Most people carry a cell phone these days, so the "We can't reach them." or "We aren't able to call for help." complication always seems a little convenient. Most often it's solved with 'No Service' on the call display or whoever is trying to be reached is 'Out Of Range', but both are feeling more and more like a cheat or a cop out. Oh yes, and when the battery is dead or dies all of a sudden...unless the character's been on the cell all movie and using up the juice.
And speaking of call display, for ages you could have a character pick up the phone and get startled by a surprise caller. You know, like when they gasp and drop the phone...or turn away and quietly hiss: "I told you never to call me here!" Nowadays, audiences pretty much presume characters will have call display (at least on their cell phones), and should expect them to check who is calling. But rigging and shooting a small LED screen to see just a name or a number or even Unknown Caller is a bit of a deal...and not quite as dramatic. Especially if the character is like me and usually just ignores it after seeing who it is.
These days, most documents, pictures, photos, etc. are sent via email with attachments. However we've all seen the threatening note or incriminating evidence or document show up by fax. Who even sends faxes anymore? But for the old schoolers, it's more 'dramatic' for the document to slowly spool out for a character (and viewer) to see than some mouse clicks while staring at a computer screen. Not to mention its also a bit of a deal to rig and program a computer to perform said actions on cue - the fax machine gag is relatively easy.
Answering machines. Now this one's a biggie. I mean, my mom still has a 'push the Play button' model that creaks and whrrrs and needs a cassette tape, but EVERYONE else I know has Message Manager or Talkmail or some variation thereof. This makes the plot device of leaving the warning like "Pick up, Laura. Pick up! Well, I hope you get this message...the killers your husband!" (for the killer to hear and/or erase), or the exposition message where the audience gets to hear the crucial information (either as it's recorded or when its played back) a lot more difficult to execute with voicemail. Especially since not just anybody (a friend, the detective, the killer) can access and play back a voicemail.
I've been involved with two rewrites recently that included answering machines and faxes, plus no one in either script had a cell phone. Now I acknowledge these were rewrites of movies that have been in development for many many years, or are based on books written years ago, but regardless, they aren't period pieces. They're supposed to be set in the present. But if an entire plot turns on someone hearing a message or not able to be reached by phone...what to do, what to do?
It makes writing plot a little more tricky, but the revolution must start now.
Any other examples of communicating 'tried and trues' that have to go or are no more?
SONG&ARTIST? - "I liked to go to work but they shut it down
Got a right to go work but there's no work here to be found
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road."