Saturday, October 3, 2009

AT&T: You won't?

This is a series of ads run by AT&T in 1993 (notice that Tom Selleck is the announcer?). The campaign is somewhat remarkable is the technologies and products feature are ones we take for granted now and did not exist back then. Well except for the video payphones.

Among the technologies predicted that would not exist for at least another five to ten years later were wifi, tablet PCs, GoToMeeting/WebEx, Google Book Search, Google Health, GPS, FastTrak and on-demand digital cable.

The only thing they were off on was they didn't anticipate that cell phones would be ubiquitous as well as internet based videoconferencing features of applications such as Skype and GoogleTalk) so need for the video payphones.

As fun as these ads are however at least one critic, Cory Doctorow, wrote in 1996 how the ads display a sense of hubris by an old-world corportate behmoth like AT&T and that just envisioning internet-era analogues of existing technology signifies the company missing the point of the internet. Like Edison's idea of "opera by telephone" at the turn of the last century or the "big beautiful tomorrow" campaigns of the sixties its corporate claptrap that wasn't getting the true innovation going on in the workshops and garages of the tinkerers, if only government and big business would get out of the way.

The irony of this of course is that while AT&T "celebrated" new technologies and innovation, they pursue policy positions against concepts such as net neutrality trying to stifle new-world companies like Google (who has created a hell of lot more amazing things in 11 years than AT&T has in 125 years) rather than trying to compete in the marketplace.  Even in the video we see predictions of two applications developed not by Ma Bell but Google, Google Book Search and Google Health.

So how about AT&T just go back and fire up Mr. Bell's lab?