Note: This is a pretty long post, but hang in there! I have plenty of pictures and my humorous insights to share!
For as long as man has had an imagination, he has tried to predict the future. If you make enough psychic predictions, the chances are that at least one of them will actually manifest itself. People in the technology industry are notorious for their predictions, trying to sell the public on all these far-fetched futuristic gizmos and gadgets we’ll have that will make life better and their grandkids richer. Alas, these people at the forefront of science and technology have about the same success rate as the corner prophet and the TV weatherman. If you don’t believe me, look at the picture I included above. Just how long have we been promised flying cars now? The concept has been around for almost as long as automobiles and airplanes have… and even Back To The Future was predicting their widespread use by 2015.
Let’s face it, we will never have flying cars… at least not in common use. Flying cars are a good example of what happens when engineers get too big of a woody thinking about ways to combine examples of current technology into something totally awesome but absolutely impractical. Another typical roadblock that hampers the Popular Mechanics seer is the inability to foresee new technology that will render their future vision to be obsolete before it ever gets off the drawing board.
For a good lesson in how corny and ironically hilarious some predictions can look when viewed from the future time that was being envisioned, for today’s Retro Ad Tuesday we’re going to take a gander at a commercial campaign AT&T was running 20 years ago in which they made the long term blunder of trying to predict the future. While many of the futuristic advances we saw in these spots wowed us back in 1993 when they originally aired, from a 2013 point of view, we can obviously look back and laugh at how silly the world’s foremost telecommunications company that was supposed to be on the cutting edge of new technology looked trying to gaze into the crystal ball.
The ad campaign was called “You Will…”, and here is a video featuring all seven commercials in the series….
First impression… doesn’t it seem odd that a company like AT&T couldn’t anticipate the impending rise of the communications advancement that they would come to be a big part of?
1. Have you ever borrowed a book…. from thousands of miles away?
Boy, they blew this one. Thanks to the invention of ebooks on such devices as the Nook and Kindle, “borrowing” books from thousands of miles away is no longer necessary… particularly on that dated microfilm-looking technology that person in the ad is using…
2. Crossed the country…. without stopping for directions?
Ding Ding Ding! Score one for AT&T who saw the coming of the modern GPS device! I don’t know when GPS’s readily became available, but the first, and I think to this day only time I was ever in a car with a GPS was waaaaaaay back in 2000 in a rental car. It really did nothing but list directions on a screen, and didn’t talk or show cool 3-D streetviews like the gadgets nowadays do, or at least I’d assume they do. Like I said, GPS’s are something I know little about because I still get where I’m going the old fashioned way…. by looking for the North Star.
3. Sent someone a fax….. from the beach?
This is going to become a common theme in this breakdown, but this is the first case of AT&T not taking into account that a certain technology was about to become obsolete. While faxes haven’t quite become dinosaurs yet, alternate technology to send written documents almost anywhere has existed for a while now. The guy in the ad essentially wrote an email, and I know email was around in 1993, because that was the year I was introduced to it in college. I guess you could give AT&T credit for conceptualizing what essentially became the iPad, but the whole fax machine routine it goes through is so quaintly funny…
4. Have you ever paid a toll…. without slowing down?
I’m fortunate to live in an area without any toll roads, but I have to pass through two tollways every year when I go to Oklahoma. Oklahoma has a pass you can buy that allows you to go around the tollgates via a sensor with verifies that you have a pass and it is valid. I’d imagine most other tollway systems also have this technology. So while the concept of not having to stop to pay a toll was accurate, their cumbersome method for doing so was way off. Texting while driving is bad enough… but can you imagine driving through the narrow tollgates while you fiddle around trying to pay the toll on your in-car credit card system? The International Brotherhood of Possums is happy this vision did not come to pass.
5. Bought concert tickets…. from a cash machine?
Right church, wrong pew on this prediction, but given how poorly overall AT&T did on these, we’ll generously award them this one. You can certainly buy tickets for events at little video kiosks, but the future of selling tickets was over the internet. These days, almost all first day sales of tickets for concerts and sporting events are limited to internet sales.
6. Tucked your baby in…. from a phone booth?
Any prediction of the future that includes the phrase “phone booth” is obviously declared immediately null and void. We have Skype, and I’m sure video technology exists for cell phones as well (not that I’d know with my vintage 2006 model), but no babies are ever going to be tucked in again from a damn phone booth. Proof that even AT&T didn’t foresee the fact that cell phones would very soon take over the world… and that is proof that they were brought to this planet by evil aliens looking to take over the world. Fun Fact: This was the only one of their “You Will” predictions that AT&T repeated in a later commercial… which makes them missing the boat on this one even funnier!
7. Have you ever opened doors…. with the sound of your voice?
There are many modern technologies out there I don’t partake in, but I’m pretty sure most everyone else doesn’t have voice recognition replacing deadbolts. While this technology would come to pass for use in new cars and evil automated phone systems (although not specific to a certain person’s voice), it was kind of silly for AT&T to envision a bad spy movie use for it.
8. Carried your medical history…. in your wallet?
Another whiff for AT&T, who didn’t envision the penny pinching of the insurance industry nor the enacting of HIPAA laws.
9. Attended a meeting…. in your bare feet?
If there’s one futuristic idea that has been around almost as long as flying cars that actually did manifest itself, it’s video conferencing. Even Back To The Future II threw it in to their 2015 world just 4 years before this ad aired. Maybe this is why video conferencing seems like it’s been around forever… because it was anticipated by almost everyone for decades. Hell, it’s the one thing from the Jetsons’ future world that we did get. Since I am not, nor have ever been in the corporate world, I have no idea how long this technology has existed, but color me surprised AT&T still thought it to be a novel concept 20 years ago…
10. Have you ever watched a movie you wanted to…. the minute you wanted to?
Kudos to AT&T for predicting on-demand technology! Thanks to cable, satellite, and Netflix, and hell, even Hulu and YouTube, we can indeed watch movies and shows whenever we wish. AT&T conveniently skipped the part about not having to put up with commercials…
11. Learned special things…. from far away places?
I’ve been out of school now for 16 years, so I really have no idea if the classroom version of video conferencing actually became an everyday reality… but I doubt it. These days, if you want to learn about where jazz came from, you don’t ask some professor living across the country who probably wouldn’t know Dizzy Gillespie from Dizzy Dean, you go to Wikipedia like everyone else does.
12. Have you ever checked out of a supermarket… a whole cart at a time?
While I don’t recall this particular version of the future of shopping, I do remember a similar ad from the late 90’s that shows a shady looking teen pocketing merchandise while bring followed by store security… and when he gets to the exit, the system scans all of his items and credit card automatically and the guard stops him…. to give him his receipt. I thought that was a bunch of bullshit back then, and whaddaya know, it’s still far from being a reality. Even self-checkout machines (i.e. Satan reincarnate) are logistically flawed, and large stores only put up with them due to perceived customer “convenience” and of course to save payroll on real, live cashiers. The idea of a cart full of merchandise automatically being scanned at a checkout is ludicrous, take it from someone who’s worked at Mecca and dealt with their thousands and thousands of individual bar codes for 15 years.
13. Put your heads together… when you’re not together?
Just a dressed up version of the video conferencing prediction. Not only are cell phones mysteriously absent from AT&T’s future, but apparently the internet is as well. How did these guys ever beat out MCI?
14. Gotten a phone call…. on your wrist?
Really, do I need to say more? You can come up with the gag answer for this one…
15. Have you ever had a classmate… who’s thousands of miles away?
Public schools may be increasing class sizes due to budget cuts and a lack of qualified teachers, but those extra students won’t be coming from Bumfuck, Mississippi or Japan anytime soon. Just another novelty concept with no real practical value.
16. Conducted business… in a language you don’t understand?
Sure, we have online translators now… but have you noticed something that’s apparent in most of these predictions. While AT&T missed out on cell phone and internet booms, they apparently knew touchscreen technology was going to be all the rage. Most of the futile premonitions that have been trotted out in these ads involved a lot of touchscreen usage. Touching my computer monitor here in 2013 just makes the colors look funny where my finger is…
17. Kept an eye on your home…. when you’re not at home?
Just when I was giving AT&T a little credit for pushing touchscreen technology, now they whip out the old stylus on us. And while that device the woman is holding kinda looks like a modern smartphone, it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever it is couldn’t receive a call since AT&T’s future consists of payphones and wristphones…
18. Have you ever renewed your drivers license…. at a cash machine?
We can forgive AT&T for not envisioning 9/11 and the way it would turn us into a paranoid, militaristic state. I’ve only had three drivers licenses in my life thanks to Illinois’ sticker renewal program, and each license has gotten more and more crammed full of security features. AT&T seems to have a fascination with “cash machines”, which in the forward thinking 2010’s we simply call ATM’s, but I doubt the same device that can’t read my debit card on first swipe and spit out rat-eaten currency is going to be able to issue a modern drivers license… or that the states would ever allow us to skip the pleasant DMV wait.
19. Fixed a car… with your television?
AT&T couldn’t see the advances that cell phones and the internet would bring us, so why should they have also predicted that cars (spurred by the profit margins of having work done only at dealer shops) would become so computerized and equipped with such specialized parts that your local mechanic wouldn’t even be able to do a simple repair on it, let alone some Mr. Goodwrench from who-knows-where that would appear on your TV? We can forgive you that, AT&T, but really… television? Did you seriously not think the computer would take off in 1993?
20. Had an assistant…. who lived in your computer?
The last, and fittingly the most far-reaching of all of these “You Will…” predictions was the computerized “assistant”, here shown as a digitized dog. “Smart computers” have certainly been in the works, but so far, the only real smart technology computers seem to have is the damn internet cookie that tracks the websites you visit and searches you’ve made, and then makes the ads you see on websites just a little to personal and creepy. Thanks for bringing up singles who want to date me in my hometown, Fido! Now can you fetch me the one simple trick people in my state can use that will help me save a ton of money on my car insurance? Good boy!
If you’ve made it this far through this long post, there’s no need to keep you any longer with a verbose conclusion. I’ll just end this post with yet another frequent vision of the future that sadly has yet to become a reality….