;;; youwill.el --- generate meaningless marketing hype
have you ever been forced by your TV to eat peaches? or been transported to an alternate reality where you lost your piglet? you will. and the company that will bring it to you: AT&T
Digitization of health data has increased massively since 93' of course, but the landscape is still completely Balkanized and there is a growing body of clinicians who believe healthcare IT is actively making healthcare worse. Put another way, the idea of a complete, centralized, useful medical medical history being available for everyone in the US still seems like a pipe dream. Interesting discussion to be had about how, in this particular industry, progress has been so slow...
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/12/why-doctors-ha... and https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/16/magazine/heal... for example
Part of it, along with my photo, a hologram, and 5 year expiry date, was really meant to prevent insurance fraud from out of province people. ie: Americans.
There were also no safeguards or legislation in place to prevent employers, insurers or authorities from being granted access to your health record at launch.
The only thing they missed was that you'd be able to carry such phones on your person, in your pocket. They couldn't fathom that we'd get really good at packing all that functionality into something so small.
I can't help but wonder what a modern day Bell Labs would be able to do.
They had magnetic storage and an answering machine in the 30s, but were terrified that it might reduce demand for telephone services, so they suppressed the technology for sixty years.
Maybe that one would have never come to light without their help anyway, but they also fought inventions of outsiders that touched the telephone network, under the monopoly protection laws that allowed them to control anything "connected to" their network.
Probably the most absurd example is when they fought to stop people from using a physical barrier to make phone calls a little less loud:
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how much I learned. There were amazing minds at Bell Labs who were given free reign to innovate (as a direct result of AT&T's huge monopoly and revenue stream) and ended up laying the groundwork for many ideas and concepts we take for granted today.
The book is so dense with information and anecdotes but I'd still consider it a page-turner. I highly recommend it.
 Yes, I'm dating myself.
Really, that campaign is a great way of showing younger folk just what they're taking for granted, and what used to be thought of as "futuristic", and how close the present matches the predicted future.
I'm sure there's another name for it, but I call it the "Bob Dylan Effect". Basically, if you were born after or too young to remember something having a revolutionary and influential in scope as Dylan was (for music and culture), the impact becomes so woven into the fabric of life that in the wake of the revolution, it's difficult for most people who didn't live through it to grasp the magnutude of the impact.
I have a lot of friends who hear Dylan and say "meh, sounds like the same old folk music, I don't get what the big deal is about". But that's the point! Where do you think that sound and approach to music came from? Seems to be the same case with the internet and mobile. Everything seems obvious now, so the ideas of people who really were ahead of their time, simply seem (to some people) like obvious inevitabilities, when that's not at all the case.
Note that something like the moon landing doesn't fall into this "Bob Dylan affect". The moon landing today is still as captivating as it was when it happened. That's because the space race didn't persist, and people aren't taking vacations to Moon City, so we're not really in the wake of a space revolution. But, you bet your sweet bippy that in 80 years, well after Musk gets humans to Mars, there will be someone saying "meh, what's the big deal - of course we were going to get to Mars"... when in reality, without a visionary like Musk, we'd still be floating around the planet and moon poking weightless blobs of water (a.k.a. videos I can't stop watching once I start).
> My hypothesis – and I don’t know if it’s true – is that this is only cliched now because Sartre won. The point of studying Sartre is not to learn that you choose your own identity, but to read him backward – to start with this idea that choosing your own identity is obvious, and then read Sartre to learn exactly how controversial it was at the time and what sorts of arguments Sartre had to go through to get people to accept it, and eventually understand the position that the original reader of Sartre was supposed to have started with. If you succeed, you might still believe that you choose your own identity, but you’ll also understand that this isn’t an obvious necessary fact of the universe, that there used to be people who believed you didn’t and that they had some good arguments too.
Is there anything much to grasp there, though? These are fairly straightforward near-future sort of extrapolation of then-existing technology, for an ad. "A colour Newton that actually works and you can use on the beach" is hardly some mind-blowing prediction nor was it intended to be.
Many phone booths are becoming wifi hotspots, so, with some minor historical revision, they're not too far out.
So you can sort of score how good future predictions are based on these broad ideas even if the particulars didn't work out. "People will generally start to commute on personal flying vehicles" is one that hasn't really come to pass in any form, so the it's a bad prediction. But these ones are really stellar.
I think even more importantly, these ones were so provocative and the grounding in the particulars was so plausible that an entire generation of engineers grew up remembering these video and trying to make the prediction self-fulfilling. Thus these videos were both drivers of innovation as well as prophecy. There's an overly academic book on this topic with a great title that I think captures this well: "The Dreams our Stuff is Made of"
The biggest prediction here that underlies all of these predictions is that there is going to be a global communications capability that enables most of the things in the ads -- and it was going to be so ubiquitous, commoditized and possess so much bandwidth and low latency that anybody could use it anywhere. In 1993, this wasn't a forgone conclusion -- Windows 95 didn't even ship with a built-in TCP/IP stack.
The obvious thing they missed was miniaturization and device convergence. Most of the activities here involve people still going to fixed or installed devices -- the smartphone was never considered.
Are you sure about that? Win 3.11 did not, you had to install trumpet winsock, but win95 did have winsock.dll shipped with it IIRC. You may have had to separately install it, but it was on your handy win95 cd-rom IIRC
Anyway... these appear pretty prescient. However given technologies available in 1993, I actually find almost all of these pretty laughable as examples.
Would’ve been cool if it were made in 1973 though.
Guffawed when I saw those phone booth picture phones.
Palm, Nokia/Symbian, Danger, and Microsoft had been pushing smartphones before the iPhone came out. BlackBerry was pushing non-touch smartphones as well. The issue is that none of them really had a compelling user experience before Apple came along. You can say that the iPhone was obvious, but no one else saw to use capacitive touchscreens at the time. Even after the iPhone came out, everyone thought that the lack of a physical keyboard was Apple's hubris and would be their downfall. Windows Mobile, Symbian, and PalmOS didn't integrate a first-class web browsing experience. Heck, I remember Windows Mobile emphasizing scroll bars rather than the natural movement that Apple introduced with the iPhone, never mind pinch to zoom.
Apple came along and showed everyone what the point of having a smartphone in your pocket was. You'd have the best music experience. You'd have the full internet for any question you'd ever have. You'd have maps. You'd have a great photos experience. Part of that is that they recognized that the capacitive technology they'd been using in iPods and trackpads for years could be used as part of a fuller operating system. Part of it is that they really spent a lot of time figuring out how people could use a touchscreen well. Others had just tried to take desktop UI concepts and put them on a touch device.
AT&T saw the emergence of the smartphone. Heck, Microsoft, Palm, Nokia/Symbian, BlackBerry, Danger, and even Google tried to build it before Apple (Google was targeting Symbian and had to "go back to the drawing board" when the iPhone was introduced). They all missed the key affordances that would drive consumer adoption. Google's pre-iPhone prototypes were basically BlackBerry/Symbian competitors. Microsoft wanted scroll bars, a start menu, and windows. Even after the iPhone, many tried pushing devices with keyboards: Moto Droid, HTC's first Android device, the Palm Pre, etc. It's not about saying "we'll have X in the future!" People saw smartphones/tablets. Heck, Star Trek had tablets in late 80s, but they didn't need them to be usable, just props. People just never figured out how to make them compelling for users before Apple did.
Except for the fact it's sending a fax.
Smartphones don't send faxes, but they could. They don't because they exist in a world where faxing someone something is a niche application, and approximately nobody would buy a smartphone based on how well it faxes. The technological culture is different. The world has changed in more ways than just "We can stick a good computer in your pocket and power it all day long" and AT&T didn't predict that.
I realize I'm partially repeating some elements of your comment, but I do have my own point to make here: In looking at history, avoid Presentism. Try to see the past on its own terms, not through the lens of the modern day. That is a learned skill, and not having it is shown by crediting people in the past with predicting things they never thought of.
The wireless (cellphone) capability would add a new dimension: on-the-go connectivity. In theory.
One of our sales guys was going to NYC and asked for us to load 'the latest build' and against our best judgement, we did. He reported back next day to us that he had successfully send a FAX to a potential client from the back seat of his cab. We all thought "What the heck! We never said that would work!" and then, "Oh, wow, looks like that worked!"
Smartphones (and PDAs) existed before the iPhone and people were trying to find that compelling combination and they were coming up with garbage like, "um, what about faxing?"
Yes, AT&T (and everyone else) didn't anticipate the iPhone, but everyone anticipated a good computer in your pocket powered all day long - they just couldn't make it a compelling experience. The iPhone is the meticulous design of applications, features, and affordances that make it a compelling user experience. Everyone kinda anticipated "internet on phones". The iPhone showed how the internet on phones could be a positive experience. Everyone anticipated music on phones. The iPhone showed how that could be the best music UI.
I don't think there's anything that the iPhone did that hadn't been done before, but poorly. The point is that a lot of it is bringing many different things together in a cohesive, compelling product. You could have bought a Windows Mobile device before the iPhone came out, but it was just crummy. Saying that it's because AT&T shows it faxing is a bit of a cop out. Microsoft had PocketPC devices for around 7 years before the iPhone. The name is literally a computer in your pocket. Everyone has been anticipating a computer in your pocket for a long time. Apple made it compelling.
It's possible that you don't remember all the talk about pocket computing, all the ads, all the failed products. They were there. Everyone was not only anticipating them, but trying to make them. They just didn't know what they were for, what the UI needed to be like, what affordances users wanted, etc.
But by 2001 or so I had a Palm Phone. It was essentially a smart phone but it lacked color, weighed five pounds, you needed a stylus and there was no app store. My non-tech friends who didn't see the value of the web when I showed it to them in 1994 just laughed at me. They told me with complete wonderment, why would anyone ever want the internet in their pocket?
But the same mainframe execs who never saw either the mini or microcomputer coming also never thought that trend would continue.
> Guffawed when I saw those phone booth picture phones.
It's how these things usually work: The Future Is The Same, But Different
The Same: Things basically click along they way they do now. Want to make a call away from home or office? Use a payphone. Most natural thing in the world.
But Different: Well, payphones aren't going to stay the same, are they? Videophones have been a Coming Thing for decades now, so obviously we'll have Video Payphones.
All of those Coming Things. Where have they all gone?
The interesting thing to me is this: Car phones had existed for decades by that point. They'd slimmed down to bag phones for the masses, and bricks for Gordon Gekko and his proteges. But AT&T didn't prognosticate their continued slimming driving payphones into irrelevance. You don't even need the smartphone concept, which was a truly interesting convergence of cell phone and computer, to get the idea that "Cell phones getting smaller" leads to "I can carry a phone with me" leads to "I don't need a payphone" leads to payphones no longer existing.
Oh, and Bag Phone, because nobody else seems to remember them:
Even accurately predicts portrait-mode video.
See also the "minisec" from Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth (1976):
Duncan Makenzie had a new minisec, and he was not quite sure how parts of it worked.
The 'Sec was the standard size of all such units, determined by what can fit comfortably in the human hand. At a quick glance, it did not differ greatly from one of the small electronic calculators that had started coming into general use at the end of the twentieth century. It was, however, infinitely more versatile, and Duncan could not imagine what life would be like without it.
Because of the finite size of clumsy human fingers, it had no more controls than that of its ancestor of three hundred years earlier. There were fifty neat little studs; each, however, had an unlimited number of functions, according to the mode of operation - for the character visible on each stud changed according to the mode.
I could see him using these commercials in his pitch to AT&T. "You said we would. It's time."
Between the time they signed it and the release of the iPhone at retail, they were acquired by att cellular.
So they chose to present things in a way that the average person in 1993 could relate to. Everyone would have been familiar with calling home from a pay phone when traveling -- so it would make sense to present a future where video calling is done from a pay phone. That doesn't necessarily mean AT&T thought this is exactly how the future would play out.
Have you ever eaten a steak...that didn't come from an animal?
Have you ever had an iMax movie theater...in your eyeglasses?
Have you have missed talking to a real humam being face to face, you will.
Have you have missed going outside without a radiation suit, you will.
Has your car ever changed its route home to pass by businesses who bid the most?
Have you ever paid more for rent because of your search history?
Have you ever taken a bath... but found there's not enough fresh water to go around?
Have you ever defended your home... from a gang of post-collapse cannibals?
I dunno the future feels less fun now.
It may be the only thing out of that scene that hasn't really come to fruition yet. They show video calling-- we have that. They show telemedicine-- we have that. But it turns out that real-time, speech to speech translation is Really Hard, even as text-to-text translation has gotten massively better over the past few years.
Communication with implants, such as continuous glucose monitoring to present you with a customized restaurant menu for what you should be eating right now (or meal planner for home, etc).
What a shame
(AT&T also ran the first major banner ads on the web, on Hotwired, also extensively covered on the Internet History Podcast)
"And the company that'll bring it to you is AT&T"
That's still etched into my mind all these years later. I've made jokes about this call-and-response as recently as a few weeks ago.
VERY effective campaign.
> And the company that will bring it to you? AT&T