In spy movies, there are often sequences showing an overview of the ocean or a city, with a location like "SOUTH PACIFIC SEA" being written, letter by letter (often uppercase / fixed width / green / segment-based) on the screen, with a tiny, morse-like, digital sound being played for each letter.


  1. The Brothers Grimsby (03:30) -- digital sound, very close to the one I'm mainly thinking about
  2. The Dictator (04:50) -- a more mechanical sound
  3. Terminator 1/2 (whenever Arnold "scans" the room) -- a more complex, combined sound

Does this sound effect originate from some kind of historical intelligence apparatus, like a telex machine, a teleprompter, etc.? Or is it purely a Hollywood invention that is repeated by convention.

YouTube has some examples, becomingly called digital/military text typing.


2 Answers 2


Graphics styles change over the years; while they're popular, they usually refer to some currently popular theme or trope.

Right from the 1950s and even up to the 80s & 90s, 'secret spy computers' were "the thing".
By this time, the general populace would recognise what a computer green screen looked like - so they tended to be used for anything vaguely 'technical'...

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It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to see this kind of typography being used as an on-screen graphic.

The 'type it a letter at a time with noises' trope comes from the earlier days of the Telex, where someone would actually be sitting at one end of a telephone line, typing 'live' to a paper strip printer - actually an electric typewriter, in effect - at the other.

"Everybody knows" that computers make beeping noises, of course ;-)

With a bit of artistic license, you can overlay the methods.

  • I looked at a Telex machine on YouTube. This had the sound of a dot matrix printer. So what kind of machine, if any, does this faint, digital "dit-dit" sound originate from?
    – forthrin
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:31
  • 1
    dot matrix came much later. They were originally literally typewriters. The dit dit is something someone made up to sound "like a computer". This is all from the days before most people had any real clue what a computer was or did, so they had a lot of leeway.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:48
  • The movies you've added to the question are far too new to fit this trope - they are, however, simply more modern examples of the same thing. "sci-fi tech as perceived by a movie maker".
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:51

What you're looking for is called Telemetry. A short description is:

Telemetry is an automated communications process by which measurements and other data are collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring.[1] The word is derived from Greek roots: tele = remote, and metron = measure. Systems that need external instructions and data to operate require the counterpart of telemetry, telecommand.[2]

Telemetry has a long military history dating back to the 19th Century. Telemeters, the devices used to transmit the data, do make sounds similar to typewriters, as well as sounds similar to what you hear in the scenes you inquired about.

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