It’s not easy, but I can remember life before cell phones. Back when people still memorized their friends’ house numbers, used the Yellow Pages on a regular basis, and could only dream of real-time mobile porn (SWF, don’t worry). I didn’t get my first Nokia brick until freshman year of college, yet last spring my 14-year-old cousin got a smartphone for his birthday. What the devil?
Anyway, cell phones often pose real problems for contemporary screenwriters, who can’t very well ignore the increasingly advanced mobile tech that seeps further into the mainstream every year. But those awesome Android features aren’t always conducive to an interesting plot; the entire premise of Blair Witch Project falls apart as soon as you toss a Droid X into one of those kids’ backpacks.
“Stop farting around, Mike…! You know I don’t get any bars down here.”
Literally thousands of popular movie and TV show plots address conflicts that could have easily been solved or prevented with cell phones, which is one reason they can be so damn unreliable on screeen (or conspicuously absent). And product placement’s a thing too, which I imagine limits prop choices even more.
There are plenty of modern narratives—say, post-2000—whose characters work totally fine without cell phones at all. Southern bumpkins, hippies, psychotics—take your pick. But the average consumer can afford a smartphone nowadays; they’re relatively easy to use (even for the non-super-tech-savvy), and it’s hard for working professionals to argue with all that functionality. So for shows/movies that portray realistic Americans who exist on our timeline (and thus have access to presumably similar technology), it’s sort of weird for some characters not to own smartphones—suspended belief aside.
Maybe I’m over-thinking things, and the simple absence of smartphones in a given show doesn’t necessarily detract from strong story arcs and/or character development, but I still do little double-takes when I notice certain kinds of protagonists with dumb phones in hand…
1. Professional Murderers
Offender: Dexter in…well, Dexter
Dexter is a specialized, accomplished serial killer, so we know he’s smart. He works in a crime lab with cutting-edge computers and equipment, which he uses for both work and play. So we know he’s fluent with the latest and greatest tech, and that this tech is valuable—nay, essential—to his success as a murderous blood-splatter analyst. Yet with all the research he does on his victims (an absolute necessity for Harry’s “code”), combined with his varied responsibilities as boyfriend/husband/father/role model/brother/coworker/chest-stabber, you’d think having a smartphone on hand at all times would be a no-brainer; unpredictable events are part of a killer’s day-to-day. How many situations has this guy been in where a dab of Google Maps would have come in handy? Smartphones just seem like something an intelligent serial killer would early-adopt.
I’m pretty sure Dexter’s finally caught up to us Android users by now, but at the end of season four (2009) he was definitely still rocking that slider.
“Hmm, this doesn’t bode well…”
The smartphone he should have had: Original Droid
Come on, that even looks like a smartphone a methodical murderer would use.
2. Billionaire Geniuses
Offender: Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008)
I didn’t really notice this detail until my second time around due to all the ass this movie proceeded to kick, but Tony’s phone is a product of…um, product placement for LG’s VX9400. It’s kind of a slick-looking gadget, actually, and this was back in 2008—a lot’s changed since then, and cell phones specifically have evolved in leaps and bounds. But here’s the thing:
It’s goddamn Tony Stark.
He’s a billionaire playboy, a technological genius, and a typical afternoon for him involves Minority Report–style whatevering…
Pictured: Science (?)
…yet this is his personal phone of choice?
It’s not that I would have liked extra shots of Tony dominating Plants vs. Zombies, but even Pepper gets a Windows Mobile phone in this flick (more product placement), which seems…illogical. If you’re outlandishly rich and surrounded by cutting-edge machinery, why wouldn’t that carry over into your anytime minutes?
The smartphone he should have had: iPhone 3G
Tony’s flashy, loud, and always has access to the coolest stuff before anyone else. I’m sure the iPhone would have been right up his ally.
3. Illegal Drug Producers/Dealers
Offender: Walt and Skyler in Breaking Bad
I know Walter White got into the whole meth game as a relative novice, but doesn’t this seem like common sense? If you’re a drug dealer who’s constantly on the go, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to have a mini-computer on you at all times just for the web browser alone? I get having multiple cheapo cells as disposables, but what if he and Jesse got all the way out into the middle of nowhere for a cooking session only to find that Walt forgot a vital piece of his latest recipe back home? Couldn’t that f**k up…like, their whole week?
His wife Skyler has a flip phone too, which makes even less sense to me. As an aspiring business owner (for the car wash they need to launder money with) who knows her husband is involved in shady shit, wouldn’t it be practical to have mobile access to her bookkeeping at the very least? We know they could afford the damn things, and it’s not like upgrading their Verizon Wireless account to a data plan would send up red flags to the FBI.
…hell is up with all these flip phones?
The smartphones they should have had: Any Blackberry
Blackberrys are generally functional, reliable, and would probably still work if you threw them at someone’s face.
Wait a sec–is that an old Storm? Get the hell out of here, Saul.