend of Kyrandia Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge, clicking on the Fish Queen's tic-tac-toe board will cause Malcolm to state his idea of a proper circa 1994 PC gaming system. And cordless mice still aren't that common.
- Cordless mice will continue to not be that common until they come out with one that won't possibly run out of juice midway through an MMORPG dungeon/important work stuff/etc. note
- Despite possessing artificial intelligence, advanced cybernetics and genetics, the ability to deconstruct matter and create it into something useful... The world of Fallout continue to use computers that boast a whopping 64KB of RAM and use a command line like interface. This is, of course, part of the game's Zeerust aesthetic, set in a world where nuclear technology advanced by leaps and bounds while computer technology stagnated (the transistor was never invented).
- However, it's also worth noting that the technology is hardy enough to withstand electromagnetic effects from a nuclear blast, as well as last through two hundred years of neglect and downright abuse. Also worth noting is that the primary storage medium is a tape that can be used to hold anything from an audio recording to programming instructions for a robot, and is compatible with practically anything that has some level of processing capability.
- Played for laughs in TRON 2.0, set in the early 2000s. Jet Bradley has to retrieve some code written in the 1980s (after the first movie) from an old mainframe. One of the programs in the mainframe starts commenting on the specs, which were state-of-the-art in the mid-'80s, but a handheld console would be embarrassed to have them these days.
I-NO: EN12-82, top of the line mainframe. Capable of 16 bit processing, full monochromatic display support, and a local storage of 128MB! I challenge you to find a more robust system!
- Becomes a minor Tear Jerker later on when the mainframe is on the verge of breakdown due to the protagonists' actions and I-NO decides to stay behind and face deresolution claiming that the modern computing world has no place for an obsolete program like him.
- Spoofed in this flashback in Penny Arcade:
Tycho: Alright. The modem works again, and I tucked in thirty-two megs of RAM.
Gabe: Is that... is that good?
Tycho: Let's put it this way. You'll never need to buy a computer again.
- Invoked in this XKCD strip when two folks browsing through old magazines find advertisements for woefully outdated '90s-era computers... and the more or less unchanged Texas Instruments graphing calculator. note
"OK, what the hell, TI?""Maybe they cost so much now because there's only one engineer left who remembers how to make displays that are that crappy."
- Also played with in that strip because the Texas Instruments graphing calculators sold the early-to-mid-'90s had a processor designed for general purpose computing, were capable of very limited networking (which wasn't a given with computers back then), came with a BASIC interpreter, and could be programmed to do things you wouldn't expect a calculator to be capable of (like play Tetris). They were some of the first truly inexpensive mobile computers and are still useful because most modern computers usually don't come with equation solving mathematics software.
- On an episode of the cartoon Birdz, Eddie Storkowitz has to explain e-mail to his friends. In 1998.
- Lampshaded in several jokes about the Internet in Futurama:
- That it took Farnsworth years to log onto AOL (AOL!), which is accompanied by dial-up noises. That the future Internet is pretty much virtual reality is a borderline example, as it's not impossible at this point but VR never quite took off despite ITS hype in the '90s. Plus there's a joke about having to wade your way through hordes of flying pop-ups ("My God! It's full of ads!") which is less of a problem for most websites today, as they realized that people just don't click on those things.
- That it takes Farnsworth years to logon to AOL is a reference to an actual phenomenon. Back when most everybody was on dialup, you only received a certain allocation of hours per month in order to keep network load within reasonable limits. Eventually AOL abandoned this and permitted users to remain logged on as long as they wanted. While this was great for users who could get a connection, AOL's network hit capacity very quickly and people had to wait in a queue for long periods of time- hours, even- for enough users to log off. This was exacerbated by the fact that, freed of limits, many people simply remained logged in to AOL 24/7 so they wouldn't have to wait!
- In an early, promotional interview for the series with Wired magazine, Matt Groening made some jokes about how his vision of the future was actually a lot like the present in many ways, including crime still being prevalent, politics still being crooked, and "the Internet is still slow."
- Parodied when, in his first appearance, Richard Nixon's Head made a joke about computers being twice as fast as they were in 1973. He said this in the year 3000.
- In one episode, the crew are playing an online game and Farnsworth tells them to get off the internet so he can use the phone.
- Lampshaded to hilarious effect in Megas XLR, with the '50-era Area 50 robot's boast "There is no way you can defeat the superior power of my massive 56 Kilobyte processor!note " This giant robot also ran on magnetic tape reels.
- The Simpsons
- "Homer Goes to College" – From 1993, it had the series' first reference to the then-novel medium of the Internet, nerds Doug, Benjamin and Gary use a phone line to hook up their computers to connect to the Internet (dial-up, which was state-of-the-art at the time) and engage in a newsgroup discussion about Star Trek.
- "You Only Move Twice" – Originally aired in 1996, the Simpson family moves to a planned community called Cypress Creek. One example of how advanced the town is is the fact that its elementary school has its own website, which few real-life schools had at the time. On the episode's DVD commentary, Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein says this is one of the most dated jokes they've ever done.
- "Half-Decent Proposal" (2002) – Artie Ziff has become fabulously rich with a device that converts the sound of a modem dialing into soothing music. No wonder Ziff had hit the skids by his next appearance.
- In Family Guy, an in-universe example occurs with Quagmire believing that as of 2009, the Internet was still incredibly slow and only used solely by nerds, only to be informed that's no longer true, in addition to the ridiculous amount of pornography that can be found online. When he's next seen finally venturing outside of his house several days later, he's clearly not slept, is severely dehydrated and has the left arm of a bodybuilder.
- Lampshaded by Randy in the Whole Plot Reference/Homage-episode "Trust No One" in Godzilla: The Series. He waxes poetic on how the 1940s/1950s transistor computer shown is a classic, and then notes that his wristwatch has more memory than it does.
- An episode of The Venture Bros. centers around the Venture Compound's superscience computer systems misunderstanding a problem and deciding to begin World War III... by dialing up the Pentagon on a 1200 baud modem. After the 3rd line-noise disconnect the characters decide that while the problem is real they probably have some time to sort it out.
- NASA still uses old fashioned DOS systems and computer chips with a few hundred megabytes of RAM for their spacecraft. Huh.
- Should be noted this only applies to critical systems of the spacecraft or satellite in question. Mission control is up to date (where permitted) and when the scientists need to do actual work, they do it on modern laptops.
- Any space mission has good reason to use rather primitive systems. Satellites and space probes have to operate for years, and the last maintenance most of them get is right before launch. Space is a really harsh place, so the hardware has to be as rugged as possible — much easier to do when a system is kept simple. Programming and testing these systems is much more straightforward, and sending equivalently shorter commands is faster, more accurate, and more reliable, especially when the distant end is millions of miles away. Upgrading the system would cost a lot (and NASA is often subject to budget cuts), mostly due to the exponentially increased time required to test every single potential problem — problems that will prove fatal out in space.
- A lot of NASA's spacecraft are built with off-the-shelf equipment left over from previous missions (as spares, test articles, etc.). The space shuttle Endeavour, built as the replacement for Challenger, was almost entirely made of spare parts. To save both time and money, they use what's already been paid for, even if it is a little more primitive.
- To get a sense of how "behind the times" NASA is with selecting their parts, the Mars Curiosity Rover, launched in 2011, has a PowerPC-750 based CPU, 256MB of RAM, and 2GB of flash memory. This is slightly better than the original Apple iMac released in 1999.
- Similarly, nuclear power stations take a long time to update their controls software. Even hardware is rarely updated with new wiring on top of or combined with old wiring to build in additional levels of redundancy and security. Considering that, barring a complete shutdown and removal of all potentially radioactive material, the monitoring instruments and controls of a nuclear plant can never be turned off this is a good thing. Some plants refuse to upgrade, fearing that even the slightest error would cause a catastrophe.
- Even more similarly, software. For instance, a lot of math based libraries for Python are based on the very old and "obsolete" Fortran and Pascal. They haven't updated the software because they have years and years use and acceptance. And plenty of other companies don't update old code unless it's absolutely necessary for this very reason.
- This is called "library code"; it's code that has been tested and works for the application it's used for. Many languages have libraries that are decades old so they don't have to reinvent the virtual wheel.
- And even some businesses. It would cost more to train the IT department (who has probably documented all issues for the past 20+ years) and the normal users of the program than it would to just keep the old system. Upgrading hardware doesn't tend to be an issue thanks to DOSBox and virtual machines now able to run on consumer level computers (unless you happen to need DOS to drive some ancient hardware that uses a connector that no longer exists on modern computers). But so help you if your entire system was on a PDP-8.
- IBM mainframes address this by having their OSes be entirely binary-compatible with their predecessors: It is possible to take a program written in 1970 on an 8-bit System 360 mainframe, and run it on a modern zSeries mainframe with almost no changes, and it is also possible to take a program written in 1990 on an AS/400 server and put it with no changes at all on a modern POWER7 server running the IBM i OS.
- In the early 1990s there were several big news stories about people who had heart attacks, strokes, etc and were saved by their online friends who called the person's home police department. The Internet is so prevalent today that while these stories can still make news, they aren't such a big deal anymore. And lots of old people get cellphones so that they can make their own 911 calls when they've fallen and they can't get up.
- Most of the world's embedded devices (more basic than your cellphone), either uses Intel's 186 (1982), Intel's 8051 (1982) Freescale's 68MC000 (based on the Motorola 68000 from 1979), Zilog Z80 (1976), MOS 6502 (1975), and various 8-bit micro-controllers from PIC, AVR, etc. Why? Because they don't need features of a modern processor, they're simple to program, and they tend to use a lot less power (important for a sensor that needs to stay out for weeks without intervention). ARM has come out with cheap yet effective 32-bit micro-controllers, but it also comes with the complexities of such, so the 8-bit/16-bit guys will still be around for a while.
- Anyone remember the modem dialtone?
- Fax machines don't seem to be going away just yet...
- Linguists — not that long ago — wondered where the various branches of English would go. Some people said that within 200 years or so, British and American English will have little in common. However, this was mostly said by aging linguistics scholars in the 1980s. Then the Internet came along, and we're talking to each other, watching each other's TV programs, talking live to each other on headsets as we play World of Warcraft... and it seems English is moving closer together rather than apart. Almost all similar languages are experiencing this now.
- The same effect is intensifying the pressure against minority languages. Except for those groups that are intentionally insular (living among people who speak a different mother tongue, but not with them) many minority language groups are finding themselves dying out faster than ever.
- Rather weirdly, branches of major languages are coming closer due to modern media (albeit slowly, as the German spoken in Vienna has plenty of different words and a funny pronunciation compared to Standard German), while languages who evolve apart from modern media (regional dialects which are not taught in school and do not creep into TV or newspaper speech) are going away from standard language. Centralized school systems prior to 1980 forced the standard language on all social groups in a country, which does no longer happen.
- The California Science Center in Los Angeles was originally built in 1913, and a massive expansion was done in 1998. The museum's technology exhibit seemingly hasn't been updated since that renovation — every screen in the exhibit hall is a cathode-ray tube, the CPU on display is an ancient Pentium, the description of e-mail and the Internet is highly archaic, and no discussion of video games at all. The transportation exhibit is just as outdated; the exhibit's example of clean transportation is a fuel-cell car (touted as the future in the 1990s) instead of a more realistic electric car (the problems with fuel cell vehicles haven't been solved, and electric vehicles are much more common now). However, given the speed at which technology advances, it may be unfeasible to keep updating these two exhibits, though an update once every five years should be enough.
- Now that the world has fully embraced digital technology, anything that has the characteristics of analog medium (static, uneven synching of video, etc.) seems out of place.
- It used to be that computers that people would normally used were dumb terminals that had to connect to a mainframe or servers as the "micro computer" or personal computer hadn't taken off yet (mostly because it was slow). Once hardware got powerful enough for a personal computer, this idea started to fade out. But now this is inverting itself as Internet speeds got fast enough. With "Cloud computing", a basic computer could have expanded storage to even playing high-end games like Crysis over an Internet browser.
- There's an Internet exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry featuring a timeline of important events contributing to development of computers—and its most recent date is in 1999. As one could imagine, many elements of the exhibit are quite behind the times, such sections extolling the then-new wonders of downloading image and picture files from the Internet. To modern visitors, the whole thing feels like huge Captain Obvious.
- Internet cafes. While they were somewhat common in the late '90s to early 2000s as Wi-Fi wasn't as readily available, the idea of needing to go to a public space and pay per hour just to go on the Internet on what is basically a public terminal seems odd and outdated, at least in developed nations where computers are relatively affordable and home internet service readily available.
- Looking at the website for the movie Space Jam, which for some reason has been up since 1996, is like observing a time capsule of website design from the mid-'90s. Frames, repetitive background artwork, simplistic layouts, animated GIFs with few colors and frames of animation, the works. See it here.
- The rise of online dating sites, social networking, and smartphone apps have had a negative affect on gay bars and bathhouses. Once considered sanctuaries of the community, they've been on the decline as GLBT people are less likely to feel the need to segregate themselves and endure "the scene" in order to socialize and find a mate. It can get annoying, however, if one actually enjoys going to such places...only to find everyone glued to their phones browsing Grindr.
- Those who grew up with old 486 or XT computers might recall that some of them had a feature known as a 'Turbo' button, which would increase the clock speed. One reason for this, rather than keeping the processor buzzing at its maximum speed all the time, was that certain programs, especially video games, were coded to run at the speed of the computer's clock. For example, The Oregon Trail for DOS will now instantaneously zip through most of the game, bypassing most of the messages and making hunting an impossible feat. Fans of older DOS games can now use programs like DOSBox to run them and adjust the clock speeds manually, but without such tools, many games are simply unplayable.
Storage DevicesIt is several decades ago by now, but the effect the invention of IC chips had on storage is more profound than its effect on the processing of data. Before IC chip memory, every single bit of RAM had to be built manually, which made the very idea of storing large amounts of data electronically pretty much absurd; if a computing device in fiction back then could store much data, it was probably a full-blown AI. When IC chip memory came into general use, memory size became very firmly hitched to the Moore's Law* rocket, and since then the sky is no longer the limit. Current trends of solid-state hard drives (which as flash drives are just another application of IC chips) replacing magnetic disks may be the final step in which older types of memory are replaced.
Anime & Manga
- People use floppy disks all the time in Mobile Fighter G Gundam.
- A.I. Love You has the protagonist getting worked up over the prospect of having a computer with one gigabyte of storage space on the hard disk.
- Cowboy Bebop: Faye Valentine's home videos in the 2000s were taped on Betamax. 54 years later, she has to resort to raiding an abandoned museum to find a working machine to play them on — whereas VHS machines are still ubiquitous and readily available second-hand. Even in 1998, when Cowboy Bebop was released, Betamax machines were becoming scarce; while Sony managed to keep the format on life support in Japan until 2002, pretty much everyone had moved on long before that. VHS remained popular for longer, but video tape of all varieties has lost ground to other media, and the last manufacturer of new VHS machines desisted in 2016. It's likely that by the time of the series VHS and Betamax will be equally obsolete, and the distinction of interest only to historians.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: KaibaCorp is one of the largest companies in the world, and their supercomputers use floppy disks. This comes from the same company that has machines that can project holograms and other highly advanced technology.
- Pokémon has a character in the Advanced Challenge season's Castform showcase episode use a floppy disk to store information on Castform. The episode in question aired in 2004, when USB flash drives started to become commonplace among computer users, and computers began phasing out their floppy drives.
- According to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (or rather the advertising for an eighties cryogenic fraud company they have to deal with), the billionth Betamax was sold in 2052. As previously mentioned, the format was basically dead by the early nineties.
- In the original 1992 version of the Sailor Moon manga and The '90s anime, Ami's seminar used floppy discs for brainwashing. Following the Orwellian Retcon in the Updated Re-release of the manga, Act 2 of Continuity Reboot Sailor Moon Crystal uses a CD-ROM.note
- Attempts to update Transformers cassetticons such as Frenzy, Rumble and Lazerbeak have always been difficult, but in More Than Meets the Eye, Roberts uses Rewind (an Autobot cassetticon) to suggest that such characters are adept at data storage and change into giant immobile USB sticks, and that before the war they were considered second-class-citizens — Chromedome comments that "You might as well be a Mono-Former" which is a Transformer who doesn't transform at all. Honestly, it's not really any worse than such characters previously being flying cassette tapes and boom-boxes.
- It's a little strange seeing Timmy and Lex flip out at the sight of the CD-ROM inside the Jeeps in Jurassic Park.
Lex: Wow! An interactive CD-ROM!
- According to Back to the Future Part II, the LaserDisc format will have just gone out of style in 2015.
- The forgettable and all-but-forgotten 2001 film One Night at McCool's features numerous characters oohing and awwing over the fact that one of the characters owns... a DVD player. It'd be a minor thing, but the movie just keeps harping on it, with two characters even deciding to rob the DVD player owner's house, and arguing heatedly about who get to keep this fine luxury item. This was bordering on dated even in 2001, when DVD players were falling rapidly in price. Might have made more sense circa '97-98 when they were still very new.
- Johnny Mnemonic, a 1995 film set 20 Minutes into the Future (in 2021) in which the protagonist sacrifices his long term memory to be able to transport 80Gb of data in his head, 160 if he uses a doubler. He finally squeezes 320, but spends the rest of the film having seizures and headaches and dying because of it. J-Bone also urges people to get their VCRs ready to record the story's MacGuffin from their pirate TV broadcast.
- The original short story, written in the '80s by the same author as Neuromancer below, the units were megabytes.
- Then there's the concept of a "doubler" itself. Compression algorithms are ubiquitously incorporated into most modern file formats, which are stored on cavernous drives where a handful of bytes either way doesn't matter; young computer users have probably never even used external compression software (besides the convenience of zipping an archive into "one file"), let alone considered the then-staggering performance tradeoff of compressing an entire drive.
- Peter's floppy disc with the virus in Office Space.
- Records of Mugatu's attempted assassinations are stored on a zip disk in Zoolander.
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: As was lampshaded by Irregular Webcomic! here, "We have the ability to destroy a planet and tape is the best backup medium we have?"
- This is a case of Reality Is Unrealistic as tape is still very much used in areas that require storage for MASSIVE amounts of data. While it is much slower than more modern methods, it can hold much more, and for security reasons, if someone were to hack into the system, it would take them much longer to steal/destroy the data than it would on modern methods.
- Also, the Death Star plans are treated throughout most of the film as a physical object, even though an early line of Darth Vader's dialogue indicates that they were "beamed to this ship by Rebel spies". In the subsequent quest to recover the plans, nobody ever seems to even consider the idea that the files might have been transferred again to one or more other parties, or copied to other storage devices. Instead they focus recovering the specific droids believed to have the plans stored in their memory.
- Hilariously (one must wonder whether it was intentional), while the unit handed to the Rebels in Rogue One looks like a rather flimsy circuit board, the original Imperial storage unit appears very similar to a VHS cassette.
- The makers of Free Enterprise, a 1998 film, were avid collectors of movies on LaserDisc, as were the film's characters. The movie includes a scene filmed on location in Los Angeles' premier LaserDisc shop, and the long-awaited LaserDisc release of Logan's Run even provides one of the movie's central metaphors. The format was already in its death throes while the movie was being made. By the time most audiences saw the film, it was quite dead, and those audiences almost certainly were watching it on... DVD. Free Enterprise also has the distinction of being one of the last films to be released in the LaserDisc format.
- Used for laughs in SLC Punk! when a wealthy punk rocker in the 1980s brags about his new LaserDisc player, a technology that would very quickly become obsolete.
- There's a wonderful scene in the 1951 film When Worlds Collide: A rocket is built to rescue a small remnant of humanity from the impending destruction of Earth, taking with them the entirety of human knowledge. Queue a room full of people frantically scanning encyclopedias onto microfilm.
- Compare that to the fact that you can download all the text of Wikipedia all for you to do as you please right now. The text of every article, excluding discussion pages and edit histories, comes to about eight gigabytes; on a good broadband connection you could download that in a couple of hours. Want all the pictures and audio/video content as well? That runs to about three terabytes, so it'd probably need a weekend to torrent, and would mildly stretch the storage capacity of a commercial-grade file server.
- The novel (written in 1933) has them taking the actual books with them. They aren't quite as inefficient as it sounds, though... they also function as insulation for the ships.
- RoboCop (1987) predicted several pieces of technology that would become mainstays in later years (notably, the fact that VHS would be succeeded by videodiscs — a la LaserDisc and DVD, and Dick Jones' PDA-like tracking device). However, it also made it a point to show that Old Detroit's police department stored its records on the most advanced technology (funded by OCP) — tape-to-tape reels, which are shown as taking up a massive amount of space in the department. This concept carried over to the 1994 television series, even though the series had a 20 Minutes into the Future aesthetic and computers were in the process of minaturization.
- In Tim Burton's Batman Returns, a big deal is made about the Batmobile having an on-board CD recorder. At the time, this seemed incredibly futuristic; now, after the rise of flash memory storage for music, it seems more pointless than anything else. Imagine the kind of Bat-Suspension the laser would need.
- Hackers, made in 1995, has many examples. First and foremost is that the main storage media is 3.5" floppies. While Dade is fiddling with Kate's brand-new laptop, she mentions that it has an internal 28.8 kbps modem (an impressive amount at the time; for an internal modem, doubly so). The tech-savvy team of hackers mostly have pagers rather than cell phones. And also, the trick of using recorded dial tones to spoof pay phones into accessing pay-to-call numbers was obsolete even when the movie came out.
- In the first Wayne's World, Wayne puts a CD in his dashboard CD player and Cassandra asks him when he got a CD player. He responds "With the money!" (that he had gotten from selling the rights to his cable access show). Portable CD players then were still pricey and status symbols — cassette tapes were still big in 1991.
- In the 1990 film Taking Care of Business, Jim Belushi plays an escaped prisoner. At one point, in a bid to flatter some guy, he acts all impressed by the guy's IBM PC, specifically mentioning, in awestruck terms, its "20-megabyte hard drive".
- Also, the entire plot hinges on the fact that Belushi's character is able to impersonate a stuck up advertising exec due to having found... his filofax. (His what?)
- In Men in Black, K shows J a miniature (about thumbnail sized) disc and says "these're going to replace CDs soon". Not only were mini-discs larger than that, when they did come out they didn't exactly catch on, and nowadays we have pretty much abandoned discs entirely when storing music for flash memory.
- In the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, made in 1971, the codes that control the satellite are stored on a tape cassette that protrudes prominently in Tiffany's bikini bottom. Today, a flash drive would've been more discreet, though there'd still be the communication SNAFU between Bond and Tiffany.
- Played with in TRON: Legacy, when Sam returns from The Grid and ensures its continued existence by copying the entire cyber-universe's '80s-era program — the most complex simulation his father could construct back then, using every available resource of a massive cutting-edge software firm, stored in a console roughly the size of a fridge — onto one memory card.
- In the original The Fast and the Furious:
- The main plot is motivated by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew stealing shipments of DVD players. While it was probably more plausible back when the film released in 2001 (though, like One Night at McCool's, DVD players were rapidly falling in price by this point), it comes off as over-the-top many years later when the thieves risk life-and-limb by using harpoon guns to steal shipments of low-end consumer electronics in transit, the LAPD has organized a joint investigation with the FBI and Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) gives up his career to aid Toretto and the others.
- At one point, Jesse (a member of Toretto's crew) demonstrates the schematics of a vehicle to Brian... by putting a floppy disc in a computer and showing him a picture of the vehicle. Most modern software can do this much easier, including AutoCAD (which had been available for desktop use for a long while at the time the movie was made), Visio and many others.
- Timothy Zahn's The Cobra Trilogy has mostly no indication that it was written in the 1980s... then a character mentions storing computer data on a cassette. On the other hand, still nothing beats tape in the term of the long-time archive storage of large amounts of data.
- Virtually all of Zahn's '80s SF falls victim to this, to greater or lesser extents. Ironically one 1985 novel that takes place beginning in 2016 is the least affected, with networked computers, widespread personal cell phones, etcetera, while ones set 400 years later feature tapes and '80s style computers. When he wrote a 2006 sequel to one of these, he chose to embrace the Zeerust rather than retcon the setting.
- The Novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features a scene where some researchers on a space station orbiting an alien planet are enthusing over the brand-new, high-tech magnetic bubble memory storage device they've invented. It's the size of a filing cabinet, and stores an amazing 40 megabytes of data. Later Star Trek works introduced the fictional quad unit of computer memory capacity to avoid this sort of problem in the future.
- 500 pages of printed text is about 1.5 MB. Depending on how the data is presented and exactly how big a file cabinet they were talking about, they could a much better data-to-space ratio with paper.
- The Star Trek Novel Spock's World has a scene where Kirk is attending to routine duties, one of which is requests for data allocation. That's right, hard drive space on the Enterprise is so sparse that it take's the Captain's signature to increase space allocations.
- For a storage device of a different kind, some of the Myth Adventures novels show minor characters being stunned by Skeeve's incredible wealth because he carries (gasp!) a credit card.
- An early plot point of William Gibson's Neuromancer involves the hustler protagonist moving "three megabytes of hot RAM" — enough, apparently, to kill for. Life's cheap in Gibson's future Chiba City, but probably not that cheap. At the time of the novel's release (1984), RAM was around $1000 a megabyte — now the price is closer to half a cent per megabyte. Other stories set in the Sprawl feature things as complex as human memories recorded on tape.
- In Dream Park, the Griffin boasts of being the best thief in the world. One of the examples he facetiously cites, to prove his credentials, is his claim of having procured the only existing copy of Star Wars. Pre-digital media and mass-market home video, this probably did seem impressive.
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the first murder mysteries to feature the use of a sound recorder as part of the murder plot (written in The Roaring '20s). Specifically a Dictaphone is used, and part of the reason the murderer is found out is that he needed to move furniture to conceal the large machine.
- Rather implausibly, the playback of the Dictaphone is apparently indistinguishable from an actual human voice (admittedly through a closed door).
- The End of Eternity uses punchtape, film — which takes two meters to store a bookcase, and a molecular recorder — sixty million words in less than a cubic inch. The last one would have been still impressive by today's standards had it been recording words as sound, but an attached transliterator is described.
- Arthur C. Clarke's The Space Odyssey Series series makes this list again. In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the current method of data storage is a glass-like block that holds 1 Terabyte. While having it use a transparent medium is still out of reach, 1TB of storage is nothing special in 2012, let alone 3001.
- The Caves of Steel is three thousand years in the future. The first storage media mentioned? Mercury delay lines. How many here have heard of that? The trope is further emphasized by the fact that the technology to create sentient robots with "positronic brains" exists, the technology has been around since the 21st Century, and a robot with such a brain is shown impressed at Earth computers!
- In Gerard O'Neill's 2081, a 1981 futurist treatise incorporating fiction segments, the orbital-colonist narrator marvels over various high-tech gadgets he encounters while visiting Earth. One of these, a "slate" that functions as an e-book reader, can store at least a hundred thousand words; not only is this a much lower capacity than a present-day Kindle or Nook, but it's hard to believe anyone from an orbital colony would've grown up reading non-digital books.
- The novel Jurassic Park has the program which tracks the dinosaurs. It stops counting when it reaches the target numbers, as that is all that's necessary to make sure if all the dinosaurs are in their enclosures, to save processor cycles. This, of course, comes back to bite the heroes when it turns out the dinosaurs have begun to breed. For the time, it was a reasonable, if slightly shortsighted, set-up. For the modern reader, whose cellphone has more processing power than the park supercomputer, it seems mind-bogglingly stupid.
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan Saga," books are stored on "book discs;" from the text, it appears that each disc is one book. The text doesn't exactly explain how large these discs are, but given that a micro-SD card can currently hold a large number of books, this is dated.
- Notably, however, the same series has "wrist comms" that function exactly like cell phones...and comconsoles, which are effectively desktop/videophone hybrids. Apparently, tablets and laptops were never really invented in this universe, which is odd, because the series started in the '80s, when laptops existed and were becoming increasingly popular.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation's Edge (published 1982) has the main characters Trevize and Pelorat carrying a very important historic library aboard spaceship on one disk. This is treated as some major technological breakthrough 15 000 years into the future. It wouldn't exceed the capabilites of a mid-1980s CD.
- In Asimov's The Martian Way, one person complains that his partner brought along a lot of dead weight — fifteen pounds of books. Now, maybe he meant microfilm, but today, a lot of books will be needed to fill fifteen pounds of storage medium appropriate for a Martian colony...
- In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne's Swiss bank account number was on microfilm. The 2002 adaptation put it into a special laser pointer because director Doug Liman thought most young viewers wouldn't know what microfilm was.
- Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Even though the Empire and the Rebel Alliance have advanced Artificial Intelligence droids and starships, they use tapes for storing information. This is because in 1978 when the book was published tapes were still widely used as data storage devices.
Live Action TV
- In the 1980s revival of Mission: Impossible, Jim Phelps' trademark reel to reel tapes are updated to a small CD-Rom device. In the pilot episode when he gets his first mission, he takes a second to marvel at the small disc in his hand saying to himself "Time DOES march on."
- In the commentary to Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, the cast cringe at the phrase "CD-ROM dotcom paranoia".
- This process is justified in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009), where DVD were rendered obsolete and VHS tapes were phased back in when it was realised that nobody could get the DVD back into their cases. This may also be an in-joke since video boxes frequently appeared in earlier series, which were filmed in the late-Eighties and Nineties. Then there was that time they once digitally stored Lister's mind on an audio cassette.
- Not just any audiocassette, either, they used a microcassette from a dictaphone. These are still around today, outliving their larger cousins, but are generally even shorter.
- Two notable examples from the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997-98. When Angel loses his soul and reverts to evil, the information that Willow needed to restore Angel's soul was stored on a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk that fell between desks. Earlier, Joyce's boyfriend Ted, who worked for a computer company, curried favor with Willow by giving her freebies from work, including a new hard drive with a gargantuan capacity of 9 gigabytes — a tad more than a $15 USB drive could hold little more than a decade later.
- Examples from Babylon 5 (written in 1994-99, happens in 2257-62):
- Reports are routinely passed around on paper. This was supposed to be more realistic than Star Trek, in which paper has disappeared from common use. It remains to be seen which show's depiction of the 23rd century is more realistic, but bear in mind that the "paperless office" has been confidently predicted as imminent since the early 1970s. The series itself lampshaded this in one episode, where a character bemoans the fact that "every time someone tells me we're moving to a paperless society, I get three new forms to fill out."
- One thing that is pretty jarring to modern eyes is the frequent use of Universe Today (a reader-customizable Captain Ersatz IN SPACE! of USA Today), as a print newspaper. A decade later, and print journalism is a dying medium. Whoops.
- In "Deathwalker", Garibaldi refers to a character named Abbut as a "vicker", a cyborg who acts as an all-purpose recorder (Kosh hired him to record Talia's thoughts). According to Garibaldi, the term "vicker" is a phonetic pronunciation of VCR. One wonders what they would have called him in the DVD and Blu-ray era. (A "daver"note , maybe?)
- "Data crystals" are commonly used to carry important data, and seemed pretty cool and futuristic at a time when the CD-ROM was just starting to be widely used and "multiple floppy disks" was still a common storage method. But today, the data crystals are larger and a bit more clunkier than a USB drive, with no clear advantage in capacity over that 21st century storage medium.
- The original Star Trek references tapes as data storage. The later series, did, at least, take measures to specifically avoid this trope by inventing their own fictional unit of data storage, the quad, and avoiding giving any quad-byte ratio, in the light of data storage capabilities constantly rising quicker than people might initially predict.
- One exception (though it might not be in a few years' time) was when they gave the storage capacity of Data's positronic brain in Star Trek: The Next Generation as "eight hundred quadrillion bits". In other words, one hundred petabytes, which is still one hundred thousand times larger than the average computer hard drive in 2011. Quite brave considering the episode was written in The '80s.
- In the TNG episode "Evolution", out-of-control nanites start compromising ship systems, and Wesley states that each nanite has a storage capacity of 1 gigabyte. Not very large by today's standards, but still quite impressive when you consider that it's all packed within a microscopic space (and that there are billions of nanites, for a total storage somewhere in the millions of terabytes).
- The Disney Channel original movie Twas the Night (released in 2001) has Santa, Kaitlin, and Peter going to the computer store to use a top-of-the-line computer there to hack into the sleigh's computer. Kaitlin comments that the computer has an 8 GHz processor, a 1 terabyte hard drive, and... 512 megabytes of RAM. 8 GHz is just below the world record overclock as of 2013, with 4 GHz being about the maximum for high-speed CPUs, a 1 terabyte hard drive is a stock standard part in even budget computers, while 512 megabytes of ram is below the common stand of several gigabytes of RAM.
- In the Doctor Who episode Logopolis the highly advanced aliens who are holding the world together with pure mathematics use bubble memory. As the Doctor puts it, "Bubble memory is non-volatile. Remove the power and the bit patterns are still retained in tiny magnetic domains in these chips!" The writer was a computer scientist and bubble memory was quite cutting edge in 1981. Nowadays, not so much. This still isn't as bad as The Ark in Space where the entirety of human knowledge on a space station built in the 30th century is stored on microfilm.
- In a 1970s episode of Columbo, the murderer was a rich TV actor played by William Shatner who faked an alibi using an amazing high-tech wonder called a VCR. (He tricked an acquaintance into thinking they were watching the ball game together at the time of the murder.) Columbo was appropriately awed when Shatner showed the VCR off to him and explained how such a device would cost about three thousand dollars. (Today you can get a DVD player for less than a hundred dollars and that's without taking inflation into account.) At the end Columbo commented that it was "very brave" of Shatner to show him the VCR, saying "you certainly like to take a chance."
- A 1980s episode has Columbo fascinated with a fax machine in much the same manner.
- In an episode of The X-Files, a FBI computer expert tells Mulder and Scully that the information they got from... somewhere would be enough to fill "seven 10 gigabyte hard drives". Not one seventy gigabyte hard drive, no, "seven ten gigabyte hard drives".
- This might be more subtle than it appears. Until the early 2000s, you had to make a rather strange choice in hard drives for big systems: You could go for the types of hard drives used in PCs (which were rapidly growing into the hundreds of gigabytes in size) or you could go for the smaller but faster SCSI drives, which were limited to 10 GB for a long time. The latter largely died out when the former got as fast as them.
- In a 1980 episode of Buck Rogers, Buck is put on trial for evidence taken from a Betamax videotape from 1987. The show seems to have assumed that VHS would have been supplanted by Sony's Betamax as the dominant video format by this time. In fact, by 1987, VHS had clearly won the format war, and in early 1988, Sony effectively surrendered when it announced the production of the company's first VHS-format VCRs. That said, Betamax didn't really die in the US until the mid-1990s, when Sony stopped selling blank tapes for it, and even had one more decade in Japan.
- On the other hand, the tape in question was never specifically referred to as a Betamax tape by any of the characters, so this is probably just a case of the production staff using whatever props they happened to have lying around at the time and figuring the viewers wouldn't notice or care. (Seeing as how this was one of the last episodes filmed before the series was cancelled, it's likely the production staff didn't care, either.))
- This, of course, assumes that the videotape (and the equipment needed to play it) was either preserved or restored in such a way as to render it playable five centuries into the future. Most magnetic media would do well to last 50-100 years under controlled conditions.
- The grand prize for contestants who caught Carmen on Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego was a desktop computer with an 850 MB hard drive. 850 megabytes. Yeah. Now, those lucky winners can fit their whole computers on USB drives and still have space left.
- JAG: In 3rd season episode “Impact” (1998), when escaping from the Bradenhurst facility, Harm captures a 3.5” floppy disc containing digital photos of the UFO-like UCAV, taken directly out from a digital camera.
- In The Brothers Garcia (2001) George talks excitedly about wanting to give his mother a gift-a computer with 850 M Hz, 100GB of storage and a CD burner. Nowadays it's standard for every computer to be able to burn CDs and there are hard-drives capable of storing ten times that amount of GB.
- The original Evil Overlord List includes "Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45MB in size" meaning it could not be put onto one floppy disk.
In general, the amount of time that a particular storage medium is in general use for music has been rapidly dropping. Vinyl lasted nearly one hundred years before being superseded by compact discs. Cassettes existed alongside vinyl for around twenty five years before compact discs again replaced them as the default. Compact discs themselves were only on top for around fifteen years before digital storage began to replace them. Hard drives (at least on portable models) lasted less than ten years — all modern music storage is on flash or similar memory. With the advent of cloud storage, instant mobile streaming and other technologies even the idea of locally storing music may be on the way out.
- No Aphrodisiac by the Whitlams (released 1997) contains the opening lyric 'A letter to you on a cassette...' Still a great song though.
- Gotye and Kimbra's "Somebody I Used to Know", released in 2011, has a line in the chorus: "But you didn't have to stoop so low / Send your friends to collect your records and then change your number". Even considering the song was about a relationship that was some time in his past, there probably wouldn't have been many "records" to collect.
- Even in 2014, someone who's dating a singer-singwriter is quite likely to own vinyl records, which have even been on an upward sales trend for the last few years.
- Similar to the movie, Johnny Mnemonic recognizes the last player who accumulates 320 gigabytes of data as "The Cyberpunk".
- 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 the first edition of Rifts published in 1991 and taking place about 300 years in the future, the hand-held computer listed in the equipment section is described as having a "dual drive system, 150 megabytes hard drive with 4 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and uses one inch disk." Later reprints removed specific capabilities on the computers and simply had it state that the computers in Rifts are 100 times better than the ones that are used currently (which is still bad; Moore's Law predicts computers reaching 100 times better in just over 13 years).
- The song "Mix Tape" and accompanying scene from Avenue Q, which debuted on Broadway in 2003. The term "mix tape" itself is still commonly used, even though said "tape" nowadays would most likely be an MP3 playlist, but Princeton specifically tells Kate that he went through his CD collection and made her a tape, and later on they both mention "side A" and "side B" while they look through the songs he picked. The most recent off-Broadway and touring productions of Avenue Q have changed and updated some of the other lines and dialogue in the play in order to stay as current as possible, but so far this charmingly dated little scene remains untouched.
- In many ways, Avenue Q is a love letter to The '90s. Using Gary Coleman as fodder for comedy was a decade-old joke at that point, and even in 2003 few people were still making mix tapes. They were burning CDs instead.
- In newer productions, it's changed to just a "mix," burned onto 2 CDs, but the lyrics remain the same. Just calling it a mix sounds clunky anyway.
- Parodied in Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, set in the 1960s: Minuteman brags how the Freedom Fortress' computer (which is made from alien technology, mind you) can store "hundreds of kilobytes of information" (the game itself requires over half a million kilobytes).
- And he's doing the bragging to their visiting allies from the '40s, who have no idea what he's talking about.
- Many DOS-era games (Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit...) had floppy disks as collectible items. (Often said to carry a copy of the game.) CDs were used briefly like this as well before the 3D age took over.
- Done intentionally for some 1980s nostalgia in World in Conflict, when one of the U.S. soldiers shows his buddy the latest and greatest gadget of the day....a portable CD player.
- The Grand Theft Auto series had a history of intentionally evoking this for nostalgia purposes by how save icons are fashioned, appearing as period storage devices that have fallen or are falling out of use by the time each of the games was released: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has cassette tapes, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has 3.5" floppy disks, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories has compact discs, while Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories has 5.25" floppy disks.
- The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series has long since used VHS tapes as one of the collectibles in its career mode. The HD remake has switched over to DVDs.
- Metal Gear:
- In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, set in 1999, a scientist stores the secret of his genetically engineered petroleum-excreting microorganism on an MSX cartridge. There's a partial justification in that the scientist is supposed to be into the homebrew scene, but Snake still immediately knows what an MSX is and calls it 'the legendary worldwide computer' (laughably wrong).
- In-Universe — in Metal Gear Solid, the character Psycho Mantis' claim to fame was reading data off your memory card. In Metal Gear Solid 4, Psycho Mantis' ghost comes back to haunt Snake and tries the same trick, only to freak out when he sees that the PS3 uses internal data storage and thus has no memory card.
- Earlier in the latter game, Otacon tells Snake to switch to CD2 before suddenly remembering that the game is on Blu-Ray and thus swapping disks isn't necessary.
- In Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall — which is set in the future, the player happens upon a pile of ancient optical discs that are identified by an older character as DVD re-writables. A brief quest ensues to find a DVD-player in the year 2054.
- The CD-ROM in the description was inspired by an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
- The episode of Futurama where they must perform an episode of Single Female Lawyer for aliens because all VHS tapes were destroyed during the Second Coming of Christ. No DVDs or YouTube in the future?
- Any attempt to update Soundwave's alt mode from tape deck to a more modern audio storage device is very likely to be flat-out rejected before coming to fruition, which is odd, since — as a communications specialist and spy for the Decepticons — you'd expect him to keep with the times and alter his alt mode, accordingly to keep from being spotted due to how Zeerust his original form looks. Even a recent toy of his that doubles as a functional MP3 player is modeled wholescale from his original tape deck form. Sometimes he has been remodelled as a satellite dish. Evidently, his underlings aren't as picky as he is. This largely due to the fact that minions that turn into CDs or SD cards is a lot harder to pull off than cassette tapes. This is parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch where Soundwave is sent to infiltrate a science lab. The scientists are quick to laugh at the old boom box. Rumble, labelled as '1985 Summer of Love', has his tape pulled out and dies, and Soundwave's D batteries are removed and he's sold on Ebay.
Shockwave:Request permission to buy it now!
- An issue of the Marvel comic takes the cake, though, by ending with Optimus Prime's mind being copied onto a...floppy disk. A similar thing happens with another character in the cartoon.
- Any attempt to update Soundwave's alt mode from tape deck to a more modern audio storage device is very likely to be flat-out rejected before coming to fruition, which is odd, since — as a communications specialist and spy for the Decepticons — you'd expect him to keep with the times and alter his alt mode, accordingly to keep from being spotted due to how Zeerust his original form looks. Even a recent toy of his that doubles as a functional MP3 player is modeled wholescale from his original tape deck form. Sometimes he has been remodelled as a satellite dish. Evidently, his underlings aren't as picky as he is. This largely due to the fact that minions that turn into CDs or SD cards is a lot harder to pull off than cassette tapes. This is parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch where Soundwave is sent to infiltrate a science lab. The scientists are quick to laugh at the old boom box. Rumble, labelled as '1985 Summer of Love', has his tape pulled out and dies, and Soundwave's D batteries are removed and he's sold on Ebay.
- Recess: Gretchen Grundler has a Personal Digital Assistant called Galileo, which was a big deal in the 1990s. Forward to 2010 and beyond, where having Smartphone is Serious Business.
- In the South Park episode "Here Come The Neighborhood", circa 2000, the kids mock Token for being from a rich enough family to have a DVD player and not knowing what a VHS is. New viewers could soon have the same question.
- Arthur used the record player joke in the episode where Francine plays Thomas Edison in a school play.
Mr. Ratburn: Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph. (deadly silence) The ... record player? (more silence) It was before CDs. Plastic hadn't been invented yet.
- Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law parodies this trope as it applies to The Jetsons. When they come back from the "far off future year of 2002" (Harvey glances at his 2004 desk calendar) to sue the people of the past for ruining the environment, they bring evidence in the "futuristic" form of punch cards and a Betamax tape.
- An episode of The Magic School Bus features a lesson on how computers work. The disc being used is a floppy disc.
- In both reality and in fiction, a physical Porn Stash of videos and magazines is an Unintentional Period Piece. These days people buy a USB storage device or keep it buried on their hard drive — or just leave it all on the Internet and bookmark it.
- And before it was piped straight into our homes, many had to make do with catalogs and National Geographic.
- Video especially. Each physical format had a narrow window between invention and obsolescence.
- Anyone remember Digital Audio Tape? Thought not. Think of them as digital 8-track tapes...Oh, you don't remember 8-tracks? DAT seemed to be around in the early 1990s in radio/audio, as a more stable digital recording format than CDs, which tended to scratch and skip. DATs were replaced by minidiscs. Oh, forget it...
- Well, not quite — DAT and MD (MiniDisc) actually hit the market at roughly the same time. DAT died fairly swiftly in the consumer-audio world due to the RIAA throwing a hissy-fit over how its ability to make perfect bitwise copies would promote piracy (sound familiar) and threatening lawsuits if it was marketed to consumers, but it hung around in the professional-audio world for quite a while, and as a data-storage and backup format as well. The MD, on the other hand, was quite popular in Asia and Europe, but didn't do well in the US due mostly to some mis-aimed marketing by Sony which made people think MD was supposed to replace the CD (this in the early-to-mid-'90s, when most people hadn't even finished making the leap from LP to CD yet!) when what it really was, was the logical successor to cassettes because you could record and erase them at will on a portable device, which couldn't be done with CDs back then.
- Here is an excellent video on DAT by Tech Moan. The guy has a lot of interesting videos about old tech, especially old audio tech. It's worth checking out.
- A common complaint about "obsolete computer entities we still use" (the fifty-cent term for which is 'skeuomorphisms') is the floppy disk icon for saving. A lot of people probably don't even know what it is now.
- The 3.5" floppy disk, which topped out at a whopping 1.44MB, was briefly superseded by a number of removable disk formats such as "floptical" drives and, most notably, the Iomega Zip drive, which started off with a whopping 100 MB per disk and eventually expanded to 750 MB! Zip drives even became standard equipment on Power Macintoshes and other workstations alongside the old 3.5" floppy and CD drives. However, the widespread adoption of CD burners for mass removable storage quickly put an end to those floppy drive alternatives, as did later USB Mass Storage drives.
- In The '90s, various attempts were made to replace the floppy. Like Betamax, Zip drives, "superdisks" (aka LS-120), Jaz Drives and other removable media all died as CDs became cheaper. Zip disks had technical problems, Jaz drives were expensive and the LS-120 (as souped-up floppy disk) was slow, and portable storage today is taken care of by either cheap USB drives, or cloud-based storage like Dropbox or Google Drive, which eliminates even the need to carry a physical object around. Around the Turn of the Millennium Apple just removed floppy drives altogether, other computer makes followed suit.
- Funnily enough, it feels like optical disks are going this route, due to the cheapness of external hard drives and the capacity of thumb disks. When was the last time someone asked you to burn them a CD/DVD for data?
- That is, unless you work for the US Government or in a high-security section of a technology company, who often avoid the fundamental security flaws of USB by disabling the ports altogether. CD/DVD burning is usually the go-to media since malicious programs can't download without the user or security programs knowing.
- Some Linux GUIs have taken note of this and use an arrow pointing at a hard drive.
- A debatable example happens on Android, which often uses a microSD card as a save icon, as microSD cards have been the de facto standard removable storage used on Android cell phones. However, as of 2014, Google began to attempt to go down the iPhone route of making the phone a completely sealed device with fixed battery and no SD card slot and applied this design pattern to its Nexus phone and the Motorola Moto X. Nobody followed suit at first, but then 2015 saw Samsung's flagship model, the Galaxy S6, being released with no removable storage and battery. And now Samsung had presented its S7, and it has the SD slot back, so no idea whether the tendency will go anywhere.
- Emacs uses an icon of an arrow pointing down at a file cabinet — although any real Emacs user knows the toolbar is for newbies, and that the proper way to save a file is by pressing Control-x Control-s, or Control-x Control-w to "save as".
- Similarly, Lotus SmartSuite, last updated in 2002, uses an icon of an arrow pointing into a file folder. Naturally, in its successor Symphony, ever-state-of-the-art Lotus has replaced that icon with...a floppy disk.
- LibreOffice has also reverted to the floppy disk icon as of version 4.
- Computer Science has a trend on this:
- Hard Disks are usually represented as a tall cylinder on disk activity LEDs. There haven't been hard disks shaped like this in decades. Similarly, some logical HDD addressing schemes still use cylinders, heads and sectors.
- Eventually, hard disks themselves will be this trope, as solid-state drives are making headway — although SSDs' uptake will continue to be limited by the fact that flash memory can't be written non-destructively, meaning that every time you save a file to that shiny new SSD, you're measurably shortening its remaining lifetime. Mechanical hard disks, in spite of those who disparage them as "spinning rust", have no such inherent limitation; especially when power cycles are avoided (i.e., the disk is kept constantly spinning, which is actually easier on the hardware than stopping and restarting it would be) it's not unusual for a server-class hard disk to remain continuously in service for ten years or more.
- Some PCs identify Ethernet ports with an icon showing 2 or more PCs connected to a single line. The bus architecture represented by such icon is no longer in use, and current Ethernet interfaces don't even work like that anymore.
- Virtual architecture still reflects the designs of yesteryear. On Microsoft OSes, A:\ used to be the floppy directory, because the first few editions of MS-DOS had to be booted from a floppy. Because the floppy had to remain in the drive, if you wanted to move something out of your computer you required a second floppy drive, which was B:\; if you had a hard drive, it would get mounted to C:\. Today, floppy disks are long obsolete, but on most computers the default hard drive directory remains C:\, and poorly written programs will often malfunction if for some reason you didn't choose C:\ as your system partition's letter. The convention of having filenames end with a three letter filetype also comes from the old days of MS-DOS, which limited filenames to 8 letters and a 3-letter filetype. Likewise, the UNIX convention of putting system programs on /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, /usr/sbin and /opt comes from the third edition of Ritche and Thompson's Research UNIX, which required four hard drives to store the core system programs and usually had an extra hard drive for user-provided programs.
- Data centers still use magnetic tape drives for data storage. However, that's because it is much easier in general to save data to a long, slow-moving sequential tape than it is to save data to a platter that spins at 5600-7200 RPM — as of 2015, it is not uncommon to see a single tape cassette being able to stash more than 150 terabytes of data. Because magnetic tapes have the limitation of having to rewind or fast forward the tape in order to find the required data, they are usually used for backups and data archival.
- Unfortunately for John Logie Baird, his AVD was a no-starter. Still, recording an actual image on something other than a roll of film was really something for the 1920s.
- In 1956, this was the modern day equivalent of a flash drive.
- Never mind the size, note the price — it leased for $3200 1956 dollars a month, which in 2015 dollars is more or less $32,000 — it cost literally one luxury sedan a month.
- As of 2011, motion pictures are still often called films, despite the fact that a large number are no longer shot on or projected with film. Similarly, directors often talk about filming a scene.
- Editing is done digitally now, but we still use terms like left on the cutting room floor. Traditional animation is sometimes still called cel animation although actual cels have mostly been replaced by digital ink and paint.
- As anyone with eternal (or near-eternal) archive legal requirements knows, in the '80s, it was popular to microfilm important documents for easier mass storage. As anyone trying to digitize these archives knows, these neat, little microfilms are a pain in the neck to use and quite time consuming to transfer to computer.
- Some universities still have a lot of their library information on microfilm, as they either don't have the resources or it's too much of trouble to transfer it all.
- Brazil had a magazine called Revista do CD-ROM (Magazine of the CD-ROM), which had an attached CD with programs. 15 years and 175 issues later, it evolved into Revista do DVD-ROM in 2010. Then in 2013 it became Revista dos Apps, ditching the bonus media for only web and computer journalism.
- In his landmark 1945 essay "As We May Think", Vannevar Bush predicted many technologies we take for granted today, like a desk-mounted appliance (i.e., home computer) that gives the user access to vast sums of human knowledge quickly (i.e., the World Wide Web), and the ability to cross-reference related terms instantly (i.e., hypertext). But he thought the total of human knowledge would still be stored on microfilm.
- Interestingly, storage for MP3 players has actually regressed a bit nowadays. Around 2005-2008 it was possible to buy them with capacities in excess of 40GB; the iPod Classic, for example, was released with capacities of 80, 120 and 160 GB. This trend reversed quite quickly because A) your average Joe from that time didn't usually had more than 4 GB of music in total, B) the only way to achieve this was using 2.5-inch hard drives, the kind with moving parts which don't tolerate rough handling very well, and C) as wireless broadband connections developed, your average Joe stopped saving his music on his portable device and began to just stream it from Spotify — no hunting for your favorite songs, no dealing with a cumbersome file sharing program, no having to put up with virus infections spread through P 2 P networks, no having to maintain an entire music collection, you just search for your artist, touch Play and It Just Works.
- Until the song suddenly cuts out because the smartphone's Internet data connection just dropped while driving around — cellular networks are hardly reliable with their coverage, which makes the lack of high-capacity storage options on devices without SD card slots painful, especially now that one can buy microSD cards with 200 GB and more — well beyond what any iPod ever shipped with, and all on efficient solid-state flash memory!
- Around 1978 bubble memory was touted as the Next Big Thing. Permanent memory (did not go away when the power was turned off) which was better than delay line memory and Core memory, smaller and more robust than hard disk drives (the refrigerator-cabinet type). But then semiconductor memory chips became cheaper, bigger and faster, and for permanent storage floppy disks gave you more capacity for a lower price. Today (2016) anything bubble memory could do is done better by memory.
Computer InterfaceOld computer interfaces certainly didn't look like a modern one; computer programs came in the form of punch cards, and they were ugly. It mostly applies to works from before the 1990s.
Live Action TV
- The creators of Star Trek: The Next Generation were aware of how outdated it looked by having starships in the future being run by dials, switches, sliders, knobs, and buttons (really, The Original Series has not aged well in this regard), so they decided to invent a new interface by which to run the starships and computers: The LCARS interface. This let the actors look like they were controlling the ship entirely through a touch interface, and that touching the same small series of buttons could read out numerous different functions. The catch is, back when this was first envisioned, Windows had only just begun its fight in becoming the most preferred interface to use for computers, so all the starships and computers in the future are run by what is basically a touch screen version of DOS.
- This in turn, was intentionally inverted in Star Trek: Voyager by history and pop culture enthusiast Tom Paris. When given the task of inventing a new type of shuttle craft for Voyager, he intentionally designed the cockpit with an entire section of knobs, switches, and a flight stick to control the craft with because of the nostalgic feel it gave, despite being pointed out by Tuvok that it was functionally unnecessary since the LCARS was still just as efficient. Paris also included this because he was well aware that the computers could fail, and having a flight stick for manual control would allow him to fly the craft better during an emergency.
- The communicators used in the Original Series were basically a Walkie-Talkie version of Flip-Phones (the clam-shell design eventually became a reality in our world precisely because the Original Series popularized it).
- The bizarre 3D interface in Jurassic Park that has been mentioned in passing above was a real file-browsing tool made for a custom UNIX distro that shipped with Silicon Graphics workstations.
- Also in Jurassic Park, when Nedry's seemingly talking on a videoconference call, he's actually just talking to some QuickTime movies. Moviegoers these days are more likely to detect and understand the scrollbars on the bottom of the screen.
- The fact that technology marches on is the driving force behind the entire plot of Space Cowboys. The main character, a remnant of the defunct Air Force space program, is chosen for the mission to repair an old Russian satellite because he is intimately familiar with several outdated computer technologies which are present in the satellite. His fluency in COBOL is particularly noteworthy.
- Isaac Asimov's The Fun They Had mostly avoids this trope, aside from the digital books being on a TV screen. But when the only things keeping school days from being utopian is the computer being large and ugly and the tedious punch cards (the elimination of a facet of society doesn't count, as the main characters don't mind that and it eliminates many, many problems) this becomes a Plot Hole. And the computers are glitchy and require an actual repairman to come in and fix problems. You'd think that Asimov would expect such problems to be fixed by the 24th century in which this short story takes place.
- In The End of Eternity, everyone walks around with a decoder for punch tapes — and no one thinks to put one in a mainframe.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has Mike, a computer that can be programmed from multiple locations!! However, when he gets glitchy, they have to call in a computer repairman (who got expensive training in microcircuitry back on Earth) who can program him at the main computer using the powerful microtools of his mechanical arm.
- Stanisław Lem's old fifties novel Astronauci ("The Astronauts"), set in 2003, features a spaceship's computer which has no textual interface at all, instead displaying all its output as wavey graphs without any numbers or words. The operators must specifically learn to read these.
- Those would be analog computers. Unlike digital computers, which solve scientific problems by number-crunching (not unlike manual computations on paper), analog computers compute by forming an electrical circuit whose behaviour matches the mathematical formula of interest. The output device was typically an oscilloscope or a roll of graph paper. Due to imperfections in the electrical components (in particular, they tend to be sensitive to temperature) the results were always only approximate, but the same is true for slide rules. The number of components needed to do useful scientific calculations with analog computers are orders of magnitude lower than for digital computers, so before integrated circuits were invented, analog computers were a more natural match for manned spacecraft.
- Also the spaceship's computer (The Predictor) is designed to actually fly the ship — until it gets into an Asteroid Thicket and it begins to manoeuver like a crazy World War II fighter pilot to avoid them. The crew has to painfully crawl to it and push a few buttons to return to a normal trajectory. Any computer, regardless how primitive, designed to predict a spaceship's trajectory would gain data from sensors and plan in advance.
- I Wanna Be the Guy, as one of its many nasty and unfair tricks, tries to fake you out with a fake error message. Which is in the style of the error message from Windows XP, which was released in 2001, had its final update pushed out in 2008 in favor of its successor Windows Vista, and had official support for it ceased in 2014note . Nowadays, this trick is hard to fall for; if you purchase a new computer, it will come with a far newer version of Windows with a completely different error message style. There's also the matter of players who run the game with a different Windows color scheme, a different language, or compatibility layers on a different OS line altogether (such as Linux), but that's a different story.
- Command Line Interfaces (CLI) still exist, despite the fact that only a small fraction of computer users can use them effectively. While commonplace up until the early '90s, they're a mystery to the mainstream world, so much so that some people actually think such interfaces are magical tools capable of Hollywood Hacking. Which is actually kinda-sorta-somewhat true; a well-used CLI handily outdoes a GUI for whole categories of tasks — like, say, making a text file listing everything in a given directory, or batching a hundred repetitive jobs into one single instruction.
- For the curious, the UNIX command to write a file listing everything in a directory is ls > output.txt — Windows is similar, dir > output.txtnote . Handy tip — Shift-right-click on a folder allows you to open a command prompt at that folder... with Windows 7, at any rate. How long before that is declared obsolete?
- Command-line interfaces are still widely used for accessing and maintaining remote servers (especially UNIX servers). These servers often don't have even any kind of display hardware. An experienced system administrator will usually find the CLI significantly more flexible, expressive and powerful than any kind of graphical administrative tool (which by its very nature will often be limited in functionality). A CLI is like writing in a scripting language on-the-fly. (Many Linux/UNIX users, especially those with decades of experience, will also often use the CLI even on their local computers for maintenance and other tasks.)
- Even GUI-intensive operating systems like Mac OS X, Apple iOS and Android will sometimes require some command line fiddling for advanced tasks or when fixing issues. For example, if the media file scanner is eating way too much of your Android phone's battery, you have to open a command line, type ps | grep mediaserver, find the process ID of the mediaserver process, then type lsof | grep <mediaserver's process ID> and delete the file that is hanging the media scanner.
- Go up to a server running a VMWare ESXi host and you may be surprised that everything is operated from a simple text-based menu with an option to access a command line. The justification for this is that the simple interface will allow the server more resources to run its virtual machines.
- Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) used on their professional routers & network switches is a command line interface, so most hardware resources can go to actual network function.
- Linux and UNIX-like operating systems have lots of holdovers from as far as the early days of Dennis Ritche and Ken Thompson's Research UNIX. The physical terminals, for example, are known as ttyX because the first few text terminals were teletypes ([TTYs) — electric typewriters connected to the system that physically printed out program output and sent key presses to the computer. The idea of putting all executables under /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin and /usr/sbin was because the third edition required four hard drives to store the entire suite of system commands. The dd command's syntax was designed to mimic that of a similar IBM mainframe command. UNIX-like operating systems that officially stick to the Single UNIX Specification such as IBM AIX and Mac OS X have their basic commands perform exactly like the old System V UNIX commands of yesteryear (unlike Linux, whose basic commands usually have much more functionality).
- The pioneers of the Modern Internet as it grew by bounds in the 1990s assumed their children would use desktops with keyboards and mice — that's still around of course, but many people in the 2010s are enjoying sitting on the couch (or toilet) or lying on their bed as they interface with their portable tablet or smartphone through WiFi and a touch and swipe interface.
- Interface changes have rendered a number of programming languages (many developed at MIT for reasons related to one of the things that helped kill them) effectively unusable. A whole group of languages were developed that required a wide range of exotic characters to be typable from the keyboard, usually using a special keyboard known as the Space Cadet Keyboard. This interesting (and obsolete) interface had a total of seven different keys that performed functions analogous to the Shift, Control, and Alt keys on a modern keyboard, allowing direct typing of over 8000 distinct characters (using double-width key codes, this thing produced 14 bit keycodes in an era when 7 bits was the norm). This keyboard was invented at MIT, and was used on many machines there, and the design influenced the development of dense, symbol-laden languages like APL. (The Space Cadet Keyboard dying out in favor of IBM-style keyboards helped kill languages like APL, as did their extreme lack of readability and difficulty of debugging. The poem "There are two things a man must do before this life is done, write two lines of APL and make the buggers run" isn't really a jest.)
- As an example, the notoriously hotkey-heavy and unwieldy (on modern keyboards) interface of the aforementioned GNU Emacs, sometimes called in jest "Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift", among others, was directly influenced by the Space Cadet Keyboard, because its author Richard Stallman happens to hail from MIT. All those escape characters and modifier keystrokes? — there was a dedicated key for any of it!
- Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Serial ATA (SATA) killed off a lot of connectors. PCMCIA, SCSI, most of the "serial" and "parallel" connectors. Before The New '10s it was common for printers, cameras and other devices to have special connectors so they could be hooked into a computer. Some programs required a "dongle" to run, lose it and your software won't work. Copy protection schemes advanced as did connectors. Aside from Apple, most now use USB and most drives use SATA. Dongles are a thing of the past.
- USB DRM dongles are still a thing — just ask anyone who owns Steel Beasts Pro PE or the FAA-certified version of X-Plane!
- Or any IT support staff at large enterprises who have to manage specialist enterprise software like WGIM Nexus or Intergraph PV Elite.
- A quite common connector-that-no-longer-exists problem is the parallel port, commonly used for printers before USB came along. There are a lot of high-end laser printers out there in commercial and industrial installations that will last for decades (because they were both very well made and were designed to be repairable). The solution is the USB-to-parallel adapter, essentially a parallel port that connects to USB. You can also gets USB adapters for serial, base-T ethernet, and just about anything else you can imagine. As well, the old PS/2 style keyboard and mouse connectors aren't likely to go anywhere on high-end systems, since they will work under conditions where USB won't (and yes, USB can and does have software failures that will lock you out of the system, but that doesn't happen with PS/2).
- Ironically despite the ubiquity of USB and the extinction of parallel ports, there are still headers for a standard RS-232 port if you really need one. From 2005 to roughly 2009 mainboards with parallel ports were practically extinct, none could be found in ordinary shops. After 2009, producers brought back the classic mainboard configuration (2 serial ports, 1 parallel port, 4 to 8 USB ports, 1 PS/2 port), due to public demand. This is because their underlying circuitry is very simple — so simple, that college sophomores are often tasked with designing a serial port as final assignment for their Intro to digital electronics courses — which means that if you're a DIY tinkerer or an embedded system developer, chances are that your microcontroller will have out-of-the-box support for RS-232 signaling with dedicated pins that will make it very easy to talk to a computer or other devices.
- Another likely reason why RS-232 ports are still around: UNIX and Linux may, by default, dump out console output to it. Even at a horrendously low speed by today's standards (9600 baud, or 9.6kbits per second), it's still sufficient enough to provide some way to see what's going on in the system. Cisco Systems network appliances are also by default configured via a port that has an Ethernet jack but actually communicates with RS-232 signals, which is used to enter the device's command line when the configuration is totally blank and the network interfaces don't even have an IP address.
- Apple went all-in on deprecating their old ADB port, RS-422 serial ports, SCSI and floppy drives with the original iMac, quickly necessitating the rise of USB and IEEE 1394 FireWire peripherals to either adapt or replace old Macintosh equipment.
- SATA may quickly be joining the list of legacy ports as an interface designed for old spinning-platter hard drives in an age of increasing proliferation of solid-state drives. Modern SSDs are starting to abandon SATA in favor of a PCI-Express interface for bandwidth reasons, which has culminated in high-performance SSDs taking the form of PCIe expansion cards, SATA Express and M.2 slot cards.
- PS/2 is likely to stay now thanks to the proliferation of high-end keyboards (yes, that's a thing), thanks to the more directly connected nature of PS/2, allowed for things like anti-ghosting (where some keys won't register if you press others due to the way the switch circuit is designed) or N-Key Rollover (where you can press any number of keys and they'll all register). USB based keyboards since have caught up in terms of features, but USB still has its quirks that can't be overcome.
- AGP ports have been made extinct by PCE-Express ports, while PCI has generally been reduced to a single 'legacy' port on new chipsets, with various types of PCI Express being used for the majority of slots on a motherboard.
- Even before PCI, you had ISA and MCA on PCs, NuBus on Macs, Zorro slots on Amigas, and various other expansion card interfaces that were all eventually deprecated by PCI.
- USB DRM dongles are still a thing — just ask anyone who owns Steel Beasts Pro PE or the FAA-certified version of X-Plane!
- The traditional computer interface, aside from the keyboard and mouse, used to be a huge CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor. The LCD and plasma display have surpassed the CRT. They are lighter, use less energy and can be wall mounted without a lot of hardware.
- It also used to be common to consider televisions and computer monitors as separate devices, with the former being low-resolution and over-sized so that they can be seen from far away, and the latter being smaller and higher-res for viewing up close. HDTV and the transition to digital TV signals over analog has nearly eliminated this distinction, and most LCD "TV's" sold nowadays are pretty much just monitors with speakers, a TV tuner, a remote, and some legacy audio/video ports tacked on. And they can still be used with a computer just by hooking up the right cable and pressing a button.
- Home theater used to be a big honkin' projection TV or a large CRT. Now LCD projectors and large LCD/plasma TV have killed off projection and CRT's. A serious home theater setup can be had for half the price of even the cheapest large CRT's.
- With the old home theater system getting replaced by wall-mounted televisions and smaller peripheral devices, entertainment centers, the furniture that would hold these, are no longer selling nearly as well as they used to.
- Even with the proliferation of modern flat-panel displays, CRTs are still favored by retrocomputing and retrogaming enthusiasts because modern multi-sync monitors don't have native resolutions that must be rescaled to with a major impact on image quality, are devoid of input lag normally imposed by a display scaler, had refresh rates well in excess of 60 Hz long before LCDs caught up, and have perfect viewing angles, among other reasons. There are people who still keep around aperture grille CRT monitors that were once top-of-the-line professional graphics monitors and use them with modern computers in 2016, despite the phasing-out of analog VGA ports on graphics cards, because they're simply better than flat-panel displays at any price — just ask anyone who owns a coveted Sony GDM-FW900.
- Despite all the stereotypes about Japan being on the edge of technology, most of the economy is still being run by older generations who refuse to upgrade technology in a country that is already notorious for refusing to adapt to just about anything. In fact, the country that is modern and on the edge of technology is the USA, and all those modern Korean and Japanese contraptions sold in the USA are just Asian corporations cashing on Americans' undying love for what hasn't even been released yet. This Cracked article has no qualms about shattering the illusions of many a Japanophile of how incredibly modern the country must be by pointing out that most banks do not have outdoor ATMs; many businesses do not accept credit cards of any sort; and most businesses still operate using fax machines, paper, and a good old-fashioned no. 2 pencil. Much like the NASA examples listed above, many computers being used in businesses are likely to be primitive '80s or pre-Windows 95 systems just because they know that the systems work. Whereas USA lives by the adage of "If it isn't broke, fix it anyway because it's old", Japan sticks to the old adage of "If it isn't broke, don't fix it."
- Virtual reality on a home computer is Older Than They Think, with the Forte Technologies VFX1 predating the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive by two decades, but the VFX1 was quickly doomed due to dependency on a litany of deprecated interfaces. It relied on an ISA card that connected to a graphics card with a VESA feature connector and also hosted a motion-sensing Cyberpuck controller through an ACCESS.bus port — a standard that was ultimately displaced by USB. Keep in mind that in the mid-1990s, PCs were already transitioning to PCI to replace the old ISA interface, and newer 3D-accelerated cards like the 3dfx Voodoo Graphics card had no VESA feature connector, only a VGA passthrough, making the VFX1 incompatible with the big push in 3D graphics it direly needed as a stereoscopic HMD.