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Twenty years ago, AT&T ran a series of ads depicting the miraculous things information technology would allow us to do in the future.
"Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?" the first ad asks. "Crossed the country without stopping for directions? Or sent someone a fax from the beach? You will. And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T."
Obviously, the future hasn't turned out exactly as AT&T anticipated — most of us avoid sending a fax whenever we can. But the basic technologies AT&T is describing here — ebooks, turn-by-turn directions, and sending documents via mobile devices — are all commonplace. So too are many of the futuristic capabilities depicted in other ads in the campaign: video conferencing, electronic tollbooths, electronic ticket-buying kiosks, on-demand videos. Indeed, many of today's technologies are better than the clunky versions depicted in these ads — we make video calls from smartphones, not phone booths.
Others, including smart watches, MOOCs, and the internet of things, are just taking off now. Most of the remaining technologies — electronic medical records, wireless supermarket checkouts, efficient driver's license renewals, telemedicine — are technologically feasible but have been thwarted by logistical or bureaucratic obstacles. (Realtime voice translation and useful virtual assistants are the two technologies that are still clearly in the future.)
Overall, the ads were remarkably accurate in predicting the cutting-edge technologies of the coming decades. But the ads were mostly wrong about one thing: the company that brought these technologies to the world was not AT&T. At least not on its own. AT&T does provide some of the infrastructure on which the world's communications flow. But the gadgets and software that brought these futuristic capabilities to consumers were created by a new generation of Silicon Valley companies that mostly didn't exist when these ads were made.
Justin, DeLorean, RetroVideoGameNerd and 2 others like this