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Analysis

I've been asked this question countless times by people I know who have seen The Matrix. If you haven't seen the movie, I'll explain. One of the elements that makes for lots of action scenes is that the main characters have to find a working phone in order to logout of The Matrix. However, they often have cellular phones with them, but don't use them to log out. Here is my analysis.

Phones have to be rigged

Tank during the course of the movie, refers to the various phones as, "exits." Sometimes characters have to travel several blocks before finding an exit, and there are bound to be other phones along the way. This suggests that specific phones have to be rigged with a certain device or software "patch" before they can be used as an exit.

They bring the cellular phones in with them

Because the characters seem to enter the world already having cellular phones, this leads us to believe that the phones aren't a permanent part of the matrix. This could cause them to not be a viable tool for logging out. Cellular phones are also mobile, suggesting that perhaps it isn't the phone that lets them log out, but the phone line itself, which has a static location within the matrix.

Input/Output carrier signal

At the start of the film, Neo takes a pill that is supposed to distrupt his I/O carrier signal with the matrix. The rest of the team can then track the interrupts and pinpoint his location in the real world. This suggests that the phones possibly do something similar, that once rigged they're able distrupt the I/O carrier signal of the caller so their location within the matrix can traced. This would explain why the pill is only considered, "part" of the program as Morpheus puts it, and would also explain the presence of the telephone dialing by itself in that scene. The pill could've had no real function at all other than to test whether Neo was ready.


Update!

I came upon this tidbit while reading an interview with the directors, the Wachowski Brothers, on whatisthematrix.com.

Sinclair: Why were they only able to jack in through hard-lines, but still able to communicate over cell?

WachowskiBros: Sinclair, good question! Mostly we felt that the amount of information that was being sent into the Matrix required a significant portal. Those portals, we felt, were better described with the hard lines rather than cell lines. We also felt that the rebels tried to be invisible when they hacked, that's why all the entrances and exits were sort of through decrepit and low traffic areas of the Matrix.

Have you ever noticed that in "The Matrix", the phones that are designated hard lines are never used as actual phones?

Cellular phones (and regular wired ones) are for communication with the "real world" outside the Matrix -- and apparently, anyone's cell phone can be used, not just the ones Neo and Company bring with them. But a hard line is apparently designed to do one thing: bring people in and out of the Matrix through a secret pirate signal.

Possibly they're all part of an old physical telephone network which is no longer in common use; this would explain why the Agents can cut the line feeding them from outside the building. But without variation the hard lines are all situated in places where they'd rarely be used by ordinary people. Probably if they tried to pick one up, they'd get no dial tone, put the handset back down in frustration, and look for another phone somewhere else. It's all part of the clever camouflage.

It would have been nice if the script had taken a second to explain that, I suppose. But then again, if they went around explaining everything, it wouldn't have been much of an action movie.

In respose to Nanosecond
They do not bring cell phones with them into The Matrix. The cell phones are part of the "mental projection of their digital selves" classifing them as the same as the cell phones used by the people stuck in the Matrix. Cypher definitely left a cell phone in the Matrix when they went to see the Oracle (he dropped it in a trash can). Besides, you can't physically bring anything into the Matrix because it's a virtual world.

in response to mblase
Tank does not know who is going to be on the line when his phone rings in the Nebuchadnezzar. That's why he says "Operator" when it does.

IMO, cell phones do not have the bandwidth/error correction/reliablity/security that land lines do. The computer equivalent of cell phones vs. land lines in the Matrix are a IEEE 802.11 ethernet adapter vs. a 100 megabit full duplex NIC. Land lines (or hard lines) are also more representative of being physically 'connected' to another source. The broadcast signal of the Nebuchadnezzar is received by or connected this very source.

Also remember that only certain land-line telephones are able to get people into and out of the Matrix. People in Zion or Nebuchadnezzar-type vessels probably crack into the Matrix's version of a PBX and setup a dozen hard lines.. effectively cold-clocking COCOTs and regular phones for their own usage. ph34r!

In response to whizkid, I think you take a lot of the fun out of the movie and this node. :)

The reason you cannot exit the Matrix on a cell phone is because a cell phone is simple piece of software inside the Matrix, whereas the hard lines are real physical lines traveling around the post-apocalyptic world, which are represented in the Matrix by normal telephones. The cell phones are somewhat similar to a instant messenger program, they are capable of instantly connecting to a certain person or place. They have very simple protocols that are great at what they do, however are varying shades of useless for much else.

The hard lines are a whole different ball-game, while equally simple in operation (for either one you need only pick up the phone and get ready to talk) the hard lines have a million times more back end support. The hard lines as I see it have three main parts:

      1. The interface, the actual construct of the telephone/ pay phone ect which the person in the Matrix interacts with.
      2. The back-end software and protocols, the software required to actually transmit all that a person is are infinitely more complex than those required to transmit a simple approximation of a persons voice, eg, think of how much “fun” it would be to write device drivers for a wet-warenon-sentient computer interface.
      3. The physical hard lines themselves, the actual physical means of information transmitting data, whilst the cell phone message is simple enough, that it really does not matter where you are transmitting from or too, the information a hard line caries is FAR more complex, and FAR less fault tolerant, and as a result of this to ensure the speed and reliability of the connection you have to be directly on top of the signal (do you want your connection dropping packets while its transferring your consciousness…) this the reason that the interface(part A) has to be stationary, and thus not a cell phone.

The cell phones are by comparison, almost all part A, with very little part B, and no part C. They both (hard lines and cell phones) serve totally different and mutually exclusive purposes, just as you cannot actually speak to some one on a hard line, you can not exit on a cell phone. The only thing that is in fact even similar is the interface/construct that they both use, that of a phone.

As one of the editors at E2, I try to teach Everythingians the principles of good writing. I have to say that they can't get out of the Matrix on cellular phones because The Matrix was written well.

One of the most important principles of good fictional writing is to put as many obstacles in the protagonist's way as possible. Make them suffer, was the title of an article that appeared in Writer's Digest many years ago.

The obstacles must be hard, but they must be of the kind the protagonist can overcome. But he is in no way guaranteed that he will overcome them. Often the only way of overcoming the obstacle is through some kind of pain or loss. This creates suspense in the reader (or, of course, viewer when it comes to movies) who wants the protagonist to overcome those obstacles.

In the case of The Matrix, finding a right telephone and getting to it is one of the recurring obstacles. Right at the start, we see Trinity fighting her way out of a building, running to a phone booth, which is then crushed by a big truck. At that point, we do not yet know who she is, whether she is good or bad. We do not know that she got there on time. We do not know why she was running to the booth. All we know is that she is no longer there.

We do remember that opening scene every time anyone is trying to get to the right phone. We now know that it is possible for them to reach the phone (if we did not, we would assume the person looking for the phone was not going to make it). We also know that the agents know our heros need to get to a specific phone and will do everything conceivable to prevent them from getting there (if we did not know that, we would assume the person looking for the phone would get to it without any difficulty). This creates tension and uncertainty, which all good fiction writing is based on (it is actually an excellent tool for non-fiction writers as well, but rarely used in that genre).

Allowing them to use cellular phones would make all this suspense impossible. Sure, Neo could lose his cell phone before the final battle. But that could only happen once. There would be no way to prepare the audience, to build the tension up gradually.

The idea of needing specific phones works. I seriously doubt anyone watching the movie for the first time was thinking why they could not get out of the Matrix on cellular phones. We were all busy thinking, gee, I hope he(she)'ll make it. And, of course, in the final battle we not only wanted Neo to get to the phone, but to get there on time.

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