Reinventing the Telephone

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Negi: I can't hear Asuna-san's voice with this?
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 Twenty Minutes Into the Future) uses a pointlessly cool method of communication, which is frequently lot less practical than the ordinary, everyday type. Arguably, 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 all the others...

Frequently Lampshaded either by somebody pointing out that it would be easier to just phone 'em, or by somebody (Often a Genre Savvy individual) 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.

Examples of Reinventing the Telephone include:

Anime and Manga

  • This was said of the Pactio cards in Mahou Sensei Negima. 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.
  • Justified in Ghost in the Shell: inter-cyberbrain communication (effectively telepathy) is employed even within speaking distances for security reasons.
  • 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. When their Feudal Lords have to ratify the formation of the Shinobi Alliance, however, they have a quick video conference.
    • It's justified with the meeting of the Kage, though - the purpose of meeting face to face is to be a showing of good faith by the leaders, similar to many Real Life meetings of national leaders.

Comic Books

  • An interesting variant in Runaways: When the Wilders need to talk to the other members of the Pride, they use a Video-Phone, presumably just a convenient webcam, but each of the members is using his or her own Variant based on his or her origins. The Wizards have a Mystical portal, the Scientists have a Hologram, etc.
  • The Bat-Signal. Of course, 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.
    • Could also be justified in that Batman is generally paranoid and obsessed with keeping secrets, and even the most secure forms of communication can ultimately be traced by one hacking super genius or another. The signal on the other hand just needs Batman to see it, or use passive detection equipment to alert him that its lit.
      • 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.
    • 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.
  • In the Star Wars comic 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-spaning Holonet had been shattered at this point by the Sith, and Star Wars ships have always travelled at around the same speed as transmitted messages, anyway.


  • 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.
  • 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!

    • The aversion goes back farther than that: early Iron Man comics showed Stark using a rotary phone built into the suit.
      • Which is actually a bit of Reality Is Unrealistic - 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.


  • 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. Oh, and their "stick your head in the fireplace and hope someone is within earshot" method. Yes, they claim that magic interferes with electronics, but these are still terrible methods for people who can do things by magic.
    • Justified by the backwardness of wizard society, a rather large portion of which doesn't seem aware of the technological advances the Muggles have made over the past few centuries. They have adapted some Muggle technology, but only after putting their own twists on it. The general Wizarding population is apparently so unaware of Muggle technology that their premier newspaper, the Daily Prophet, feels obliged to explain to its readers what firearms are, in the expectation that a significant number of wizards have never even heard of them! In general, wizards actually kind of suck at anything that can't be achieved solely by magic, when compared to muggles.
    • Also, the use of said extremely difficult spell is justified because it is the only method that can't be intercepted and has only been taught in its speaking form to members of the Order of the Phoenix.
    • Also, the owl will always find the recipient, even if said recipient is halfway around the world and is actively in hiding
  • 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.
  • In Foundation, the second foundation communicate telepathically. It can't be detected, let alone intercepted, but it's also likely to result in miscommunication. The Foundation itself, however, seem to communicate primarily by telegrams, which are distributed by pneumatic tube.

Live Action TV

  • 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.
  • 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 90's, 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.
  • In the first episode of Sherlock, 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.


  • Example from the webcomic Yosh!: [1] [dead link]
  • Also used in El Goonish Shive, with Nanase's 'Fairy Form': It got lampshaded when it was first used, complete with a "you're aware that they have a lovely invention known as the 'Telephone' now, right?" line, but she's still using it every time she wants to get in touch with someone, and they've pretty much stopped commenting on it. 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, of course, replies, "It's not about money -- it's about having cool stuff to play with!"
    • Justified for Nanase. The 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.
  • 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 here.
  • Preparing for battle in A Girl and Her Fed—with lampshade and justification.

Western Animation

  • In The Tick (animation) episode "The Tick vs. Arthur's Bank Account," the Tick presents the mayor a Tick signal to flash onto a conveniently passing cloudbank when he is needed. The mayor promptly points out, "We have your phone number." The Tick's reply: "Also useful."
    • Of course, 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.
  • Daffy Duck takes this up while trying to get rich inventing on The Looney Tunes Show's "Peel of Fortune." He invents sliced bread, toilet paper, and a suitcase.