Technology Marches On

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
A 21st-century kid trapped in a 20th-century family.
Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45Mb in size.
#99 on the Evil Overlord List, c. 1996

So little Timmy is watching a show from a mere 15 years ago. In one episode, the characters are all excited because of a new computer game that will be released very soon. A computer game—on CD-ROM!

And Timmy says, "'CD-ROMs?" and, depending on his age, may respond with either "How obsolete", "What's a CD-ROM?" or "CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray, what's the difference anyway? I just call them discs!"

You see, Technology has Marched On, and things like CD-ROMs and VHS cassette tapes and so on have relatively recently become either so little-used as to be obscure, or obsolete altogether. This isn't Zeerust, which is about futuristic tech becoming old rather than about modern tech becoming old. The important qualifications of this trope are as follows:

  • Show takes place in modern or modern-ish times, usually the not-so-distant past.
  • Show makes reference to something, usually a form of technology, that is "The next big thing" or "state of the art", and indeed it was—at the time the show was made.
  • Said technology has since proved to be impractical, has become obsolete, is at least gradually on its way out, or it is just not in the spotlight anymore.
  • Cue Hilarious in Hindsight for those who remember when said tech was either very common or hyped as the next big thing.

As far as that last point is concerned, remember that there have been spectacular technological leaps in just the past twenty years—within the lifetimes of many (read: most) Tropers, in fact![1] For the most part, once a technology is invented, it tends to develop at warp speed. Remember, it took only about 65 years (1903-1969) to go from one rickety plane barely able to get off the ground to putting a man on the MOON. So this can lead to some odd moments for those who grew up watching certain things go from "absolutely essential" to "taking up space in your basement".

To clarify, an excellent example would be a scene in Friends where Chandler gleefully describes all the awesome features of his brand-new computer:

"Twelve megabytes of RAM, five hundred megabyte hard drive, with built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 bps!" [2]

There was a time when these specifications would be mockingly contrasted with a modern counterpart. However, technology has moved on so far and so fast that Chandler's computer is now almost unimaginably primitive; these days, an average cell phone is several times more powerful than that in every way, while fitting in the user's pocket.

Somewhat related are those moments, during not-so-old films, where you realize the entire plot could be resolved with something the world takes for granted today. (Cell Phones, perhaps.) A related and increasingly-common source of humor shows down-on-their-luck characters as only able to afford the kind of older technology found in thrift stores today. Additionally, shows set in the past will often Lampshade Hang this for humor.

A Long Runner might even have its earlier episodes/books/etc. have one level of technology, and later installments have more up-to-date technology with little or no Hand Wave at all.

Often turns a work into an Unintentional Period Piece. Can sometimes be a Trope Breaker: a change in cultural context that affects Tropes. A cousin of sorts to Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future. See Magic Floppy Disk for cases when the tech onscreen in a futuristic series was dated when the show was made.

See also Science Marches On, and some examples of Aluminum Christmas Trees. Long Runner Tech Marches On is when this happens In-Universe. Contrast I Want My Jetpack, where the writers overestimated the advance in technology.


Examples of Technology Marches On include:

Computer Size (Physical)[edit | hide | hide all]

Nobody, nobody saw the miniaturization of computers coming (with the possible exception of Richard Feynman—who was such a physics badass that he was talking about the true possibilities of nanotechnology in 1959). Interplanetary travel will surely be easy, but desktop computers? Impossible! Netbooks? Are you on drugs? PDAs and smartphones? Whatever you're smoking, pass it over here. Handheld calculators? Handheld CALCULATORS?

Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • 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. 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.
  • 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 1990. 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.
  • While not set in the future, Sailor Moon both averts and plays this straight with Sailor Mercury's Mini Super Computer that is about the size of a Nintendo DS (the series was made in the early 1990s). While it's shown to be quite powerful, its limits are never explored and the screen 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 extraordinary the device is.
  • The computers in Serial Experiments Lain (1998) still lack the flat screens commonplace today and computer hardware seems pretty normal for late 90's 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.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded 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. This led Roger Ebert to reflect, sadly, that he was "writing this review on a better computer than the one that got people to the moon."
      • The real irony of that scene? The filmmakers clearly didn't know how slide rules worked, either—the equations 13's crew were doing couldn't be solved using slide rules. Clearly, they simply wanted something that looked "old-school."
  • 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", Allen answers in the affirmative, adding, "My aunt has one." Cue laughter.
  • Lampshaded in that vein in Back to The Future when Marty tells his family-of-the-50s that he's not only seen an episode of The Honeymooners in a "rerun" ("What's a rerun?") but that he has 2 television sets ("No one has two television sets.")
  • 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?"

  • The computer system in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes would out of place and laughable due to its size it took up with smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers becoming common in colleges today. Some with up to a terabyte of hard drive. In case anyone is asking, it would take up to 2,560 terabytes or 2.5 petabytes to match the human brain, just to give an idea on why.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Arthur C. Clarke:
    • 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. Technology Marches On 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.
  • 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.
    • Other 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. Oh, yeah and it worked with either vacuum tubes or relays.
    • 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.
    • Somewhat averted 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.
    • Beautifully averted ... almost, by his short story The Last Question where 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 lemented that he 'almost' got it right in this story.
  • The young adult novel Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein 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.
    • 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 1970's, 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 think of the stuff 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 a radio/phone 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.
    • The onboard computer of the "Gay Deceiver" 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. One example, "Gaybounce" repeated three times is set as a command to transport the ship to a specific set of space/time/dimension coordinates. 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.
    • Note that the 60 MB is not the total memory of Gay but just the amount dedicated to storing news. Even so, that is a very tiny amount.
    • "If This Goes On—" has the hero mentioning a late 21st century autopilot built out of discrete components and without printed circuits.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Big blocky things with ticker tape spewing out. On starships. However, Eddie's ticker-tape enthusiasm could be a satire of the Trope, and of the assumption of the time that printed records would be needed forever because nobody would ever come up with the idea of storing information electronically. Remember, Eddie exists in the same universe as the Guide itself, a 1970s Wikipedia-equivalent.
    • Hitchhiker was always a parody of bureaucracies first and a speculative fiction story second. It was almost certainly intentionally inefficient.
      • Especially bearing in mind that the ticker-tape is fed directly into a bin without ever actually being read.
      • And given that Douglas Adams himself was apparently a cutting-edge technology buff...he reputedly had the first Apple Macintosh sold in the UK.
  • In Rescue Party, a story written by Arthur C. Clarke in 1946, highly-advanced aliens find an abandoned Earth. These aliens discover, amongst other things:

"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."

    • However the entire short story arguably subverts the "Marches On"-type Tropes. Don't forget how the Earth was abandoned, what the aliens found in the end, and the last line:

"Twenty years afterward, the remark didn't seem funny."

  • The early Kurt Vonnegut novel, Player Piano, feature EPICAC, an ENIAC parody 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.
    • And in the A.E. Van Vogt novel Star Cluster, they are even connected via antennae (radio?) to the otherwise room-sized server.
  • In the 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.
  • Averted by 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 The Internet Is for Porn. He wins at predictions.
    • An even earlier aversion is in E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops.
  • 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, 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 2010 with modern hard drives approaching 160 gigabits per cubic centimeter. However, word length does vary between computer designs and the book never does mention what word length is common in that setting...
  • 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.
  • 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 Astro Boy, 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 Efremov'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 the short story "The Aliens Who Knew, Like, 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. In 2010 a terabyte hard drive can fit in your pocket. If you want to go smaller and money is no object, a terabyte of thumbnail-sized 64 GB MicroSDXC cards fits in a stack 15x11x16 millimeters in size.
  • 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 Pendragon, 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


Music[edit | hide]

  • In the song 2112 by Rush, one of the lines says "Our great computers fill the hallowed halls". Granted, the song was written in 1976, but it does not seem to foresee smaller computers in the future at all.
    • But technology has been suppressed, until the "Elder Race" return. Besides, a large server farm can take up quite a bit of floor space even today.
    • Yeah, it says "computers", so if you get enough computers, no matter how small each is, they can still "fill the hallowed halls."
  • In the Weird Al song "White and Nerdy" the nerd sings, "My Myspace page is all totally pimped out/I got people begging for my top 8 spaces..." Not likely these days.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In the original Traveller starship design system, the cheapest computer weighed a ton and occupied 14 cubic meters. The most powerful and advanced computer weighed 26 tons. This all in a starfaring society at least a thousand years in the future.
    • This cannot be pointed out too many times, since it never seems to sink in: In Traveller, the "tons" used in starship designs are measures of volume, not mass. That "one ton" computer fills - including the desk it sits on and a chair for the user - about 2x2x3 metres. The really big ones run warships the size of modern aircraft carrier, or larger.
    • Personal Computers in Traveller often look outwardly like today's computers. Arguably this at least is justifiable as the outward design of the systems used today is reasonably user friendly. Furthermore there are other possible designs mentioned.


Video Game[edit | hide]

  • 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.
    • Though, it must have been invoking this deliberately, establishing the world's alternate history tech development as different from our own, or highlighting the Luddite nature of the characters involved, since the original games (even the original Japan-only GBA versions) were made recently enough that handheld phones and computers were common... obviously, since the game itself ran on one!
      • 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.


Web Comics[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • 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...)
    • "Could they be used for dating?" "Theoreticall yes, but!! the results would be so accurate as to eliminate the thrill of romantic entanglement". Computer dating didnt work out exactly like that...
  • 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.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • In fact lots of people knew from very early on that computers would become very small and very fast in a relatively short time; the famous Moore's Law was coined in 1965. What they didn't know was just what you could do with them. It was simply assumed that they'd remain as calculating machines for scientists, while the possibilities for ordinary workplace-use—let alone entertainment—weren't even dreamed of for many years.
    • By most people—but Space War was created in 1961 on a PDP-1 at MIT. Family members of the staff who visited the lab were supposedly entranced by the game.
  • Netbooks started a phase of "small, cheap, 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".


Computer Speed and Internet[edit | hide]

Nowadays, as in the Friends example above, computer processing speeds and Internet capabilities often fall victim to this:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • 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 Reality.


Film[edit | hide]

  • The modems in WarGames. Then again, most mainstream moviegoers didn't even know that you could communicate over long distances using computers back then—only just under thirty years ago!
  • Wonderful, wonderful example from the more recent hacker movie Hackers (it's from 1995). The characters are in awe of somebody's new, super-fast 28.8k modem.
  • The conspicuous absence of the Fate computer in the film adaption of V for Vendetta. 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.
  • The 1985 film Weird Science shows navigating through a computer to be something akin to a video game, complete with digital corridors. This is also true for Jurassic Park (see below).
  • Like Weird Science, Hackers has screen displays that look like fly-throughs of physical environments. In some scenes, the inner workings of the computer match the physical properties of the computer room. Also in the movie, a kid is put on trial for writing a virus that infects 1,504 "systems," probably using the term "system" to mean a network of computers and not just individual computers. With the movie being set in 1995 and the crime taking place in 1988, this is remarked as being incredible. Also, being in the stone age of Internet connectivity, one hacker is able to fight with another hacker to control robotic tape "pickers" at a TV station with one robotic arm stealing the tape from the other. This is all done through modems.
    • Word of God is that the 'consultant' hired to supply information on the technical side of things deliberately hoaxed the film makers just to see what they'd believe. This does mean that the attitudes of the characters reflect some real-world computer geeks.
  • 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 a Period Piece.
    • The novelisation cleverly averts this by changing the setting of this scene to an independent retailer, and noting that the equipment on offer is significantly behind the cutting edge.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • 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 Hyperion Cantos (1989) is a surprisingly accurate aversion of this. Not only does the Internet exist but it is enormously fast and something that people use constantly. In fact loss of their version of the Internet causes massive problems.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home (published 1985, although some was serialised earlier). The setting is a far future non-industrial society, but they have an Internet connection, used very occasionally for communication with other tribes. (The Net, called the "City of Mind", is run by orbital machines, independent of humans, which allow humans to use the network as long as they feed it data about themselves.) There is a piece in there that looks just like a BBS chat transcript.
  • William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer was one of the first works of Cyberpunk 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, as they pretty much died out with widespread Internet, and especially Web, adoption.
  • 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 the Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card, 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 Card didn't see more widespread uses for wireless.
  • 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 on a Muggle computer while she was home for the holidays.
    • No, she couldn't. The wizarding world is repeatedly stated to be kept secret from the Muggle world. Unless the Internet in the Harry Potter books allows one to Break the Fourth Wall, Google would either have no information on Flamel whatsoever, or come up with some completely unrelated Flamel. Communication, on the other hand...
      • The International Statute of Secrecy was established over three centuries after the birth of Nicolas Flamel, a real historical figure claimed to have made the Philosopher's Stone and become immortal, claims perfectly well known to (though considered false by) Muggle historians. However, since when researching Flamel Hermione assumes he was born more recently, it's plausible it wouldn't occur to her to try searching for Muggle information on the name.
    • Parodied by this Fan Art.
    • Justified at Hogwarts by the fact that electronics don't work there, so the Internet wouldn't have been useful. At home is a different story.
  • The Michael Crichton novel, Congo, at one point mentioned that some people thought that one day all of the world's computers would be connected. It also made reference to a counterargument that there might not be enough resources on earth to pull that off. About that...
  • 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.
    • Justified by the fact that the Empire was extremely stagnant at the time, and the Foundation was yet to overcome its inertia.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In You Suck by Christopher Moore, published in 2007, Craigs List [sic] is obscure enough that it's necessary to stop the action and explain what it is. The book also notes that Craigs List is limited to the Bay Area. This was probably dated when it was first published; although Craigslist was created in the Bay Area, that was in 1995, and it had branched out to 14 cities by 2001. May be justified if the characters talking weren't particularly tech-savvy though.
  • 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.
  • Stephen King's Dark Tower series, while spanning entire decades in the making, surprisingly averted this most of the time. Characters would identify their timeline's tech and most of Midworld's futuristic Lost Tech would be blurry enough to get a pass even after the obvious advances in our world. Not to mention that by the series' setting, centuries and even millenia have passed and the remaining tech is in various stages of disrepair. However, Wolves Of The Calla plays this straight when The Mole has a video conference. Modem tone sounds are described; the described future tech would require much more than simple 56 kilobaud bandwidth to work as shown.
  • A 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.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Current viewers of Seinfeld probably wonder why George doesn't just ebay that book he took into the bathroom with him at the bookstore. Then they'd probably think...what's a bookstore?
  • Clarissa Explains It All episode, NO T.V., the titular character attempts to outsmart her mother’s week banned of television by converting her computer into a TV set. For 1991, it was an extraordinary step since she knew the No TV rule didn’t apply to computers at the time since the ability to use the internet to watch videos was limited. However, with web-streaming sites like Hulu and Netfix, Clarissa would appear normal for those born in the 90s and beyond, thanks to any video devices with internet access can be used to watch TV shows. The only part she would be question is that cable wire she used, which today she would’ve just used Wi-Fi.

Music[edit | hide]

  • Generally averted by Weird Al Yankovic in his song "It's All About The Pentiums." Some of the jokes 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.
    • The screen issue in the song is an Averted Trope because TV companies have the same problem with TV sets as monitor manufacturers have - there's only so big you can make them. The ratio to human eyes and human perception remain the same. If the price for the bigger sets went down, they would have to introduce a room-size to be their top, money-making model, and living rooms are only so big. Getting back to Weird Al, he actually lampshades this in "Frank's 2000 inch TV". (A 2000 inch TV set would be 166 feet)
    • There's also the matter of putting the TV into the room, as doors are usually much smaller than the walls.
      • With regards to the RAM, the latest Intel architecture allows for up to 64GBs of RAM now. Granted, not quite a hundred, but as RAM chips are growing in capacity, 128GBs is likely not too far off.
  • 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".

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • 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 M Bs 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.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Inverted (!) in the Hollywood Hacking simulator Uplink, which takes place in 2010 and where 60 Ghz is considered slow. In Real Life late 2010 a quad-core 3 Gig is seen as solid.
    • That one could be accidental, a result of the industry standard changing from high-power single-core machines to multicore machines whose cores are individually slower but enable multiple tasks to run at once. Even so, 60 GHz is still FAR more powerful than anything a multicore CPU today can offer. Uplink also did have some prediction of parallelism - one of the computers you can buy has 8 (or 16?) CPU sockets but only supports slower processors, while most high end ones have 3 or 4.
  • In the third Kyrandia game, 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. Do we have virtual reality headgear sets yet? 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.
  • 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.
    • 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: EN 12-82, 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.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

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.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • 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 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. This is a parody of this trope, since the writers would have been well aware that computers would have doubled in speed by about halfway through 1975.
  • In The Simpsons episode "You Only Move Twice," which 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. On the episode's DVD commentary, Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein says this is one of the most dated jokes they've ever done.
    • In "Half-Decent Proposal" (2002), nerd 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.
  • Lampshaded to hilarious effect in Megas XLR, with the 50s era Area 50 robot's boast "There is no way you can defeat the superior power of my massive 56 Kilobyte processor!" It appears someone may not have done the research. Processor speed is measured in Kilohertz. Kilobyte refers to memory capacity. The only way it's related to speed is if a task is too big to fit entirely into main memory and the processor has to keep "swapping" things in and out of slow mass storage.
  • On an episode of the cartoon Birdz, Eddie Storkowitz has to explain e-mail to his friends. In 1998.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • NASA still uses old fashioned DOS systems and computer chips with a few hundred megabytes of RAM for their spacecraft. Huh.
    • 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.
  • Similarly, nuclear power stations take a long time to update their controls software. The Darlington plant near Toronto Ontario only recently (within the past 5 years) networked all computerized controls in the plant. 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.
    • This Video explains about the floopy disks made in 1970s until mid-1990s were actually were still functional, even by today's standards when word out that the US military were still using such disks.
  • 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.
  • In the early 1990's 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.
  • 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?

Storage Devices[edit | hide]

Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • People use floppy disks all the time in 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 2000's 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. Now, in 2011, Betamax machines are considered collectors' items, and it's already become difficult to find one in working order (much less one of the better ones from the format's early-1980s peak). However, VHS machines have not only not disappeared completely, they're still available new (as part of optical combo decks), and as in the show, they're a fixture at second-hand shops. It helps that VHS's wild popularity and Long Runner status (it's been available since 1977) means that there's huge libraries of tapes still in use.
  • 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.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • Drunkard's Walk has a particularly amusing example. In a segment written in circa 2000, a character from the anime Bubblegum Crisis in 2036 marvels at an incredibly tiny computer with storage sufficient to hold several thousand digitized songs—in other words, the capacity of a typical iPod circa 2012. The author says in his concordance for the series, "Go ahead -- laugh at me", but it's arguably excusable, given when the scene was written and Bubblegum Crisis's own mix of this trope and Schizo-Tech.


Film[edit | hide]

  • It's a little strange seeing Timmy and Lex flip out at the sight of the CD-ROM inside the Jeeps in Jurassic Park.
  • According to Back to The Future part II, Laserdiscs 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. (Annoyingly, everybody refers to it as a DVD.) 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 Twenty Minutes Into the Future 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.
    • As explained in the Tennis Shoes explained, to create a storage media to match the human brain, the data would take 2.5 Petabyes, which mean the title character would still be able to keep his long-term and add the data he must carry.
    • Speaking of which, the idea of 320 GB meant have sound serious for 1995, though present computers having a 1 TB of memory is the norm.
    • The way the data is stored into Johnny’s mind would’ve been replaced with a USB port rather than a traditional Phone connector.
  • Peter's floppy disc with the virus in Office Space.
  • 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?"
  • In the 1994 film Airheads, Chazz and his band break into a radio station to play their demo tape on air. But the player eats their tape, which also catches fire. Panicking, they try to flee only to realize the police have shown up, and they spend the movie negotiating with the police to find Chazz's girlfriend, Kayla, who has the only other copy of their demo. Imagine how much simpler things could have been if their demo was on an iPod, or available online...
  • 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 a 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. Cue a room full of people frantically scanning encyclopedias onto microfilm.
  • RoboCop predicted several pieces of technology that would become mainstays in later years (notably, the fact that VHS would be succeeded by videodiscs like DVD, and Dick Jones' PDA-like tracking device). However, it also made a point of showing 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 Twenty 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".
  • Spaceballs: Lord Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz discuss on a way to track down the heroes with instant VHS technology. Granted the film was done in 1987 and takes place in the future, but with VHS technology being discounted in 2006 and with instant video on demand sites like Hulu becoming the norm… it seems ridiculous.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Timothy Zahn's 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.
  • 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.
  • Notably averted (to date) by Iain Banks in Consider Phlebas: the Mind awaiting rescue amuses itself by calculating its data storage capacity, and gets up to a thousand yottabytes before giving up the metaphor because its capacity is too many thousands of times greater than that (as of 2010, the entire internet is estimated at half a thousandth yottabyte).
  • 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.
  • 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 Twenties). 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.
  • 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 Odyssey 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.
    • Actually, the storage device of the future was a 1 petabyte data block, which could hold 1000 terabytes. The character explaining the device that a petabyte is "where [they] start," implying that it is the equivalent of a 2GB memory drive.
      • Where can you still get a 2GB memory drive?

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • 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 Trope 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 freqeuntly 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.
  • Babylon 5 (written in 1994-99, happens in 2257-62) routinely shows reports being passed around on paper. This was supposed to be more realistic than Star Trek, in which paper has disappeared from common use. To a 2009 viewer, it can be quite jarring.
    • Not even remotely jarring for anyone in the military. Even in 2011, paper is still the preferred medium for any information that you might need to access quickly while people are shooting at you. It never runs out of power, you can still use it after spilling your coffee on it, and a bullet hole through it only obliterates a small part of the text, instead of all of it.
    • Lampshaded in at least 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.'
      • Not to mention newspapers in use by numerous characters. A decade later, and print journalism is a dying medium. Whoops.
  • 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 aversion (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 Eighties.
  • 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. The former two avert this trope as they are still quite high-end, while the latter one is fairly low-end today.
  • 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 ballgame 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".
  • In a 1980 episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, 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.))
  • 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.


Music[edit | hide]

  • No Aphrodisiac by the Whitlams (released 1997) contains the opening lyric 'A letter to you on a cassette...' Still a great song though.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • 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 that computers from 300 years into the future would be over a quattuordecillion and a half times better, computers reaching 100 times better in just over 13 years.).


Theater[edit | hide]

  • 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.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, when 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).
    • Note: that game is set in the 1960s.
  • 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 1980's 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.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • 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?
    • In "I Dated a Robot" the people at KidNappster have Lucy Liu's personality copied onto a floppy disk, which they use to create evil duplicates of her. Of course this also might be Rule of Funny. It's pointed out in the DVD Commentary if you want to take a look.
    • Though Word of God is that because the world has ended before, technology is a little...funky.
    • Played with in another episode, "Mother's Day", when Mom gathers all robots together and declares she won't be around forever...When a cassette player goes "Oh, shush."
  • For some reason, any attempts to update the Transformers 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. Evidently, his underlings aren't as picky as he is.
    • This is parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch where Soundwave is sent to infiltrate a science lab. He disguises himself as a boom box; the scientists are quick to laugh at the out of date equipment. Soundwave is depressed and the Decepticons later find him selling himself on eBay.
    • An issue of the Marvel comic takes the cake, though, by ending with Optimus Prime's mind being copied onto a floppy disk.
  • 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.

  • Recess: Gretchen's PDA was serious for the late 1990s. Today, she would have something like an iPad or a smartphone, which children having them is all too common.
  • In the 1980s Animated series of Transformers, Soundwave takes the form of a boom-box while his minions took on the form of cassettes, which were still popular in 1980s since CDs were still new and expensive. Yet, this transformation didn’t happen in the Michel Bay adaptations of the work, which was reasonable.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • A common complaint about "obsolete computer entities we still use" is the floppy disk icon for saving. A lot of people probably don't even know what it is now.
    • Funnily enough, it feels like optical disks are going this route, due to the cheapness of external hard disks and the capacity of thumb drives. When was the last time someone asked you to burn them a CD/DVD for data?
      • If you work in the US Department of Defense, probably last week.[3]
    • Averted in some open source programs, which now use an icon of an arrow pointing down at a hard drive. As far as we know, these aren't going anywhere.
      • Inverted with Emacs, which uses an icon of an arrow pointing down at a file cabinet.
      • Similarly, Lotus SmartSuite, last updated in 2002, uses an icon of an arrow pointing into a file folder. Naturally, in its successor Symphony, Lotus has replaced that icon with... a floppy disk.
    • Computer Science has a trend on this:
      • Hard Disks are usually represented as a tall cylinder on disk activity LE Ds. There haven't been hard disks shaped like this in decades. Similarly, some logical HDD addressing schemes still use cylinders, heads and sectors.
      • Databases are still represented by the tall cylinder as well, referencing the old HDD symbol.
      • Eventually, hard disks themselves will be this trope, as Solid-State Drives are making headway.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • Around the same time the leading Soviet electronics magazine, "The Radio", discussed recording mechanical TV programs on the blank phonograph disks or celluloid tape, with sound.
      • Baird made it work, the Soviets AFAIK didn't.
  • In 1956, this was the modern day equivalent of a flash drive.
  • 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, and people often refer to recorded video as footage even if its storage medium is not measured in feet.
    • 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 (i.e. celluloid film) have mostly been replaced by digital ink and paint.
  • Even with digital players, as of 2017, you can still find companies that still make audio cassette. When National Audio Company, produced Awesome Mix Vol. 1 on cassette, they saw a 20 percent increase in audio sale in 2015. You can still buy blank cassettes and players either in stores or online, Amazon. There are even online retail stores that specializes in music by indie artists. They're also common among those interested in audiobooks since you can pick on on a certain spot where they left off and aren't easily hacked into.

Computer Interface[edit | hide]

Old 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 90's.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The bizarre 3D interface in Jurassic Park that has been mentioned in passing above is actually a subversion, as it was a real file-browsing tool made for a custom UNIX distro that shipped with Silicon Graphics workstations. Its presence on the security system is explained, too—the machine running it (or at least managing it) is sitting under Nedry's desk, and it's an SGI IRIS Crimson, which will in fact run fsn.
    • "Spared no expense!"


Literature[edit | hide]

  • 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 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.
    • A computer with 1 1/2 times as many circuits as there are neurons in the human brain is going to be big. Maybe in 20 or 30 years time it will seem laughable, but by today's standards this is about right.
  • Stanislaw 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.


Real-Life[edit | hide]

  • 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; CLIs in the right hands can give GUIs a run for their money, even beating them hands-down at certain tasks - like, say, making a text file listing everything in a given directory, or batching a hundred repetitive jobs into one single instruction.
  • Can be averted/subverted in the case of OS's, due to their longer adaptation rate over technological improvements.
    • Averted in the case of Mac OS X, even though there were some noticeable GUI changes over the years, the first cut of the OS (10 years ago) doesn't seem that bad compared to the current version.
    • Also averted with Windows XP, which, over ten years after its initial release, is still one of the most used operating systems in the world. This is still true even though mainline support has been discontinued.

"Check Out Life Before Cell Phones"[edit | hide]

The widely-available Cell Phone is a major Trope Breaker, leading to many clumsy explanations for why cell phones don't work in particular circumstances. And far fewer characters get murdered in a phone booth these days, for instance.

The mobile phone is actually Older Than You Think, though, especially in the form of a "car phone." While expensive and limited in many ways, commercially-available car phone technology dates back to the late 1940s, often with radio used to contact an operator, who then would patch the call into the regular phone system. An episode of the 1950s TV series Superman shows editor Perry White using the MTS radiotelephone in his car to call his office.

Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded on Detective Conan, when Conan realizes something was amiss that a famous novelist is still writing plots that have been outmoded thanks to just about everybody and their brother having cell phones. It turned out that the said novelist's brother locked him into an attic and forced him to go on writing.
  • In the final arc of the Patlabor manga (written in the late '80s - early '90s, set in the late '90s - early 2000s) the bad guys attack the police station where the protagonists are stationed during a hurricane to force a Griffon - Ingram match. To prevent anybody from interfering, they blow up the bridges leading to the station and wreck any landline phones and radios they can find (including a car phone) so the protagonists can't call for help. Considering how common cell phones were in the early 2000s... Yeah.
    • To be fair, cutting the landlines could isolate the cellphone towers in the area, depending on how the system was designed. People in the affected are would still be able to communicate with each other, but not with the rest of Tokyo.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and by extension Robotech, have a trash-can-sized phone-bot walking around asking for Hikaru Ichijyo/Rick Hunter. Cell phones make that completely unnecessary.
    • Most cell phones probably don't have coverage inside the belly of a retrofitted alien warship that is currently somewhere out near the orbit of Neptune. Macross can also get a pass for having a history that diverges from ours beginning with a prolonged global war that only ends after the catastrophic impact of said warship in 1999. Technological innovation has simply gone in different directions.
  • In Sailor Moon, for something that is from the future, Luna-P is extremely dated in her (its?) function as a communication device. The sound quality is absolutely awful, and Sailor Pluto is barely recognisable on the screen. Could be excusable however seeing as how she's calling through time.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • There was a time when Iron Man, maker and wearer of a flying super-strong suit of armor, had a rotary phone [dead link] built into his armor. To be fair, although Tony Stark being a genius inventor might explain a tiny portable telephone, there was no way, at the time, that it wouldn't have looked like a Star Trek ripoff. So a phone built into his chest complete with dial and cord must seemed like a good compromise. It just looks very odd now; they could at least have given him a throat-mic.
  • Batman and Robin have been known to use a hotline to Commissioner Gordon. One example is an actual phone, cord and everything, in the glove compartment of the Batmobile. Also, they've used radios to talk to each other, but it was something hidden in their belts.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • The fan fiction "The Prince" is an alternate retelling of the story of Jesus Christ from the New Testament set in the Midwest USA and in the present day. It was originally written in the year 2000. In this fanfic, the character Lucas has a cell phone. Back in 2000, a 13 year old in the 8th grade was unlikely to have a cell phone- so the author included this to show that Lucas was the most scientific, intellectual, and techno-savvy of all of Joshua Christopher's friends. Nowadays, this would not work so well, since many kids that age do have cell phones. Author would have to have Lucas have at least an iPad in order to show his nerdiness.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Soylent Green is set in 2022, and yet Thorn is forced to rely on police call boxes, opposed to a radio or a cell.
  • In Local Hero, the loss of his beeper is enough to completely isolate the protagonist from the outside world.
  • Terry Pratchett has pointed out that 2001: A Space Odyssey has an odd combination of this trope and I Want My Jetpack. Exhibit A: the video phone booth early in the movie. Not only are video phones rare today, very few people use payphones today because of cell phones. One may argue that since Floyd is In Space he might need a phone booth rather than a cell phone to complete his call. However, the space station had definite hotel and airport sections, which even today would have been set up for wi-fi, at least. It's still odd that Floyd used a dedicated booth rather than use a cell phone or a laptop for a video call.
    • Interestingly, video phones (which were fielded not long after 2001 was released) pretty much flopped and you'd be hard pressed to find one today as a land-line device. On the other hand, many cell phones have a video conferencing camera and so do many laptops, and they're pretty much ubiquitous on tablets. Those laptops without one can have an external one installed with little more than a cable being plugged in.
  • In Back to The Future II, Doc and Marty use walkie-talkies with ridiculously long range. Had they been to the real 2015, they could've gotten cell phones. (On the other hand, they wouldn't have gotten a lot of cell phone service in 1955.)
    • Could be Fridge Brilliance, if two characters surrounded by technologies beyond their experience opted to go for what's familiar when they had the chance.
  • Zoolander (2001) is an odd half-example. The joke is that Derek's cell phone is teeny-tiny, less than an inch long, again in reference to his pampered lifestyle and expensive tastes. But it's still a black, only-slightly-flattened brick, with its little antenna. It failed to anticipate that the advent of smart phones would stop dead the trend they were exaggerating.
  • In Richard Lester's 1965 Swinging London movie The Knack, a pompous guy is using a limo phone. Tom, a rather mad young man, holds up a potted plant and taps at the window. When the guy rolls it down, Tom tells him "Pardon me, sir, you're wanted on the other fern."
  • In A Clockwork Orange, Alex' gang manages to force entry in their victim's houses with the excuse that there was an accident and they have to use the phone.
  • Tron: Legacy lampshades this with Allen Bradley telling Sam Flynn that he got a message on his pager from Kevin Flynn. Sam seems pretty much as surprised that Allen still has a functional pager as he is that the message came from his father, who disappeared over twenty years ago.
  • In Time Bandits Evil asks Robert to explain "subscriber trunk dialing", which is a means of direct dialing a long distance number (rather than going through an operator), which is now largely obsolete now that every call is direct dialed.
  • The Intrepid Reporter heroine of the 1957 Big Creepy-Crawlies film Beginning of the End has a car phone. Interestingly, it's treated in a matter-of-fact way, not like an unusual new technology that has to be explained to the audience.
  • The famous "Birth" sketch (also known as "The Machine that goes Ping") from The Meaning of Life was, at the time, a cutting satire on what was seen as unnecessary spending on medical equipment. Nowadays, anyone who's seen a modern medical drama, with the surgeons surrounded by massive banks of electronic equipment, may wonder what all the fuss is about—to the point that operating without such equipment nowadays would be seen as unusual and dangerous. Other parts of the sketch though remain relevant.
    • However, this YouTube clip is widely circulated among pregnant women, as much of that technology in obstetrics (particularly the Continuous External Fetal Monitor, analogized to "The Machine That Goes Ping") has been discredited as ineffective and even harmful to the normal process of birth. For example, routine use of the CEFM has been proven to increase C-Section rates WITHOUT actually improving outcomes for infants or mothers, due to an enormously high rate of false positives for "fetal distress."
  • The rapid evolution of the cell phone is given a slight nod in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Among the things that Gordon Gecko gets back once he leaves prison is his (formerly) extravagant and top-of-the-line brick-sized cell phone.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • For all of Gibson's eerie prescience in Neuromancer, he didn't foresee the mass saturation of cellphones.
  • Averted by Robert A. Heinlein, who not only predicted ubiquitous wireless pocket phones in Space Cadet (1948), but also anticipated some disadvantages of being in constant reach by phone.
  • The early Dragonriders of Pern novels fall into this (and most of the other subtropes on this page, for that matter) hard.
    • Though they later started to use fire lizards as messengers, effectively creating a makeshift SMS network.
  • Cujo. The mother and son could have called animal control and gotten out of the car in an hour if they had a cellphone. Instead, they are trapped for a couple of days.
  • In the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, there was almost always a scene of someone scrambling to find a pay phone to call for help. In the newest books, they just zip off text messages. It makes trying to get a kid interested in the old books difficult when they keep asking "what's a payphone?"
  • Deliberately invoked in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Business Unusual, written in 1997 but set in 1989. Mel's dad sees his G1 mobile phone the size of a brick as a bit of a status symbol (he's a businessman involved with computers). The Doctor is not impressed.
  • The claim the parents won't believe their children that Agatha Trunchbull gives in Matilda would fall on deaf ears since having a smartphone and internet access is common, even for primary school students.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Ditto for Agent 86's Shoe Phone in Get Smart, which also has a dialing disc and is portrayed as an outburst of Gadgeteer Genius awesome, but which comes across nowadays as a very goofy cell phone.
  • The cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003, would have been saved from many a scrape if they'd just had cellphones. Quite a few episodes use a character being in peril and unable to contact Buffy as a plot device. This wasn't a big deal in the earlier seasons, but the show hit it big just as cellphones were starting to become mainstream, so after a few years it began to seem rather odd, especially since the cast was full of teenagers (later, young adults), the group most likely to carry a cellphone. This was lampshaded at the start of the final season (in September 2002) when Buffy gives her sister Dawn "a weapon" to help protect herself, which turns out to be a cellphone. From then on most of the cast had cellphones - although ironically, they hardly ever needed to use them, since that season also saw every single character move into Buffy's house.
  • The first Red Dwarf novel from 1989 has Rimmer reminding Z-Shift to "stay by a 'phone" in case of emergencies and Petrovich trying to get through to Rimmer for "over an hour" because Rimmer isn't answering a pager-like device.
  • The first episode of the '60s series The Prisoner uses a cordless phone as an eerie, impossible-seeming device that the protagonist does a double take at. Though it does still have an odd Zeerust design so nowadays it can seem like that's what he's noticing.
  • The first season of Due South (1994) had Fraser track a drug dealer by triangulating the signals from the cell phone towers the dealer's cell phone was using. The script establishes Fraser's solution as innovative and clever, and has Fraser's partner loudly doubt that it will work. Cell phones weren't very common in 1994, and it wasn't common knowledge that they even could be tracked. Today, it's routinely done; and using triangulation is neither a quaint relic (Fraser introduces the idea as "the way we used to track caribou up north") nor especially obscure. In fact many modern Smart Phones can use the same technique as a local GPS equivalent.
  • One of the reasons the 1960s Batman show used the Bat-phone far more than the more well-known Bat-signal was because it was supposed to be cool that Batman would have a phone in his car and would let the show seem more high-tech. More recent comic storylines even lampshaded this, with Commissioner Gordon asking if he could just have Batman's cell phone number instead of having to turn on the Bat-signal every time he needed help.
  • The idea of a car phone was seen as a big deal in the 80s and 90s and some sitcoms would reference them as a sign of status. One example off the top of my head was an episode of Ellen, where she and her friends are in a limo for some reason. One of the characters wants to call someone to brag that she's calling from a limo, and another character retorts "Do you think Steven Spielberg calls his friends saying "Guess where I'm calling from!"
  • Seinfeld, in addition to the above mentioned car phone, had an episode where George became frustrated with a man who was having a long conversation on a toll phone because he needed to call his girlfriend to update her on the change of plans.
    • Not to mention episodes like the parking lot episode, although a classic, most of its complications just would not happen in a world where everybody has a cell phone.
    • Really, there are many farcical plotlines on the show based on botched connections, missed encounters, lack of communication, etc. that would have been avoided with cell phones. Would have made for some very short and unfunny episodes!
  • The "cutting-edge" technology seen in Miami Vice is quite funny to look at in retrospect. Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs have to pose as undercover drug dealers for the purposes of their job, and subsequently have access to all the latest tools and technology. The series establishes this early on in the third episode, with a scene shot solely to emphasize the fact that Crockett has a car phone (and the receiver looks like a giant brick).
  • The idea of the swingin' bachelor's "little black book" of women to call up was referenced in many 80s and 90s sitcoms, but this has been made obsolete by cell phone "contact lists". Which leaves the 2004 film Little Black Book with something of an Artifact Title for younger viewers, as the eponymous item is a PDA, not an actual booklet.
  • A good one from The West Wing: Bartlet sees Leo after not being able to get in touch with him when he needed him, and does a little sarcastic speech about how "if only there was some sort of telephonic device with a personalized number we could call... perhaps it would look something like this, Mr. Moto"—he says, pulling Leo's pager off his belt.
    • Though this was also because Leo was old; most of the staff used and were comfortable with cell phones from the pilot onward, even in the flashbacks.
  • Read All About It had a bulky communicator about the size of a small beverage cooler that sends text messages in 1983. It's redeemed by its extraordinary range that not only reaches vast instances without the need of a cell network, but also can communicate into different time periods, perfect when you've been thrown centuries into the past via accidental Time Travel.
  • In Community episode Pascal's Triangle Revisited Britta points out they no longer live in a Jane Austen novel and can use cell phones to stay in touch over the summer.
  • Ghostwriter was about a group of kids who solved mysteries with the help of a ghost who could communicate with them by rearranging letters. Distance was no issue and the kids could write messages to each other without being in the same place. A cellphone could have produced many of the same results.
  • Rescue 911's cases were all taken from The Eighties and The Nineties, and a lot could have been made much easier with cell phones. however; during that timeframe, cell phones were expensive, bulky, and all around uncommon.
    • One episode shows a woman noticing people breaking into her house run to call 911. She at first grabs the rotary phone (still actually existed in the 90s!) but decides it takes too long, before going to the digital phone.
    • Another episode about a five year old girl finding her house empty would seem like an Idiot Plot today. What normally happened was that she rode the bus to another school where her mom would pick her up. However; instead that day, her friend's parents gave her a ride home, and word didn't make it to her mother, who was at the other school. Nowadays; her friend's parents would surely have called her mom's cell phone if they were going to drive her home. Or, if she came home and found it empty, she should have thought to call her mom's cell phone to tell her she was home.
  • Justified in the Battlestar Galactica reboot in that the Cylons were able to infiltrate networked systems, like cell phone networks, so the Galactica relied on very old tech, such as phones which are the size of a brick and powered by the human voice, so that there was no possibilty of being spied upon.
  • Star Trek's communicators look a lot like flip-up cellphones.
  • Zack in Saved by the Bell had a cellphone in High School in 1991-1992. This was/is hilariously funny, the intended joke being that this kid's such a successful High School Hustler that he's able to invest in a tool then associated with mid-to-high-level executives. Now it's the size of the thing that's the joke.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Sheeler & Sheeler's 1990 parody of "Convoy", "Car Phone", is doubly dated: not only does it praise a type of phone which is long since obsolete, but it describes people freely using them while driving—even to call the highway patrol and report a drunk driver—without any suspicion that doing so will soon be illegal.
  • ABBA's single of Ring Ring talks about what one must wait at home for an important phone, before cell-phones were even possblie in the real world as they were seen in fiction at the time... like in that show with such design.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Dick Tracy had his wrist communicators for decades before cell phones starting in the 1940s. Furthermore, they are upgraded about every twenty years for additional functions.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in one of the examples in the 5th edition Champions genre book. A villain cuts the phone lines to isolate the bank he's robbing, and everyone trapped by his mooks immediately goes for their cell phones.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Deus Ex: The game is set in the 2050s, but pay phones are still seen in in public. And this in the same world that has infolinks, which are pretty much radios built into your head. On the other hand, it's a Dystopia setting, and the large corporations and governments in the game are very secretive with their technology. Conceivably, they are attempting to deprive their citizens and employees of devices like cell phones in order to better subjugate them.
    • Possibly in reference to this, the prequel Human Revolution still has payphones scattered around Detroit, albeit high tech ones. This game came out in 2011.
  • Grand Theft Auto II, which is set in Twenty Minutes Into the Future, resorts to using phone booths as points where the player receives missions (as is in earlier GTA games). Being a game that incorporates Zeerust aesthetics, though, this bit of detail can be forgiven as being a stylistic choice.
    • Pay phones and pagers are the only communication devices used by the player in Grand Theft Auto III, a game set as late as 2001. While it's lampshaded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that the main character of GTA III is implied to be a man of few words, it doesn't fully explain how silent characters from both the first Grand Theft Auto Classic (set in the late 1990s) and Grand Theft Auto London (set in the 1960s) also receive calls on mobile phones or walkie-talkies. Grand Theft Auto Advance (set a year before GTA III) is a similar offender.
  • L.A. Noire requires the player to call up dispatch on various phones, often using the witness or suspect's house phone without asking permission, in order to research names and information. The speed with which the clerk finds such information matches the speed of a Google search, however.
  • Clue Finders has a videophone - in the days before cell phones.


Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • A 90s episode of Arthur had Muffy, the rich girl, the only character who had access to a cell phone. There was another episode from the same decade that had Arthur lost downtown, and unable to reach home since he had no money for a pay phone (and apparently didn't know how to call collect). Recent episodes of course have everyone with a cell.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Lard of the Dance", new student Alex Whitney has a cell phone; it serves as an indicator of how mature and grown-up she is, or at least is attempting to act.
    • An earlier episode had Bart given one only because he was Krusty's assistant. If the episode aired today the joke of an elementary school student answering a phone in class wouldn't be as funny.
  • One of the pre-cancellation episodes of Family Guy aired in 2000 - "Brian Wallows as Peter Swallows" - has Brian singing a song to a shut-in about all the modern things she's missed over the last 40 years. One of the things he sings about is that a guy with a cel phone would make everyone think "that guy's life must rule!".


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • This was mentioned in a true-crime documentary about an unsolved homicide of a taxi driver near Edinburgh in 1983. Two teenage witnesses who saw the crime in progress cycled two miles to a nearby hotel to get to a telephone. One of the original case detectives observed that had mobile telephones been common then the police would have been alerted much sooner and the perpetrator perhaps would've been caught.
  • Many people today still don't wholly understand how profound the consequences of the cell phone age are. For example, lots of people still routinely get outraged to see homeless people with cell phones, thinking that they're enjoying an undeserved luxury, without stopping to notice how cheap prepaid cell phone service is these days, or more importantly, how valuable a phone can be to a homeless person. Cell phones mean that the homeless can now leave callback numbers for interviews or odd jobs, dial 911 anywhere they are, call their family and friends, etc. There are actually charities that accept used cell phones as donations and give them to the homeless.
    • Not to mention programs like SafeLink, which provide free cell phone service to anyone on federal aid (Medicaid, food stamps, and the like) or below the poverty line.
    • This point is raised in Polly Toynbee's book Hard Work, about minimum wage jobs in the UK, in relation to unemployed people having mobile phones. She points out that if you're looking for work you need to have access to your phone at all times: one missed call from an employment agency and a potential job opportunity is lost.
    • Along these lines, in some very poor developing countries, cell phones are more ubiquitous than most "Westerners" would imagine, because it has been cheaper to set up cell towers than to finish the extremely arduous task of running additional landlines to remote or poorly-maintained areas.
  • Wristwatches are falling out of style these days, as most people simply check the display on their phones. But didn't wristwatches replace such pocket watches in the first place?
    • The 6th generation iPod Nano capitalizes on its small, square formfactor with a clip that accessory makers make wristbands for it so said iPod can become a watch. Not to mention there are dedicated wristwatches with cell phone functions like Dick Tracy, made practical through bluetooth tech.
    • It is still useful in areas where cellphones and other similar devices are prohibited.
  • For the most part the actual telephone dial became obsolete long before you were born, but the term 'dialing' survives.
    • Nor do you hang or place the phone on a cradle anymore to disconnect - you press a button. It's still called "hanging up", though.
    • The term "hanging up" for that matter. Hanging a receiver on a hook (instead of putting it unto the cradle) died even earlier that the rotary dial, except for a certain wall-mounted phones, which still have a specially designed cradle, rather than an exposed hook, and maybe certain pay phones.
  • While still around, highway call boxes are starting to fade out due to the proliferation of cellphones.
  • In the same vein, pay phones have disappeared from some areas but still remain in others. In some areas, the government has stepped in to prevent payphones from being taken out of service because they're still commonly used by the poor. It might also be cheaper to keep a payphone in operation than to erect a cellphone tower in a remote location where few people would use the cell service.
    • In many places, especially in railway stations and airports, phone booths have been replaced by public terminals, that still function as payphones if you really need one, but their main function is to allow Internet access for tourists without laptops.
  • In the past in North America, apartment buildings were equipped with buzzers that were basically columns of buttons; each button was hard-wired to a console in one of the apartments, where tenants would be advised of visitors by a literal buzz coming from the console. As buildings became larger (and as tenants balked at the ugly plastic consoles that disfigured their walls), a new system was devised whereby the buzzer on the main floor was instead connected to a telephone line and would send the buzz instead directly to the tenant's telephone. Unfortunately, tenants don't always have landlines, so the buzzer would often be connected to a cellphone number - which could be both expensive and insecure if the tenant were out of town or had an out-of-town cellphone number. This is why landlords often specify that tenants must have landline phones. (Apartment buildings outside of North America may still have the old style of buzzer due not just to the above problems but due to the fact that in many countries it can take months to get a landline telephone installed.)
  • Another interesting note is how shocked most Westerners are when they realize how popular cell phones are in the developing world. A common phrase from people who spend a summer "building schools in Africa" is how surprised they were to see "a man walk out of a mud house chatting on his cell phone." In actuality, in a country where landlines are uncommon and expensive to bring to rural communities, a cell phone is the best way to conduct business, even if that business is selling mangoes at the side of the road (call ahead to find out where the bus stops are). What's more, it's usually much cheaper for the local phone company to put up one cellphone tower for a village than to string miles of telephone line to reach every house. More info here and here.
  • It's becoming more and more common for people to eschew knocking on doors in favor of calling the person's cell phone.
    • This can be a safety thing. If a person is underage, elderly, or disabled getting a knock on a door can be scary. It's a gamble between whether they should even look out the window (if there even is one) or just sit very quietly and hope the knocker goes away. A call telling them that so-and-so is coming over, or a call that so-and-so is sitting in the driveway gives a sense of peace and safety.
      • Wouldn't that be solved by calling out who you are before you knock?
      • If the resident could hear the voice (and understand what the person is saying) through the door. The disabled or elderly might not be able to. A knock carries much better than a voice.
  • Remember those strange chimes that used to be heard in department stores? Those chimes were actually used to page departments in the store (instead of using a PA system), though they are rarely used today. Sometimes those are used as Stock Sound Effects, such as the "perfume department" scene in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Shanghaied".
  • In 2000, the police department in Ontario, California, disciplined two of its officers for using their digital pagers to send personal text messages, some of which were sexually explicit, in violation of department policy. Since the department had obtained the messages by asking the pager company for transcripts to see (ostensibly) if the officers needed a higher character limit than the city had contracted for, the officers took the city to court, arguing their privacy rights had been violated. Ten years later, it had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, by which time no one was using digital pagers anymore. Appropriately, the court's unanimous ruling in the city's favor declined to set what might have been a precedent in its first-ever case involving privacy in personal electronic communications technology, citing the fluctuating state of the technology involved.


Thrift Store Tech[edit | hide]

Misc.[edit | hide]

  • There have been a few shows set in the far future which feature static-y TVs for added colour (Cowboy Bebop, for example). However, since digital television is replacing all forms of analog TV, the only way you could have old-style static or bad reception on future TVs is if you intentionally put it in. Bad reception does happen on digital TV, but differently; instead of static, you get garbled images and sound like a badly scratched, worn out DVD.
  • Somewhat related to the analogue transmission idea is the ubiquity of curved CRT screens in the future. A notable example is 2010: The Year We Made Contact, which used small CRTs everywhere on the sets for the Discovery. (This is especially ironic as Stanley Kubrick used rear-projection to accomplish the illusion of flatscreen monitors for the same ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
    • Similarly, the producers of Babylon 5 tried to hide their use of CRT monitors by embedding the screens in bulky, futuristic looking equipment with lots of lights and buttons. Unfortunately you can still see that the screens are curved, like the screens of CRT monitors in the early-mid 1990's.
    • Earth: Final Conflict, produced in the late 20th century and set in the late 2010's/early 2020's, also used bulky CRT monitors in government buildings, corporate offices, and the Taelon Embassy, despite flat screens becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous late in the show's run. Watching Earth: Final Conflict in 2010 was jarring for this viewer, as all the CRT monitors broke the otherwise excellent illusion of the show's near-future setting. While CRT monitors are still used today, banks, government offices, and major corporations are far more likely to use more modern equipment.
    • 2010 has other examples of thrift-store tech. (i) HAL's "memory module" room was reconstructed for 2010, but alongside the original futuristic-looking memory modules, a previously unseen keyboard is used to interact with HAL (due to his damaged speech circuits). Not a dead tech, but unfortunately it looks like a typical early '80s keyboard, contrasting badly with- and looking more dated than!- the original film's inventive design. (ii) Floyd's secret failsafe cutoff for HAL is to be activated by him typing nine 9s on a hacked calculator. Again, not a dead tech, but one which would be a far less obvious "first choice" gadget for that use today than it would have been in the mid-80s when calculators were still (somewhat) new and high-tech.
  • In Kevin O'Donnell's novel ORA:CLE, published in 1985, personal names are replaced by alphanumeric strings encoding personal attributes (including allotted public time and computer-related knowledge [!]); for example, the main character's name is ALL80 AFAHSC NFF6 (Ale Elatey for short). However, it's set in a universe where all computers run unprotected operating systems like DOS and all news are shown in Bulletin Board Systems. In 2188.
  • On the subject of Cyberpunk, many of the genre's works (print and video) featured extensive virtual realities that today are being realized with applications such as Second Life. While we can see the usefulness of VR for entertainment, education or training purposes, is it really more efficient to walk through a fully rendered VR representation of an automated factory to control and maintain operations, or would a screen of text and numbers and a keyboard be sufficient?
    • The US Navy is actually incredibly enthusiastic about using VR and Second Life in particular to train servicemen and -women on things such as submarine operation. However some of their other applications reek of "we must retroactively justify this expense" as this Troper has had to work on one particularly inefficient application. Also, on the public Second Life instance, the Navy has to buy virtual parcels of land just like anyone else, resulting in oddities such as a vampire roleplaying group in the middle of their virtual Newport, RI location. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.
  • When you pull up next to someone in traffic and motion to them to roll down their window, what do you do? That's right. You motion like you're rotating a lever, despite the fact that a vast majority of cars on the road these days have buttons to roll down windows... not levers. Still, everyone knows what you mean, presumably because levers are recent enough that everyone driving today can remember the days when they were common and also lever controlled windows are still included on vehicles (mostly base-model trucks and very cheap subcompacts) without power windows installed.

"I don't roll down my window. Because my car wasn't made in 1997. I vsshh down my window."

  • Similarly, the accepted icons for saving (a floppy disc) and a movie (a roll of film) are both representations of entirely obsolete technology - but likely to last longer than the memory of the media themselves!
    • Theater movies are still largely released on film, digital distribution (and even projection) still being rather new and expensive technology. Downloading a feature film at a high enough resolution (so it isn't pixelated) that it can be projected onto a large screen is a large file download even by today's standards, not to mention if the download got interrupted or corrupted.
  • People still use the term "dial a number" when telephones haven't used dials for decades.
  • Many pictograms of telephones are also hopelessly out of date, ranging from the depiction of just the phone receiver, which looks a bit too clunky for today's standards, over the "classical" key phone with the receiver sitting on top like a torero hat, to the same design, but with a dial plate. Likewise, pictograms that tell you to switch off your cell phone can hardly keep pace with the rapidly evolving appearance of said cell phones.
  • We also turn our finger in a twisting motion when we're asking someone to turn volume up or down, despite the fact that most devices now have buttons with up and down arrows on them. Granted, some speakers have dials, and so do many MP3 players, but those are outnumbered by the buttoned devices.
  • Who else here has ever talked about "taping" a show on to a hard disc, or "rewinding" a DVD?
    • The "DVD rewinder" even exists as a joke appliance.[4]
  • The use of double-spacing at the end of sentences, like this.--This is a hold-over from the days of typewriters with their monospacing (where every character occupies the same amount of space), to help the period stand out. Such a necessity has long been rendered obsolete by digital word-processors and just plain looks silly when used nowadays, but a lot of older typists (or younger ones taught by them), still use two spaces after periods. Even on this very wiki, though That Other Wiki and other MediaWiki-based wikis generally format pages so only one space is displayed even if more than one is typed into the code for the page.
    • It's still a handy method for students to pad papers that are to be a certain number of pages long. Two spaces at the end of every sentence adds up.
  • Calling solid-state storage media a "tape":
    • In Cloak and Dagger everyone calls the game cartridge with the hidden data a "tape".
    • The Starfire books by David Weber and Steve White often has warship personnel say "on the tape" to mean they've recorded a message for transmission. The series is set several hundred years in the future but was written in the mid 2000s.
  • Even though Wheel of Fortune switched to an electronic puzzleboard in 1997, people still refer to the letters being "turned" as if they were still physical trilons.
  • Bill Cosby has an old and hilarious routine about how he wants Polaroid to develop a way to produce a baby quickly. "Kiss your wife, wait five minutes and BOOM - there's the kid! Of course you have to dip him in the lacquer or he'll fade..."
  • The trope page for Poor Man's Porn has a whole section (Type C), dedicated to people trying to watch scrambled porn on TV. This is now outdated (except in 80's-90's period pieces), as newer television sets recognized the scrambled signal and replaced it with a blue screen, and nowadays you simply get a screen saying you do not get that particular adult video channel.
  • "Hi-fi" used to mean a stereo system, and is a bit outdated in these days of MP3 players. (As a term for high-fidelity sound it is still used by people in the sound industry). This is a bit troublesome tech-wise for people having Fun with Palindromes because "If I had a hi-fi" is still a popular palindrome in books, etc.


Film[edit | hide]

  • An aversion appears in Escape from New York; the graphic display that Snake uses when landing his plane in New York still looks pretty good today, which is truly amazing when you know that the production crew created it by building a physical model, outlining it with reflective tape, and filming the result.
  • Played straight in universe in a 2015 era antique store in Back to The Future Part II:

Antique store saleswoman: Now this has an interesting feature - it has a dust jacket. Books used to have these to protect the covers. Of course that was before they had dust repellent paper. And if you're interested in dust, we have a quaint little piece from the 1980s. It's called a Dustbuster."

    • Funnily enough, the Dustbuster continues to enjoy popularity and has even taken on Brand Name Takeover.
    • And paper books may be on their way out, dust-proof or otherwise.
  • Kids who grew up with DVDs and digitally-downloaded movies probably won't get the locker-aliens' "Be Kind, Rewind" reference in Men in Black II. The "Adult section in rear" gag, teens can probably figure out, though it also dates the picture.
  • In Time Bandits, the embodiment of evil explains that he knows better than the Supreme Being because he has knowledge of "Digital watches. Soon I shall have knowledge of video cassette recorders and car telephones. And when I understand those I shall understand computers. And when I understand computers I will be the Supreme Being." In 1981, those really were cutting edge and were meant to be. Now they can be considered evidence that Evil is a little out of touch.
  • In Trading Places, Louis Winthorpe tries to sell his watch at a pawnshop, mentioning how it's waterproof up to 3 atmospheres as proof of how top-of-the-line it is. Today, many watches are waterproof to as many as 50 atmospheres.
  • Lampshaded nicely in The Wedding Singer: Glenn brags about buying a CD player for around $1,000, and Julia promptly offers to get a record to play on it.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Also appears in the Dragonriders of Pern series. The Skies of Pern, written in 2001, has cell phone-ish tech cropping into usage. All the Weyrs of Pern however, written in 1991, essentially has the Dragonriders saving the world by what amounts to handling ships' embedded electronics via console (Take That, graphical interface!) because the "real" computers were removed millenia ago. Funny part is that lots of things that are only one notch above PIC but run OS-s used to support telnet terminal access are already here.
  • A very strange example is the Tintin graphic novel Destination Moon, written in 1954. Captain Haddock spends most of the story getting "humorously" angry at Professor Calculus for creating a moon rocket because landing people on the moon is obviously so CRAZY...
    • Haddock is certainly echoing the thoughts of many laypeople; but the space program depicted in that book is surprisingly realistic: funded by a government, employing hundreds of people, and using technologies not too different from what would ultimately be used in real life.
      • Well, except that the real moon rockets were mostly fuel (something like 85-90% of the launch mass was fuel), couldn't get to orbit in a single stage, no matter making the whole trip in one, could make a week long trip with 3 people, and an electric go-cart capable of carrying two people. About the only thing Hergé actually got right was that the thing was a tail-sitter.
  • The original (circa 1980) edition of Superfudge had Peter asking for and receiving a pocket calculator for Christmas. Later editions change the gift to a check from Grandma since, by about 2000, a regular calculator was a standard school supply and could be bought for about a dollar. He asks for a stereo in the original, but only in jest. Current editions have him ask instead for a laptop and mp3 player, and by 2010, it's hard to tell whether the latter was supposed to be an outrageous request.
  • In the original print of Are You There God Its Me Margaret by Judy Blume, Margaret is instructed in the proper use of a belt to secure her menstrual pad. The invention of menstrual pads with adhesive backing (something often taken for granted these days) had to wait until women's undergarments became snug enough for adhesive pads to be practical, which in turn required the invention of Spandex and cheaper methods of creating inexpensive fine-gauge cotton knits.
  • The protagonists in Ken Grimwood's Replay are stuck in a 25-year Groundhog Day Loop from 1963 to 1988, so it isn't surprising this pops up. The author had shown his work though, by pointing out that some devices could be procured before they caught on with the public (though they were expensive) there were appearances of the Wang 1200 and Sony VTR. The following quote happens in 1974:

"Near the window was a large desk stacked with books and notebooks, and in the center of it sat a bulky, greenish-gray device that incorporated a video screen, a keyboard, and a printer. He frowned quizzically at it. What was she doing with a home computer so early? ... 'It's not a computer,' Pamela said. 'Wang 1200 word processor, one of the first. No disk drive, just cassettes, but still beats a typewriter. Want a beer?'"

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • When a factual show requires background music to suddenly end for humorous purposes, nine times out of ten they'll still put on the sound effect of a needle skating across a vinyl record. This even applies to kids' shows, where it is otherwise assumed that the audience won't have a clue what vinyl records are and need it explained every time they're mentioned.
  • In the pilot of Lois and Clark, the Kents' use of a fax machine was presented as evidence they weren't subject to the old-time "American Gothic" farmer stereotypes. Now it has the opposite effect of making them seem out-of-date.
  • Rescue 911 again.
    • A couple Carbon Monoxide poisonings. Nowadays, people think it's weird because Carbon Monoxide alarms are about as common as Fire alarms. However, when the events of the show happened in real life, many carbon monoxide detectors were actually just visual cues to tell you carbon monoxide was present (early detectors were simply small plastic disks about the size of a refrigerator magnet with a small spot of a substance resembling cork that would change color in the presence of carbon monoxide, [[http://www.asa2fly.com/images/Prod/Pms/Cka/Aid/CO-D_Std.jpg like so.) If you were sick and thought you had the flu (which mirrors carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, by the way), that would not have told you anything about an odorless gas unless you looked at the alarms.
    • You can see people playing Nintendo entertainment systems and Sega Geneses in some of the reenactments.
    • The lightning in "Lightning Lads" is definitely Special Effect Failure today.
    • In one episode, a garage door falls and crushes a girl underneath. Even in The Nineties, they either had sensors to prevent people from being crushed (Many of which in modern homes have these built in) or would stop and roll back up if they felt resistance. However; the house was most likely built in The Eighties or before; when garage doors would just keep going down no matter what or who was in their way, making them very dangerous.
    • You can spot what's normally be Thrift-store tech in the 911 recreations.
  • During a game of Fast Money from the Richard Dawson Family Feud, a contestant was asked to name something you'd get for someone who's off to college and answered "toaster oven", which prompted lots of laughter. Today, it's not such a stupid thing to get someone as a gift.
    • The change is not as much technological as societal; back in the 80s most universities didn't allow small appliances of any kind in their dorms. It would have been as bizarre as bringing in a washing machine.
  • The 23rd century circuitry of the Enterprise included circuit boards with common resistors and diodes and whatnot. These could also be found in the circuity of an android from the Andromeda Galaxy they encountered, which was corrected in the remastered version.


Music[edit | hide]

  • This is where we bring your attention to some of the instruments in Flight of the Conchords. A particular highlight is the song "Carol Brown": those "guitars" they strum while clips of Jemaine's ex-girlfriends play behind them are old-fashioned video editing devices.
  • George Jones released a novelty song in the early 1990s called High-Tech Redneck, the lyrics of which listed the myriad ways in which the titular redneck employs state-of-the-art technology to further his hillbilly lifestyle, including watching sports through a satellite dish on his TV with stereo sound, listening to country music via cassette in his car, and calling up his baby on his cellular phone. Needless to say, listening to this song in 2008 is hilarious.
  • In Superfudge by Judy Blume, the original edition has Peter receive a gift certificate for "albums", changed to a "CD"s about twenty years later. Now, 11-year-olds get iTunes gift cards for a fixed amount of money, instead of songs or albums.
  • Most people hearing the song "Brand New Key" in the decades since it was first released will have no clue that strap-on quad skates actually did require a key to adjust their fit. Nowadays, there is no such thing as a "brand new pair of roller skates" of the sort the song describes.
  • Weird Al's first popular music polka medley was released in 1984 and titled "Polkas on 45", referring to 45 rpm record singles. At the time it was a bit of a joke - polkas were from an era long before 45's. Now that 45's have been out of mainline production for almost a quarter century, both are considered quaint now, taking away from the original intention.
    • In a classic case of the Weird Al Effect, the title is also referencing the medley single "Stars on 45", which was a big US hit in 1981.
  • Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" (1973) refers to the first successfully mass-marketed color still film, comparing it to memories. These days digital photography has taken over, and the name "Kodachrome" is more connected to the song than the film. The last batch of actual Kodachrome film was shipped out in 2009 with an expiration date of November 2010.


Toys[edit | hide]

  • Fischer Price sells a toy phone on wheels with a rotary dial on it. It's still a big seller even decades after rotary phones fell out of style because the rotary is great physical/developmental play for a toddler.
  • Toy gas stations often still have a button you can drive the car over that rings a bell "Ding-ding!". Back in the days of full service gas stations this bell alerted the attendant that a car had pulled in for full service (That's when the attendant comes out and pumps your gas for you, kids.) Full service mostly died off in the 1980s and 1990s, though state law still requires full service in New Jersey and Oregon. Even in those states, though, the "ding-ding" is pretty rare, mostly replaced by electric/magnetic sensors or cameras.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This trope is played around with in Pikmin 2: Several of the "treasures" you find are old or outmoded technologies, such as a Game & Watch console, vacuum tubes, rabbit-ear antennas, and a rotary phone dial, but Olimar seems to regard them as highly advanced (which is odd coming from an alien whose race has perfected interstellar travel).
  • Pre-emptively lampshaded in Light's Out, in which you must listen to messages recorded on chips that were just starting to appear (in cameras and jump drives) at the time the game was released. As you do this while more than Twenty Minutes Into the Future, in-game documents jeer at the owner of the chip-player for being an antiques-buff and not getting rid of such a piece of outmoded junk.
  • A real-life example is the fact that many light gun peripherals for 8- and 16-bit systems don't work very well on Hi-Def TVs, and Guncons for the PS 1 wouldn't work for the PlayStation 2, and Guncons for the PlayStation 2 wouldn't work for the Play Station 3 and you get the picture.
    • Also, sit down table-top style cabinets are rarely seen nowadays. Ironically, the advent of flat-screen HDTV and touch control should have made cocktail cabinets more relevant, but the only recent arcade game to really make use of them is a recent Revival of Pac-Man.
    • Regarding Guncons and light guns in general, most light guns from the PlayStation 2/Xbox era and earlier will not work with LCD TVs due to how they work. Pre-millenium guns won't even work right with flat panel CR Ts due to how they work out the shot. They'll pick up the shot, but will not hit the target.
    • The phrase Light Gun itself refers to how the earlier models work, modern ones use much more advanced techniques (see the Wii and Playstation Move) rather than picking up light from the screen yet the name has stuck.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In an early Roomies! strip, Joyce shows Danny her "good calculator," a graphing calculator clearly meant to come off as absurdly elaborate. It may have been in 1997, but twelve years later it's hard to imagine a serious math or science student not having a similar device. Although graphing calculators really haven't changed all that much in the last 10 years.
    • Programs such as Matlab, Maple, Mathematica have long since outstripped the TI calculators in functionality, but unfortunately, the real reason that they are still in use is because they make it more difficult to cheat during tests (a savvy professor will even have you purge the memory on your calculator so that you can't write yourself notes).
  • Ciem 1 is a particularly bad offender. In 2021, everyone is driving cars that go back as far as The Nineties if not earlier, with the most recent models looking not a single year over 2007. And most of the PCs use old-style CRT monitors.
    • A consequence of being made in a game that was created in 2004, and had a stuff pack that would have solved the problem released after the first story was completed. If the second comic weren't abandoned a third of the way through the writing process in favor of a Continuity Reboot book series that could be published profitably, an entire subplot was going to take place about why the Montinel Corporation was still manufacturing CRT monitors.
    • The books also seek to eventually explain why Imaki and Darius were too busy to be more active in helping Candi out. With all the technology that they possess, it's a wonder that they are so incapable of finding a way to communicate with one another via...an untraceable cell phone. And if they can Zeran Hole themselves to Phaelon, why not wormhole their way across a few states/cities?


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In The Simpsons, Ol' Gil (salesman and perennial loser) is so poor that he's using very old tech gadgets, specifically a rotary cell phone.
    • In 'Bart to the Future, an adult Bart and Ralph tried to promote their work on a cassette tape... in 2030. Strangely, you can still buy blank cassettes and players, thanks to pop culture, due to their cost, and they can't be easily hacked into.
  • The cartoon Aeon Flux once had a bit where a minor character breaks up with her boyfriend and reveals that, despite the many exotic technologies present in this cyberpunk future world, he still demands his "Shattered Fixtures" tape back.

The Next Big Thing[edit | hide]

Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion features Shinji listening to a SDAT cassette player instead of a nowadays much more plausible MP3 player. This is because Eva was made in 1995, when the DAT player was the newest digital audio format in town, then extended into the entirely fictional SDAT format. However, its rather high price and the Executive Meddling of the RIAA, which lobbied against this format fearing the possibility of producing near-perfect copies (because audiences have historically preferred quality to ease of use), prevented it from reaching mainstream success, and the CD finally ruled the day. DAT did managed to reap some success in professional applications, though. Various justifications have been tossed out for this one, ranging from "non-weapons technology development stagnated and even went a little bit back After the End" to "it has sentimental value". In Rebuild of Evangelion, the SDAT is proven to be of sentimental value to Shinji as a memento from his father, and the later Manga chapters replaced it with an iPod.
  • A Cowboy Bebop episode falls into this at the same time that it uses it to its advantage: the heroes receive a tape from Faye's past, but it's a Betamax, which are all the harder to find in the late 21st century. However, the electronics archive they break into features a display of various players, the most recent of which is a DVD player.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • One Abelard Snazz story written in the mid-80s has the titular character reintroduce gods to a super-advanced civilisation, with new and updated portfolios. Ares, for example, goes from the god of war to god of the ultimate in ultra-modern competition - Space Invaders arcade cabinets.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In a case of botched Sci Fi Marches On, the first two Dream Park novels featured Park guests dueling holographic opponents, but the third replaces this use of holograms with VR headsets worn by the participants. At the time The California Voodoo Game was written, VR was the Hot New Thing, but it's since proven so clunky that the previous books, though dependent on yet-unrealized technologies, seem more plausible.
  • In the notes at the back of Mysteries Of The Diogenes Club, Kim Newman mentions various aspects of "Organ Doners" that firmly set it in The Eighties, including satellite TV giving you seven channels, and a private detective considering getting a portable phone when she gets a job in TV.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • One of the most spectacular "Next Big Thing" flops was Virtual Reality. Most shows in the early Nineties had episodes that involved virtual reality in some way. In fact, it was the driving force behind VR Troopers. However, VR went almost nowhere, making shows of the time look dated.
    • It was also a story arc on, of all things, Days of Our Lives around the time of VR Troopers. Of course, Days and Troopers were by no means alone. Even Murder, She Wrote got in on the craze, with one of Jessica's books being adapted into a VR videogame.
  • In Time Trax, a character brought back recordings from the future on... a CED, explained further by James Rolfe.
  • Titus features a few episodes that reference the changes in technology at the time (2000-2002). A rich nerd was using a corded headset for his cell phone, which produced jokes that wouldn't be too out of date in todays bluetooth world. Another episode mentioned the preference of the new DVD's over VHS.
  • In 1995, World News Now became the first news show to stream an hour live on the internet. On the September 22, 2009 broadcast, the program became the first network overnight newscast to broadcast in high definition.
  • In the first episode of Mad Men, (set in 1960), Don Draper accuses one of his co-workers of stealing his work. "Unless someone has invented a magical device that instantly makes copies of original documents, that's my report you're holding". 1960 is very year Xerox launched their first commercial machine...
    • One of which gets installed in the company's offices in a later episode and soon proves to be a big hit.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • Invoked knowingly in the Sondheim Musical Merrily We Roll Along. There is a character called Tyler who, at the beginning (ie the end) is introduced as a man who became very rich because he invented the telephone answering machine. Later (ie earlier), it's 1960 and he's a waiter who is pitching his invention to an investor. The investor hates the idea. He wants something that will actually make money "like this new 3D movie process". Ironically, 3D movies have made a comeback recently.


Theme Parks[edit | hide]

  • The Carousel of Progress in Walt Disney World essentially has Tech Marches On as its plot, and it's used as a source of humor in the scenes that take place in the past.


Other[edit | hide]

  • What Was Popular Mechanics Thinking?
  • A particularly bizarre example comes from the pages of PC Zone when DVDs were just coming out. The columnist 'Mr. Cursor' maintained that if audio compact discs ended up being called 'CDs' for short, the 'Digital Video Disc' would inevitably become known as... the 'VD'. Given that 'Mr. Cursor' could alternate between Deadpan Snarker and Cloudcuckoolander several times in the space of one page (a trait shared by most of PC Zone's staff in those days), it's hard to tell if he was actually joking. Of course, VDs are now more commonly referred to as STDs, making that example doubly dated.
    • Even STD is now dated. STI is the more acceptable notation because of the wording involved. A "disease" must actually show symptoms, or else it wouldn't cause dis-ease. STI stands for sexually transmitted infection.
    • Given that DVD is not in fact short for "Digital Video Disc" it's unlikely that Mr. Cursor was being serious. DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disc. Digital Video Disc was a backronym that was prevalent it was eventually made official.
  • There was an old issue (2004ish) of a PC magazine that claimed the next big thing for movie formats was an optical cube that was about the size of a stamp and half a centimeter thick, which somehow held 25GB of data (Though SD cards with larger capacities are easily affordable). Then came Blu-Ray (which can be surpassed by Digital Distribution) and the rest is history.
    • The idea was that this technology would have utilized the newly developed holographic memory. However, it was a lot cheaper to instead develop a system that could utilize a lot of the same factory parts as the DVD player, and the materials were a lot cheaper, as well. Due to these factors holographic memory is mainly used for backup data storage for large companies, and isn't incredibly prevalent even there.
    • Speaking of Blu-Ray, anything that references HD DVD is now as laughed at as Beta cassettes were during the age of VHS.
  • Cloud Computing, when it was first proposed, was supposed to eliminate the need for hard drives and PCs as we know them, now it's generally accepted that even with a broad bandwidth it's a good idea to have a hard drive for local storage.
    • Probably has to do with it being a privacy issue (you want my entire life on some other computer that someone else could access?), that you don't own the software you purchased (legally though, you don't, you just own the license), the fact that it can't be readily available on a moment's notice, and well, a broadband connection doesn't mean much when it's unreliable.
    • An important question is why anyone (with technical knowledge, at least) fell for the idea of cloud computing eliminating the need for media in workstations. We already had techniques to do this (like the bootp protocol, which will allow a media-free PC to boot over a network from a server, and transparent network files systems access from workstations) and they never caught on for general use, even in environments where no local storage is ever used for data. You just lose too much performance and spend too much providing local bandwidth for it to be feasible for a large installation.
    • However, cloud computing in the sense that an online server is doing the heavy lifting, is kind-of-sort-of catching on... with video games. Services like OnLive and Gaikai offers computer users of modest specs to play the latest games. The only problem is that it requires a reliable broadband connection. And it's even worse when the ISP has a bandwidth cap (major ISP companies like Comcast and AT&T have a 250gb bandwidth cap. Smaller ones don't have such caps...yet.)
  • Similarly, tablet computer companies, especially Apple, have been pushing the idea that tablets will completely replace home computers; barring some extremely bizarre innovations, this is pretty implausible, since tablets have unavoidable limitations compared to desktops and laptops (very high cost-to-specs ratio due to their small size, inconvenience of needing to put the keyboard on top of the screen, some games and programs work better with a mouse, and so on).
  • Played For Laughs in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Look what stem cell research can do to Tooth Fairies' business.

Other[edit | hide]

Literature, Non-fiction[edit | hide]

  • Guiding the Gifted Child is an award-winning book on raising gifted children and was first published in the 1980's. All the information in the book about gifted children holds up strongly, but the examples can be a little dated, most specifically one passage offering an example of a gifted "...twelve year old child who enjoys developing variations in the computer enhancement of photographic images", which seems sort of ridiculous in this day of photoshopping and image macros.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • One episode of the original Charlie's Angels in the first season where one of those newfangled microwave oven gadgets shows up, with a man heating up a pizza for one of the angels.
  • The episode "Dagger Island" of The Adventures of Superman, from the 1950s, has the characters joke that a cab driver who got a million dollars will buy himself an air-conditioned cab. This was just before air conditioning became common in cars.

Real Life[edit | hide]

Searching for "Chem-Light" batteries was a common military Snipe Hunt (chem lights operate by chemicals that mix when snapping them breaks interior containers, not electricity). Battery powered glow sticks now exist.

  1. And if you haven't experienced it yet, don't worry. The first time will hit you completely by surprise sometime within the next five years.
  2. Episode "The One With The List", first airdate November 16, 1995. At that airdate, those features were quite impressive.
  3. The ban on USB drives on government computers dates back to an infected drive that introduced a worm into the network. The situation was not helped by Brad Manning (who ironically used still-approved CDs to leak classified information). USB drives are slowly coming back, but only in restricted circumstances.
  4. It's simply a base with a powered spindle and a button turning the motor on and off.