Actually, while the "cell phone problem" -- how do we get a message to X? We'll have to fight our way across the mountains, and then -- oh wait, let me try his cell phone -- is indeed a common one, it isn't one I was complaining about in this blog post.
The cell phone problem has been messing with plot conventions since the early 1990s at least. But actually -- though I can't give you an exhaustive survey with citations -- my sense is that it's less common outside of SF. In a contemporary romance or thriller, if a character needs to be unreachable, the authors generally insert some bit of business about how the cell phone is out of batteries, lost, locked in the car, etc. Indeed there are contemporary romances deeply interested in romance in the age of Twitter.
Whereas SF authors creating entire secondary futures, on other worlds, etc, are likely to simply not have the characters have any cell phones and not explain why. And why? Because readers reading something set in 2012 know instinctively that cell phones belong there. But readers being transported to a distant world are in a more malleable state, willing to trust the author to tell them what that world is like.
I expect Le Carre actually handles "the cell phone problem" correctly, since that's NOT what WJW complains about. He says Le Carre fails to understand search -- Google, wikipedia, and so on -- which is a different technological disruption, dating from the late 90s, (WJW mentions also smartphones, but it's the smart part he's talking about, implying that they do have cell phones, plus he makes clear that it's a separate problem).
Meanwhile, in my blog entry I'm talking about three problems that date from the mid- to late-00s. One is GPS cell phones -- "help, our characters are lost in a rural area just outside of a city!" That is a separate problem (since this character doesn't have anyone he'd trust to call for help, a non-GPS cell phone wouldn't have been problematic. The second is lifeblogging and wearable computing -- he tries a print journal to record the time he's going to lose memory of, but never thinks of wearing a camera. The third is social connectivity -- the idea that going physically away on vacation does not serve to separate you from friends and family.
My kids are just now in the other room rehearsing their two-person show of the musical RENT. That musical, written and set at the beginning of the 1990s is fascinated with another disruptive technology -- the answering machine. There are entire songs set on answering machines, investigations of the new social practice of screening calls and their unintended effects (they accidentally answer the phone when it's the landlord they're avoiding, Benny, because they assume it's Collins calling back), jokes about the older generation not understanding the technology. Answering machines are disruptive to plot devices -- a whole set of stories 1920-1980 could get away with calling characters and having them just not be home, and thus important messages could not be delivered. Try inserting answering machines into a Raymond Chandler novel, for instance.
In Dan's link, "shit sisko says", there's another whole category of technology at issue which doesn't have to do with missed connections or being lost - but rather with the effects of the internet on "productivity", leisure, and information dissemination, politics, and governance.
I named a whole bunch of 1912-1962 technologies that are disruptive to plot devices, but consider, for starters, the telephone. There are endless, endless numbers of plots in which characters have to act quickly because they cannot deliver a physical message. Those plots were all disrupted by the telephone.
You seem to be arguing that something vastly different is occurring now which destroys the whole idea of "missed connections or being lost". I think this is nonsense. For centuries, we've had technologies to help us make connections and help us find our way. If a writer wants his characters unconnected or lost, and wants us to suspend our disbelief, she just needs to know what the relevant technologies are, and show why they don't work.
It would have been perfectly adequate to have showed this character checking his equivalent of a GPS cell phone and getting some plausible future equivalent of "no service"; or to have had the government ban introducing GPS to the new planet so as to avoid disrupting local trade patterns; or to have GPS cell phones have become obsolete because of in-brain hardware and his gets flaky when he gets to the new planet and he keeps putting it off getting it fixed; or whatever.
This is not new work. In a story from 1962, if the characters on the outpost needed to warn the main base of the alien incursion, and needed to make the dangerous trek in their land rover, the author wouldn't just conveniently forget the existence of radio. There would be a convenient solar flare blocking communications, or whatever.
(OK, as a test case I checked 1932's A Martian Odyssey-- http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23731/23731-h/23731-h.htm -- when radio was relatively new. The results are a little ambiguous; the story makes it clear that the shuttle the protagonist left in has radio transmission, but not reception capabilities. I think I'm going to give this one to Weinberg, because the transistor was only invented in 1948, and I think even luggable radio units only got really going during WWII, so the idea of a radio receiver small enough to carry in a small plane might have been quite a daring speculation. The fact that he spells out the precise capabilities of the device at the beginning -- "So I sailed along, calling back my position every hour as instructed, and not knowing whether you heard me" -- suggests that he's got his eye on the problem, he's called his shot in terms of what technologies this future contains, and he's following through. But in any event he's not just acting like it's 1890 in the story.)
In A Game of Thrones, when GRRM wants to disrupt medieval communications, he makes sure we know his characters are posting archers to shoot down message-carrying birds. If he hadn't, if he'd simply forgotten that he has message ravens, that would have been a problem.
If anything, what's unique about the disruptions of the current period has nothing to do with "missed connections" -- the big jump there is the telegraph and the phone, not the fact that the phone moves to your pocket in a finicky battery-powered device -- but with the issues Dan's link raises, the difficulty of governments controlling and suppressing information transfer -- the anti-Orwellian age.
I think my question is pretty well-posed. If it's a matter of adjusting, it should be easy enough to find a 1962 story with the plot of A Martian Odyssey -- pilot crashlands, has to return on foot -- and in which the author neglects to tell us why the downed aviator just doesn't use a transistor radio to call for rescue, because the author is still living in 1932. I don't think I'm playing unfairly at all in suggesting that if you can't find one, something has changed.
Since making sure your characters miss connections, in any age, is actually a reasonably simple piece of stage business -- "my battery is dead! a solar storm is interfering with transmission! a virus has infected the WorldMind!" -- I don't at all think that the authors are simply incapable of adjusting their game. I think these authors would remember to have the carrier pigeons shot down if the setting was medieval. Nor do I think they're consciously refusing to include cell phones in their futures.
No, I think that when they cast their mind out to their thrilling future on the rediscovered colony world, when they sink into the luxurious thrilling excitement of the Future, what they are really doing -- without really knowing it -- is casting their minds back. The place they want to write about is the lost future, the one they grew up reading about. They don't want to do the messy business of thinking about what we've learned since the summer they spent in the attic reading Asimov's or Wonder Stories. SF of 1950-1985 is what feels like the Future to them, the right Future, the interesting one. It wouldn't occur to them to add GPS cell phones because GPS cell phones weren't a part of that thing that they love.
And SF writers of 1962, for all their flaws, weren't doing that.
This is not the same problem outside of SF. Those authors I'm referring to can use GPS cell phones; they just want to leave them behind, along with all the rest of the crud and disappointment of the modern world, when they retreat to the Future.
Whereas what WJW is saying about Le Carré is that Le Carré actually doesn't, literally, himself, understand Google. He's an old guy and he has a nontechnical profession -- writing -- and he probably just doesn't get search. "Le Carré was in his mid-seventies when he wrote this book, and he’s not of a generation that grew up with the internet, and maybe he’s the sort of busy, successful person who hires other people to do the internet for him. Professionally he’s never even graduated to the typewriter— he writes everything by hand."
That's a different problem. Bungling a technology because you actually don't yourself know how it works is one thing. Using a technology yourself every day, but failing to include it when you write about the Future because it doesn't feel like it belongs there, means you're doing something different than what SF used to do.