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How Tom Selleck Predicted Our Future [Kicking Back With Jersey Joe][Best of FaN]

Originally published 2/3/12 – One of my favorite blogumns from this year!  It was great to look back on this classic TV commercials and see which AT&T products really did come true as predicted.  I remember how heavily these aired over several years. 

Tom Selleck, the man who starred as Magnum PI and can currently be seen on CBS’ Blue Bloods is a man way ahead of his time.  Nearly two decades ago, his booming voice predicted some of the most common products and appliances we now take for granted!  Was he right?  Check out these vintage commercials I found!

In 1993, AT&T began an advertising campaign showcasing all the future technologies that would soon be in everyone’s home that the phone company was working on.  AT&T was positioning itself as being cutting edge and state of the art as the telecommunications war was getting fiercer.  At the time, smaller phone companies were getting swallowed up and the first discount long distance carriers were coming online.

AT&T wanted to make sure everyone knew they were the king of telecommunications and with this commercial campaign, gave us all a glimpse of the not so distant future…

The first commercial in the campaign correctly predicted three common items:

Downloadable books – When I was in high school at the time, we had a program called Access Pennsylvania.  With a special CD-ROM, you would search for the title of any book, magazine, or video in the cooperating districts.  You would then send a fax request and the library would overnight it.  We thought that was high tech!  Now, you can have a book downloaded electronically over the internet and read it on the train ride to work.  I see dozens of passengers on the subway reading their Kindles and smart phones.

GPS – This one, they got dead on.  Thank goodness they never included all those extra dashboard buttons and are now incorporated into a touch screen!  GPS is already being phased out thanks to directions on mobile phones.

Mobile Messaging – And speaking of mobile phones, we certainly can send a fax from the beach thanks to our IPhone and Android devices.  You just have to be in an area with cell phone or Wi-Fi.  If you’re marooned in the middle of the Pacific, this might not happen so easily!  Most likely, though you would send just a simple text message, faxes are becoming as obsolete as the Palm Pilot is now, which I think is the item they were predicting for this part.

Voice recognition – Modern day voice access is still improving and while most people don’t use it to open their front doors, it is possible.  I can speak to my Android phone and have it search or call who I want.  The IPhone4 has certainly taken this to a new direction with Siri.  Siri read everything from your text messages, to your calendar, to the weather!  Lt. Commander Data from Star Trek: TNG can’t be far behind!

Online medical history – Your medical files can certainly be encoded onto a card, or even most likely, just faxed or emailed to your doctor.  I had that done when I moved to New York and needed my important ophthalmologist information.  While the commercial envisioned a giant touch screen, my doctor points and clicks a mouse.  It is cool that he can bring up my records in different rooms as I go about his office for various, expensive tests.  Now, can we just find a high tech way to lower medical costs?

Skype – The last scene speaks for itself.  Video conferencing is definitely here and thanks to Skype, all you need is a webcam or even just a smart phone and you can pretty much talk to anyone – anywhere!

We’re now 6 for 6!  Let’s look at some more!

On-Demand – Look at that, they perfectly nailed On-Demand television!  Just press the on-demand button on your remote and basically watch what you want.  Or, maybe that family subscribes to Netflix and is downloading a movie right to their TV?  I do both of these all the time!  At least there’s a good bit of free content out there!

Long distance learning – Another example of videoconferencing, in this case with students learning jazz.  It looked like that might have been a sneak peak at the upcoming Windows keyboard that Microsoft had sold.  Remember the one that was split with two separate rows for the right and left hands?  It didn’t really catch on.  But, satellite schools like these are possible today and in some hospitals, complex medical procedures can be done this way.

Videophone – Sadly, you failed to catch on.  The cellular phone pretty much destroyed any chance of the video phone booth from happening.  While, we do have webcams and Skype that can show video of the caller, most people aren’t going to do that out in the open.  Plus, when is the last time you’ve seen a real phone booth?  While there were many experiments to introduce the video phone to the public, there is simply no need and this technology is stuck in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  And don’t act like you wouldn’t spy on someone making a video call out in the open like that?  Ugh, and I don’t welcome the thought of seeing someone doing this with a 1-900 line!

Videoconferencing – Another example of how videoconferencing can be used in a classroom.  This is certainly a reality around the world.

Skype and foreign language translation – There’s another glimpse of the hoped for video phone again.  But, today this is currently done on a desktop computer, and while language conversion software is available, it is more widely used in text form.  It is fairly easy however, to translate foreign web pages to English just down downloading a browser plug in or buying the software.

Mobile apps – There’s an app for that and in this case, a security system for the home.  While you would have to pay a monthly fee for this – it is certainly a reality.  Mobile phone apps can even record your favorite TV shows, turn on the lights, and even retrieve your grocery list from the fridge!

The next set of ads, while still amazing accurate and technically possible – won’t all become a reality.

Driver’s license at the ATM – The ATM/driver’s license machine would be great to avoid the lines at the DMV, but Homeland Security will never let this happen.  While you can use kiosks for all kinds of services, a new ID phone won’t be one of them anytime soon.

Off site service and repair – Another example of video conferencing.  I also noticed how the camera was in the long cable the mechanic was holding.  While not really in the home, there are all kinds of tiny cameras on the market.  Just check out your next local news’ undercover investigation!

Virtual Assistant – While there are software programs that can do all of the things the woman asked, it is not as cut and dry as the commercial and not really in home use.  With the right software program, this is possible, as Siri for IPhone is another example. Although the virtual dog was pretty cool!

EZ-Pass – Look, they correctly predicted EZ-Pass!  I’m they dropped having to swipe a credit card each time, especially with the new high speed EZ-Pass lanes as predicted here.  Although, non-EZ-Pass users still like to get in the wrong lane…

Ticket kiosk – You sure can purchase concert tickets from an ATM like machine.  Ticketmaster has those kiosks all over and some casinos will allow you to print out tickets or at least a voucher at their machines.

Video payphone – And, there’s that video phone again…it made it into a second commercial.

The AT&T logo on a building in Wayne, Pennsylvania

AT&T started as the American Telephone and Telegraph company on March 3, 1885.  The original goal was to provide long distance telecommunications and was born from the original Bell Telephone Company created by Alexander Graham Bell.

Early long distance messages were sent by tapping a single key, that would send your brief message as clicks along the telegraph line.  As technology increased, so did AT&T.

The first national long distance calls were available 1915 and transcontinental calls followed in 1927 by using two way radio.

The company was often called a monopoly had was forced to break up several times into smaller units.  Through regulation and negotiation, AT&T would branch out into all aspects of global communication from cell phone service to cable television.

AT&T was most recently acquired by SBG Communications in 2005.

AT&T has managed to stay at the front of the telecommunications race, but they continue to get squeezed by the competition.  They recently lost their monopoly on the IPhone as subscribers defected to Verizon, which customers claim has a better wireless service network and less dropped calls.

It would be interesting to see AT&T create a new version of these ads today that could look at the next few decades of products.  Some biblical scholars and tech experts believe that we will all have barcodes tattooed on our skin that will record everything about us would only require a simple scan.  This technology is already present for your pets.  The Bible calls this “the mark of the beast” and is a sign of Revelation – that the world will be coming to an end.

THE 411

What: AT&T “You will” futuristic advertising campaign

When: 1993, 1994

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:  Absolutely shocking and accurate to see.  Choosing Tom Selleck for the voice over was the perfect tough to drive this campaign home.  He’s a well known actor and an unmistakable voice.

I remember watching these when they first aired and was amazed to know that someday I would get to use all these products.  Well, the future is now!

It’s great to see how technology has truly made our lives easier.  Even to the point that I can sit in my living room and watch Letterman as I type this blogumn, make a few mouse clicks, and it’s beamed right to your desktop or mobile device.  Years ago, this might have appeared after I submitted it to a newspaper or a photocopied niche newsletter!

If this is what’s happened in the last two decades – I truly can’t wait to see what‘s to come in the next two decades ahead!

Image credits – Barbara.Doduk, (M)factr, Alan Light