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No Backwards Compatibility in the Future

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"Alright, time to play me some
King's Que... oh."

"Spies are used to battling cutting edge encryption and billion dollar security, but sometimes the toughest challenge is cracking something old and out of date. If you find yourself up against an obsolete tape drive loaded with arcane software, you can either find yourself a time machine, or admit defeat."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice

Our time-traveling protagonists need to recover a piece of information on a computer from our time and they end up stealing the whole laptop. The Fridge Logic asks why didn't they simply just do a file transfer? As it turns out, the future tech doesn't work with tech from our time. Even though the future technology has its roots in the technology that we have currently developed, it is not backward compatible with that of its predecessors.

This can also be applied to a post-apocalyptic future stories only if the equipment is in good condition due to Ragnarök Proofing. Otherwise it is merely a subversion or aversion of said Ragnarok Proofing.

Of course, when the record must be accessed, this is a job for Mr. Fixit to rig something up to make that possible.

Truth in Television; somewhere along the line, certain new technologies may not be backward compatible with their older versions, because they were deemed obsolete or just not worth the extra cost. Indeed, a significant portion of early electronic archives (1970s through early '90s) are now inaccessible, or nearly became so, because the hardware or file format became too outdated.


The inversion of this, where things that shouldn't be compatible are, is Plug 'n' Play Technology.

In-Universe Examples

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  • Cowboy Bebop: Spike and Jet hunt through esoteric tech shops, black markets and ancient ruins, to chase down a working Betamax VCR, which is so scarce even avid collectors don't have much hope of seeing one in their lifetime. They have a tape that supposedly holds clues to Faye's past — how far from the past she must have come from in order to have anything recorded on Beta is the biggest clue. Ironically, when they finally do find a VCR in a derelict museum it turns out to be VHS. (Made funnier because they had their choice of VCRs in the museum, and chose the VHS because the tape slot was bigger.)
    Spike: Which one do we take back?
    Jet: Uh...let's see...well, they say the greater serves for the lesser.
    (later, on the Bebop)
    Jet: Hm...
    Spike: What's wrong?
    Jet: The size.
    Spike: What about it?
    Jet: It won't go in!
    Spike: Push harder!
    Ed: Uhhh...that's the wrong one!
    Spike and Jet: Huh?
    Ed: You got a VHS!
    Spike and Jet: Huh?
    Ed: <giggles> It won't play Beta!
    Spike and Jet: Huh?!
  • A significant amount of the plot in Steins;Gate consists of the cast's struggle to obtain a very old model of computer called an IBN 5100, because it's the only piece of technology capable of undoing the Alternate Timeline they've created, due to the fact that it was used to create that timeline in the first place, using a method that wouldn't be compatible with a newer model.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Erico's Mega Man X fanfic series, the Cossack-class Robot Masters are recommissioned at one point in Demons of the Past to help protect Russia. However, they prove to be incompatible with 21xx technology for their internals, so the tech/medic who was sent to do the upgrading had to cannibalize the now-useless Cossack Fortress Guardians for parts like superconductor cabling and power control components. They were also not willing to risk overloading on 21xx subtanks and stuck to their stockpile of E-Tanks from the Classic Era.
  • In Touhou: The Cursed Tape Enters Gensokyo, Yukari is unable to find a VHS compatible player in Kourindou's stock, despite the piles of forgotten "modern" digital devices he had collected from the outside world. In a humourous inversion of what happened in Cowboy Bebop, she does find a Betamax VCR instead.

     Live Action Television 
  • Burn Notice has this happen in the present. In one episode, Michael finds an old tape drive that a rival was after in a wall. The next episode, in a voice over, he explains that old technology is often a spy's biggest headache for just this reason, before we hear Fiona say, "Fourteen phone calls, seven data recovery experts and three hours of arm twisting to find out what's on this thing and it's unreadable!"
  • Continuum plays with this. On the one hand, when Kiera arrives from 2077, her super-advanced Augmented Reality implant can't interface with 2012's internet, phones, or pretty much anything else, though she is able to use her suit to brute-force hack an ATM. On the other hand, when she arrives she accidentally contacts a Teen Genius playing in his lab—because he's in the middle of inventing the tech she's using.
  • In Journeyman, Dan has to steal a phone charger from his past self so he can keep a phone that will work during time jumps of a certain length, because the rapidly changing state of phone technology over the last ten years caused him a great deal of trouble.
  • An episode of White Collar has a present-day example. Mozzie breaks into a high-security vault expecting to copy an algorithm onto a thumb drive only to find that it's stored on a platter-sized floppy disc.

    Video Games 

  • In Mega Man ZX, Aile and Vent have no problems using the 20XX Energy Tanks from the Classic series, while in the Battle Network series, Lan and MegaMan.EXE have no problem exploring ancient parts of the Internet.
  • A character in Shadowrun: Dragonfall keeps his notes on ancient DVD-R/W recordings. You have to go on Fetch Quests to track down an old DVD player and an analog TV with the proper inputs to connect it before you can view them.


    Web Original 
  • The story of John Titor, supposedly a time traveller from the 2030s who appeared on Art Bell's forum in 2000, revolved around this — in the post-nuclear-war future he came from, the Year 2038 problem had yet to be solved, and he had been dispatched to a time before the war in order to acquire an IBM 5100 for use in developing a fix.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park has the episode where Cartman froze himself to avoid waiting for a Nintendo Wii. When he is thawed out (500 years later), he discovers that future displays aren't compatible with those of his time.
  • Beast Wars:
    • The Maximals, the descendants of the Autobots, can't use their ancestors' hardware in conjunction with that of Maximal technology. Somewhat justified in that both pieces of technology they're attempting to use in conjunction are cobbled-together, oft-patched desperation-grade junk in the first place. And, y'know, the fact that the Autobot tech they're trying to use is over three million years older than their Maximal tech and is built on a different scale.
    • Even the smarter Maximals can't figure out how the Ark was made in the first place.
    Optimus Primal: "Die-cast construction. It's a lost art..."
  • Subverted in Danny Phantom. Apparently, technology in the future (or at least Skul Tech) is still eligible for Tucker's PDA to hack through. Lampshaded when Tucker declares his hacking skills are just that awesome or just very, very sad.
  • Averted in the Mega Man episode "Mega X", where the eponymous future robot scans and copies the weapon of Snakeman, an older robot. He can improve on the originals, too, as a single shot destroys Wily's weapon. Wholly justified, as X is based on Rock's design and has a modernized version of the Weapon Copy system, so he can copy anything Rock can.
  • In The Batman episode "Artifacts", a 1000 years in the future, archaeologists discover the Batcave. Their advanced computers cannot interface with or download the Bat Computer's data. Fortunately, Batman saw this coming and etched the computer's data in binary code on titanium sheets. They are able to scan that into their computers, which gives them instructions on how to defeat the ageless Mr. Freeze.


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