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Reinventing the Telephone

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Negi: I can't hear Asuna-san's voice with [Telepathy]?
Chamo: Yeah, that's how it is.
Negi: Wouldn't a mobile phone be better then?
(Negi receives a cell phone call from Asuna that Konoka has been kidnapped.)
Chamo: (exasperated) What kind of mage uses a cell phone?

The Army of Evil approaches... you need to gather your allies in a hurry!

Send a messenger-pigeon to the McNinja, contact the Overt Operative with your Comm-Watch, and make telepathic contact with The Empath...

...or you could just text their cell phones.

Basically, when somebody in a show (set in the "present day" or even 20 Minutes into the Future) uses a pointlessly cool method of communication, which is frequently a lot less practical than the ordinary, everyday type. Maybe telepathic communication would be better, depending on exactly how many strange hand gestures you have to make, whether it allows for protection from "brain tapping", and whether it can inflict Psychic Nosebleeds, but that's already a whole lot of "depends on", and other methods don't exactly fare better.

Frequently lampshaded either by somebody pointing out that it would be easier to just phone 'em, or by somebody suggesting this kind of communication, only for the person to respond "Well, yeah, I could do that, but it would be faster to just send him an e-mail..."

Related to We Have the Keys. If you're looking for something a little more convenient, try Comm Links. Works written about the future before the widespread use of cell phones may get a pass but might qualify for Zeerust.

See also Supernatural Phone. The Alternet is a lot like this for the Internet.


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  • An '90s cell phone commercial had a manager trying to find employee A to handle a major project by sending out couriers, posting enormous advertisements in newspapers, having the message that he needs to contact the office broadcast on the local news, etc. Failing to find employee A, he settles for employee B, who he is able to get in touch with immediately because he has a cell phone.

    Anime & Manga 
  • This was said of the Pactio cards in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. The card can only send, and only to specific people (the Magister who made the Pactio, or anyone else who has a Pactio with the same Magister). In addition, you have to hold it to your forehead, and the telepathy is easily blocked.
  • In Fate/Zero, the highly-traditional Tohsaka Tokiumi makes use of an old-fashioned magical device that transmits writing from page to page across vast distances in order to send and receive reports. It clearly would have been a fantastic device at one point, but the series is set in the 1980's; even his student thinks a fax machine would be more practical (This is what the more tech-savvy Kiritsugu uses).
  • Justified in Ghost in the Shell: inter-cyberbrain communication (effectively telepathy) is employed even within speaking distances for security reasons.
    • Also, inter-cyberbrain communication is such a common, everyday activity (for the characters the story focus on, anyway) that, when security isn't an issue, the choice of cyberbrain versus speaking could be as arbitrary as the choice of making a phone call via cellphone or landline when both of them are within arm's reach. This probably makes sense to anyone who's found themselves chatting online with someone sitting in the next room.
  • Naruto is ostensibly set in a pseudo-present day world, just with ninjas. And magic/jutsu. Really, they just use modern technology whenever it would get in the way for them not to. The five village Kages meet in person even though there is a tendency for Kages to be assassinated, though there are diplomatic reasons for in-person meetings even in real life. When their Feudal Lords have to ratify the formation of the Shinobi Alliance, however, they have a quick video conference.
  • In One Piece, which uses everything from swords to lasers, the phones function very much like our own, except for one thing. There are the normal stationary ones, with very long reception range, and smaller portable ones, with lower reception range. The main difference from ours? The phones are actually snails, named Den Den Mushis. They also have a habit of mimicking both the facial features and expressions of those talking, thus doubling as webcams.
  • Mages in A Certain Magical Index frequently use magical communication charms, often disguised as cell phones. Espers, however, are generally perfectly happy using cell phones even when they're telepathic, since even the strongest telepath is limited to a radius of about a kilometer.
  • It even shows up in the Buu saga of Dragon Ball Z. Trunks is at Capsule Corp. getting the Dragon Radar, while everyone else is hiding at the Lookout. When Bulma remembers where she put the Dragon Radar (in a place where Trunks didn't know to look), the group briefly panics while trying to figure out how to get in touch with Trunks, until Videl points out that they could simply borrow her cell phone.
  • Matsuri of Ayakashi Triangle wears an arm bracelet that can communicate to a device that resembles a WWII-era comm radio. In a strange twist, it's first shown being used with a pair of cellphones to make a three-way call. Later on, it's shown to connect to some cellphones directly, making it just a hand-free phone equivalent.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Bat-Signal. Gordon has easier ways of getting in touch with Batman too.
    • This has been explained away nowadays as a psychological effect; bad guys, in theory, see the Bat Signal and, knowing that Batman is now on the prowl, stop doing whatever bad things they're doing. Conversely, it's also said to act as a morale booster for decent, law-abiding citizens who see the signal and are comforted by the fact that whatever trouble might be arising, Batman is on the way.
    • The signal is also more secure in some ways. If Gordon were to contact Batman over, say, a phone, there is a chance that the signal can be traced. No chance of that happening with a spotlight.
    • In several incarnations of Batman (most famously in the Adam West TV series) Commissioner Gordon has a red phone with a direct line to Batman as well as a Bat-Signal. More recent versions have introduced a special encrypted Cell Phone for the times when it's unwise and impractical to use the signal.
    • Invoked in a specific Batman story arc as well. Azrael discovered the cure to the deadly plague known as the Clench, and hurriedly returned to Gotham to deliver the information. A comrade of his who was present when the cure was found simply sent the formula to Gotham via a fax machine.
  • Iron Man: Averted with the early comics, which showed Stark using a rotary phone built into the suit. Shortwave-based portable rotary phones such as the Carterphone did exist at the time, and were quite popular in industries where laying out phone lines to remote sites was prohibitively expensive, such as the Texas oil fields.
  • Runaways: An interesting variant, as when the Wilders need to talk to the other members of the Pride, they use a Video-Phone, presumably just a convenient webcam, but the other couples all use a variant based on their area of expertise. The wizards have a mystical portal, the scientists have a Hologram, etc.
  • Spider-Man: Early into The Amazing Spider-Man (2018), the Thieves Guild pulls an Impossible Theft on the gadgets and items of various heroes. Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic gather the heroes and try to use their abilities to find the Guild's hoard, only for Ms. Marvel to cut in because the "find my phone" app on her cell just pinged its exact location. For bonus points, said phone was the only thing Spider-Man could turn on to signal anyone since Iron Man's helmet and Strange's Eye of Agamotto wouldn't respond to him.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Jedi vs. Sith, they use messengers. In Star Wars. Granted, this takes place 1,000 years before the films, and there's already a good deal of Schizo Tech in place like wooden spacecraft and bows-and-arrows being used alongside lightsabers, but comlinks were definitely invented by then. The canon explanation for this need is the galaxy-spanning Holonet had been shattered at this point by the Sith, and Star Wars ships have always traveled at around the same speed as transmitted messages, anyway.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The ESP between Kate and robot Vincent in Disney's The Black Hole. The novelization clarifies the situation: The exact mechanics of telepathic communication have been discovered in the film's Verse, and Kate has a small computerized implant in her head called an "esplink" that allows her to communicate with Vincent.
    • However it does have a necessary function plotwise, to allow Kate and V.I.N.CENT. to exchange information without Reinhardt and Maximillion overhearing. And it appears to be a more reliable means of transmission than radio, as she was able to make contact when V.I.N.CENT. had lost comms while doing repairs outside the Palomino.
  • Averted in Iron Man, where Stark has apparently programmed his armor to act as a cell phone.
    Tony Stark: No, no! I'm just driving with the top down!
  • In The Dark Knight, Lau is a Chinese national and a banker involved with organized crime. He expects to escape prosecution (and thus protect the mob's money) by fleeing back to China. He does, but that won't stop Batman. In a Batman Gambit; Bruce Wayne sends Lucius Fox to personally call off a business deal in Lau's building when a simple email, video conference, or many other forms of communication would have been much more convenient. What's more, Lau points out this trope and is annoyed. Since they aren't going to do business, Lucius and Mr. Wayne are wasting his time with this face-to-face meeting. Lucius' real mission was to drop off a small device disguised as a cell phone to prepare for Batman's abduction of Lau.
  • Discussed in Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass asks Hit Girl how he can contact Big Daddy and Hit Girl. She mockingly tells him they have a Bat Signal, and "It's in the shape of a giant... note ." Big Daddy then proceeds to tell Kick-Ass that he can just leave certain code words in his Myspace and they'll know that means he wants them to find him.

  • The wizards of Harry Potter when they really need to contact each other, take an extremely difficult spell most wizards can't cast, and then complicate it by making it talk. Also mail taken by owl, which as such moves at a bird's flying speed though it is implied in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that owls can be teleported part of the way if there's need. Oh, and their "stick your head in the fireplace and hope someone is within earshot" method. Interestingly, presumably-instantaneous audio-visual communication by magic mirror does exist; it's mentioned exactly once and never used. Justified due to 1) the books take place in the 1990s before cell phones and the internet were in widespread use, and 2) it is mentioned that electronic technology doesn't work around Hogwarts because there is "too much magic in the air."
  • Inverted in Fate/Zero. Mages tend to scorn and ignore technology because they already have all this stuff using magic. Taken advantage of by Combat Pragmatist Kiritsugu, who realizes that cameras are immune to mind-affecting illusion spells and guns don't emit Mana, among other things.
  • Demigods in the Percy Jackson series are prohibited from using cell phones, as transmitting their voices makes a stronger beacon for monsters to track. In place of them Greek demigods use Iris Messaging, which is holographic video messaging facilitated by the goddess of rainbows, implicitly limited to any area with a source of water vapor to conceivably generate a rainbow for one and a tithe to donate. Roman demigods use eagles instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Home Improvement: Tim Taylor once got to try out spy-listening equipment with Wilson, and commented that someone should've come up with this conversation-at-a-distance stuff years ago. Wilson pointed out that they did — it's called the telephone.
  • Warehouse 13 is made of this trope, but more specifically does this with some steampunk-ish video phones, invented by Philo Farnsworth. There's a limited number of them, but they're unhackable and can only lose signal due to massive electrical interference. It's also shown that Pete and Myka have regular cell phones for communicating with each-other in the field. There's also a pneumatic-tube system that sends a brass voice recorder between different sections of the Warehouse. Both the Farnsworths and the tube system are justified, as it's demonstrated in the pilot that the only way to get cell service in or around the warehouse is to climb to the top of a giant mound of cow manure.note 
  • Power Rangers surprisingly justifies the fact that morphers have communication equipment as often as it plays the trope straight. The early seasons were in the '90s, when not everybody had cell phones yet. Later seasons often have morphers with built-in cell phones.
  • Mocked in a sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look. Ray wanted Colin to tell him some girl's phone number, but Colin insisted on Bluetooth-ing it from one phone to another even though it took way longer and was a massive hassle to get working.
  • Sherlock:
    • In the first episode, Mycroft Holmes contacts Watson by watching him on London's ubiquitous CCTVs and calling every public phone he walks by until he picks one of them up.
    Watson: You know, I've got a phone. Very clever, and all that, but, uh, you could just... phone me. On my phone.
    • Watson says something similar in "A Scandal in Belgravia", when a car is taking him to yet another abandoned location. Subverted in that it's Irene Adler who wants to see him after faking her death.
    • Averted later, when Mycroft starts using a mobile phone like a normal person.
  • In an episode of White Collar, Neal contacts Mozzie using a carrier pigeon. Justified by the fact that the FBI is onto Mozzie so he has destroyed every cell phone he owned and abandoned all his safe houses. The carrier pigeon is the only way he can be contacted by Neal.
  • When Ross moves across the street on Friends, Joey suggests that they can do the Tin-Can Telephone thing. To which Chandler responds, "Or we can do the actual telephone thing."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Discussed in the 20 year re-releases of Mage: The Ascension and Vampire: The Masquerade, and presumably to come up again as the other Old World of Darkness games get their 20 year anniversary editions. The Game Master can presumably run a 90's period piece or follow the discussion on how cell communications, camera phones, tablets, and all these other technologies make keeping up the Masquerade that much harder, as well as how the supernatural community reacts to having this technology obviate some of their problems. Generally, a lot of the older conspiracies have a very hard time adapting.
  • The Sending spell is a Story-Breaker Power example of this trope Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. The spell allows a mid-level caster to contact anyone they know about in the world in ten minutes, deliver a brief message, and receive a brief reply. The spell is secure and only consumes the spell slot used to cast it. Anyone in a position of power and most decent-sized towns should have access to the spell, which can ruin any plot where the heroes have to race against time to deliver information to a party unless a lot of arbitrary obstacles are thrown in. There are many more spells that can serve as examples.
  • Starfinder takes place well after Comm Links have been invented, so the Sending spell wasn't updated. However, because messages sent by Drift beacon can take days or weeks to reach another system there's an FTL Communication ritual that has a 25-word limit similar to Sending and only takes 5d6 hours to arrive, but inflicts 10d12 lightning damage on the caster.

    Video Games 
  • In Another Code R, Ashley's father sends her an improved DAS to keep in touch with her. Due to being away from civilization for eleven years, he's completely surprised that, in 2006, it's commonplace for teenagers to have cell phones.

  • Example from the webcomic Yosh!: [1]
  • El Goonish Shive,
    • Nanase's 'Fairy Form': It got lampshaded when it was first used, complete with a "You have heard of this wonderful invention they call the "Telephone", right?" line, but she's still using it every time she wants to get in touch with someone, and they've stopped commenting on it. Justified in that more she uses her powers, the faster she levels up, and learns new powers that might be more useful. Also, the spell provides more functionality. Also, cell phones have an annoying tendency to lose signal whenever something happens.
    • It also pops up in the form of Comm-Watches, courtesy of sterotypical German scientist Dr. Germahn, which are also pointed out to be obsolete by his assistant. He replies, "It's not about money — it's about having cool stuff to play with!"
    • Lampshaded again when Pandora discovers the "emissary of magic itself" is talking to Grace in her dreams, points out to him that this is the least efficient way of communicating and asks " Would 'the will of magic' smite you for using a phone?"
  • In Shades, the superheroes used to have a fancy communications network, since dismantled. Fortunately by the time they need it again, cell phones are around.
  • Defied in Narbonic when, sending Dave to Madblood's moonbase, Helen really wants to devise a complicated, over-the-top, Mad Science-ey communications system. But Dave bought them cell phones and will pay the roaming charges. What Helen misses here is that he got cell phones that work outside of the cell-phone network, which isn't really possible without Mad Science and/or a TARDIS.
    • Played straight in Skin Horse here. Justified, as it turns out the message is being sent by a supercomputer that can only communicate by implanting messages in people's minds, which they then think they see imprinted on things.
  • Preparing for battle in A Girl and Her Fed — with lampshade and justification.
  • Even the phone can be a reinvention of a simpler technology, as documented in this xkcd comic.
  • Questionable Content plays with this from time to time, as the robot/AI characters have various forms of electronic communication. Bubbles makes a gesture of putting one finger to her ear when receiving a call on her internal receiver; Millefeuille makes a “hand-phone” gesture and speaks out loud when with humans. Momo and May IM each other, and Pintsize has had Wi Fi and uses IM from the outset.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Tick episode "The Tick vs. Arthur's Bank Account," the Tick presents the mayor a Tick signal to flash onto a conveniently passing cloud bank when he is needed. The mayor promptly points out, "We have your phone number." The Tick's reply: "Also useful."
    • The Tick parodied Batman's Bat Signal, which is one of the earlier versions of the trope. At least back then there weren't any cell phones, but regular phones — as well as the Bat-Phone — did exist.
    • The Bat-Phone only existed in the 60s TV series; in less ludicrous versions, the idea of a dedicated phone line between the police station and Batman's secret headquarters was seen as a bad idea. The Batphone made its first comics appearance in 2003, as an encrypted cellphone.
  • In one episode of Duckman, a smoke signal comes in for Cornfed, who has just been fired. When Duckman screams out the window that Cornfed no longer works there, the Indian who sent the signal decides to call him at home... with his cell phone.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Ascension", Paxton Powers re-creates the old Bat Signal to get Batman's attention. He smashes it with a Batarang and tells him "Next time, use email."
  • Zig-zagged in Miraculous Ladybug: The titular Henshin Hero and her teammate have magical items that can (amongst many, many other functions) act exactly like a modern cellphone, but they're only available when in costume. And since Ladybug is extremely paranoid about keeping her and Chat Noir's civilian identities a secret even from each other (and in Season 2 we find out she was very much Properly Paranoid) they have no way to communicate when not transformed despite the fact they both own cellphones. Dealing with the knock-on effects from them realising this is a problem and finding a workaround has become a popular Fandom-Specific Plot as a result.

    Real Life 
  • Zig-zagged in the business world and academics. Many companies and universities conduct telephone and Skype interviews with candidates and do video conferencing to reduce costs, but some things still require old-fashioned face-to-face sit-downs.
    • Averted in medical school and residency interviews, which require face-to-face interviews in almost all cases, and often a not-really-optional social event first. The admissions folks want to not only speak with you, but see if they like you; there's nothing worse than 16 hour stressful days with people you don't like.