How do you emphasize that a character equipped with an earpiece for communication, like reporters, bodyguards or Secret Service agents, is currently listening in or talking to the person on the other end and not to themselves or somebody else in their presence? Simply have them reach up with their hand to their ear while talking.
This visual cue can also be played for suspense in cases where we don't hear what's been said over the line but we know by the touch of the ear that an important order has been issued and the hero is now in danger.
Truth in Television for two reasons: the earpiece makes a very convenient place to put the activation button (look at a Bluetooth earpiece or watch the drive-thru employee at a fast food joint) and pushing lightly on an earpiece makes for a tighter seal, which could mean the difference between hearing or missing a vital message.
See Radio Voice for when voices are slightly distorted so that the audience can tell that the voice is being received through a communications link. See also Pstandard Psychic Pstance (obligatory forehead touch) and Removing the Earpiece.
- Somewhat justified in World Trigger. Word of God says that communicators are a built-in function of all Trion bodies, but many agents choose to wear headsets or earpieces to reduce the 'awkwardness' of looking like they're talking to themselves. However, regardless of whether agents wear earpieces or not, most will still put a hand up to their ear when talking through the comms.
- In issue #20 of Red Robin, Stephanie touches her earpiece, even though it's built-in as part of her cowl while fighting the villain Romeo Void when Tim contacts her to warn her about Calculator being on the move.
- In issue #167 of the Robin Series, Tim raises a pair of fingers to his earpiece while listening to the police scanner as he tries to track down the final Arkham escapee from the last group breakout of the notoriously insecure facility.
- The Agents in The Matrix do this whenever they receive new orders from the mainframe. Since they don't communicate much except vague menace, this cue is important to signal that they are going to try something new next.
- The NSA agents pursuing videographer Zavitz from Enemy of the State all have earpieces, mainly to receive updates from spy satellite pics taken by Mission Control. One agent, in particular, expects the target to emerge on his street and fingers his earpiece because he's on a busy, noisy midtown Baltimore thoroughfare. He gets the brotherly counsel from Mission Control: "Turn around, you idiot." Ah, teamwork.
- Early in Casino Royale, Bond and another agent are surveilling a runner for a terrorist organization. The other agent repeatedly fiddles with his earpiece, much to the frustration of Bond, who scolds him for doing it and tells him not to draw attention to himself. Sure enough, their target notices the other agent while the agent is pushing on the earpiece and makes a run for it.
- One assassin from Fair Game (1995) sent to eradicate attorney Kate McQuean and her squad of bodyguards knows that his surviving targets are aware they're in mortal danger, and he needs to know Detective Kirkpatrick's location from his cohorts, who are using thermal imaging to track their victims. This assassin repeatedly asks, "Where is Target Three?" while holding his earpiece, because this intel is critically needed. The response is "He's right in front of you!" Sure enough, the assassin looks up to see Kirkpatrick firing bullets into him.
- In WarGames, when the FBI is about to capture David, one of the agents does the touch gesture to his ear.
- At the night club scene in Collateral, hitman Vincent is able to spot a security guard in the crowded room thanks to that guy having his hand on his ear.
- Avengers: Infinity War: Several characters, including Falcon, Black Panther, Cap and Wanda, do this during the battle in Wakanda. It seems to be a bit of an Author's Saving Throw toward the first film, where people would just talk and be heard by others miles away with no clue as to how. Either everyone has super hearing or some kind of Comm Links must be in use; later films confirm the latter with gestures suggestive of (very, very well-hidden) earpieces. Eventually we do see one, small enough to let you tell yourself it was there all along. (If you wonder how it's done in the comics: their keycards do way more than unlock the front door.)
- Spoofed as you'd expect in Spy Hard, where the only way to know our hero is communicating is via this gesture, accompanied by a beeping sound. "Ear buttons. They put the receiver right in your head now."
- "Comm-beads" from the Ciaphas Cain novels apparently have the controls built into the earpiece, as Cain specifies tapping them on a regular basis. (And on one occasion, in Death or Glory, he doesn't realize he left his comm-bead behind until he tries to tap it.)
- The "crystal comms" earpieces in Hive Mind (2016) are controlled by touching them, and a common sight on a run is for the entire team to touch their ears as they activate the cameras. It's unclear just how the user can control extending/collapsing the camera, managing the volume, turning the unit on and off, and toggling send/receive modes with a device small enough to be completely invisible in the ear when the camera is not extended.
- In Arrow, Team Arrow frequently touch the comms in their ears when communicating. It seems to serve as a means of turning them on and off.
- In The Flash, Barry's comms, shaped like lightning bolts, also has Barry pressing them when using them.
- Batwoman (2019)
- In "Drink Me", Kate's sister Mary is confused as to why Luke Fox is doing this when he's ostensibly an assistant in her stepsister's real estate firm, which would hardly require him to have a hidden earpiece to a direct line to his boss while he's in a club on a Saturday night. It's one of several clues that tip her off that Kate is Batwoman.
- In "If You Believe In Me, I'll Believe In You", Luke Fox back on Mission Control is not impressed that Kate Kane, while infiltrating a mafia-run nightclub, has stopped to flirt with the hot blonde bartender who's mixing her a drink.
- In Legends of Tomorrow, the Legends also use comms with characters sometimes touching them while using them. In fact, it appears that touching them actually turns them on and off, as Martin Stein demonstrated.
- Parodied on The Daily Show:
Jon Stewart: *holds hand to ear* I'm being told... I'm being told I'm not wearing an earpiece
- In the Flashpoint episode "Aisle 13", two teenagers attempt to rob a grocery store and take hostages when it goes pear-shaped, but only one is really interested in keeping the situation going, while the other just wants to surrender. The main characters managed to drop him an earpiece to advise him through talking his friend down, but the whole thing nearly gets the boy killed when some static comes over the line and he touches the earpiece, alerting - and enraging - his friend.
- Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Election Night Special" sketch. The commentator holds his hand up to his ear (which does not have a visible earpiece) expecting breaking news, but realizes it's actually a buzzing insect that flew into his ear. Watch it here.
- Reese from Person of Interest does this every time he talks to his handler, Finch. In the second season, it was retconned that the touches allowed him to turn the earpiece on and off, a feature not expressed in the first season.
- In Sherlock episode "The Final Problem", Mycroft talks to Sherlock via earpiece and both characters use the touching gesture while talking.
- Star Trek
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Uhura would often touch her earpiece when concentrating on an incoming communication. Spock does this once in a while as well. The number of times "Uhura touches earpiece" was one of numerous tracked "Trek Stats" featured in the interactive Star Trek 2.0.
- Star Trek: Picard:
- In "Absolute Candor", Picard performs this gesture in the flashback while Raffi notifies him about the synth attack on Mars.
- In "The Impossible Box", Narek taps his earpiece twice as he warns the Romulan Reclamation Site's head of security that Employee badge 74983 stroke 2 is extremely dangerous after Soji escapes from the Zhal Makh meditation chamber.
- In "Nepenthe", Narissa presses a button to activate her earpiece just before she asks Narek if he's ready to depart from the Artifact.
- In "Broken Pieces", Narissa does this again when she demands an update from her subordinate about the whereabouts of "the freak" (i.e. Elnor).
- In Westworld, we occasionally see staff touch their earpiece while communicating.
- Done in an episode of Law & Order (S 20 E 11 "Fed") when Lupo and Bernard are interrogating a paranoid, Conspiracy Theorist suspect, to play on his fears that "Big Brother" is behind his being brought in.
- Lampshaded in Treadstone when a reporter is wired up by the CIA for her meeting with a North Korean general—he wordlessly touches his ear to indicate he'd like to speak without anyone else listening and she removes the microphone which is actually hidden under her jacket lapel.
- Also lampshaded in the pilot of The Boys (2019) when Hughie Campbell offers to be "the guy in the van" relaying instructions, and makes an Obligatory Earpiece Touch when saying this.
- Serves as a Wham Shot in the episode "Lip Service" of Inside No. 9 as it's the first sign we get that Iris is part of an apparent Government Conspiracy to set Felix up for murder.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequels, Batman regularly does this when communicating with Alfred or Oracle.
- Henry Stickmin Series: In Infiltrating the Airship, this trope naturally shows up when you select the "earpiece" at the start of the game.
- Invisible, Inc.: In the opening cinematic, Central starts out communicating with Decker through the communication rig in the mission control room, then switches to a personal communicator when she has to continue the conversation and move at the same time. Each time she speaks through the personal communicator she touches her ear.
- Defiance: Quite often, when you're receiving communications, your character puts one hand up to their ear.
- Characters in the Mass Effect series will sometimes do this when communicating with the Normandy or distant squadmates.
- Spider-Man (PS4) - Spidey himself will sometimes do this, usually while talking with Yuri Watanabe (his Friend on the Force) or Mary-Jane.
- Horizon Zero Dawn: In cutscenes, Aloy will often touch her Focus (which sits right in front of her ear) to activate it. She never does this in gameplay, however, so it's unclear if it's optional or Gameplay and Story Segregation.
- Code Lyoko has a variant where there is no earpiece involved, but some characters (mainly Yumi, Ulrich, and Aelita) would put their fingers up to their ears when exploring locations on XANA's Replikas.
- Members of the Justice League have unseen communicators near their ears which apparently need to be touched to transmit. This is to the detriment of Wonder Woman, who, in a combat situation, is left with only one free hand to block attacks with.