For Suspension of Disbelief Dial 555-1234


In the North American Numbering Plan, telephone numbers all consist of a 3 digit area code, a 3 digit office code (or exchange), and a 4 digit station number. When written the 3 components are typically separated by dashes, or in some cases periods – for example 206-965-9805.

To prevent real telephone numbers from appearing where they perhaps shouldn’t, phone numbers in the range 555-0100 through 0199 are reserved for “fictional” numbers. (Most assume that the entire 555 office code is so reserved, but apparently not.) What this means is that in books, movies or television when a phone number is presented it’s typically a 555 number.

Knowing this, the use of a 555 number immediately breaks suspension of disbelief for many. “Oh, yeah. We’re watching a movie.”

The internet has something similar when it comes to IP – internet protocol – addresses.

A version 4 IP address (still the most common, even after the introduction of IPv6), consist of four numbers separated by periods. For example is the IP address for the server hosting the blog in which I’m originally posting this. This so called “dotted quad” notation has its roots in the technical details of the internet communications protocols, but it’s really nothing more than a convenient way to represent a 32 bit number.

The catch is that each of the numbers in this dotted-quad can only have a value from 0 to 255. That’s it.

So, what do I see constantly when watching TV shows and movies that somehow need to include internet related content and the mystique of “hacking” something? Completely invalid IP addresses.  67.354.277.133 flies by on the screen, and I’ll think to myself “Oh, yeah. We’re watching a movie.” (In case you missed it, that “IP address” is invalid because of “354”. Those numbers cannot exceed 255.)

It gets in the way. It reminds me that I’m watching a fictional story, and apparently not a particularly accurate one at that. It’s not at all uncommon for me spot places where the technical advisor to a program – if there even is one  – was caught napping, but this is just such a blatant example. And I see it often.

I get why they do it. Some random geek like me will notice the IP addresses used in movie or show, and then try to connect to it. Perhaps they’ll even try to hack it. Just like the song Jenny caused a flood of people trying to call 867-5309, the concern would be that some would notice and try to cause trouble.

Honestly, I’m surprised major studios haven’t simply assigned one or more valid IP addresses for their use and turned them into marketing opportunities. It’s been done with domain names, something that people have become quite comfortable with. When an internet domain is mentioned on a show it’s not uncommon for it to actually be set up with appropriate fictional content, or redirected to the show’s own promotional page.

Perhaps the number of people who might notice things like IP addresses on screen is too small to warrant the effort. 🙂

But it’s something I notice.

And now, perhaps, you will too. 🙂

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