In 1994, telecommunications giant AT&T ran a series of television ads in the US created by N. W. Ayer and directed by David Fincher (!) with the tagline “You Will.” The ads started with a voiceover by Mr. Tom “Magnum P.I.” Selleck asking, “Have you ever…” and then go on to show a whole set of new technology, ending with the kicker, “You will. And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T.” The ads don’t say how AT&T will bring to you all this cool stuff, although we now understand it is broadband pipes and wireless connectivity. While designers fetishize the Apple 1984 ad, I think we should also remember this series as a lost set of classics. I know they had an impact on me.
Here’s what the ads promised would come about:
“Have you ever sent a fax [!!!] from the beach?” WiFi/WAN. Done.
“Have you ever crossed the country without stopping to ask directions?” GPS navigation systems. Done.
“Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?” The internet. Done.
“Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down?” I’d say we’re about halfway there now.
“Have you ever bought concert tickets from a cash machine?” Hmm, no. Add to the To Do list. Although, buying them online is probably easier.
“Have you ever attended a meeting in your bare feet?” and “Have you ever learned special things from far-away places?” and “Have you ever tucked your baby in from a phone booth [!!!}?” Videoconferencing. Done. Although phone booths are mostly a thing of the past now.
“Have you ever opened doors with the sound of your voice?” Nope, although pretty feasible.
“Have you ever carried your medical history in your wallet?” Not exactly, but perhaps outside the US this is a reality.
“Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to the minute you wanted to?” Video on demand. Done.
“Have you ever checked out at a grocery store one cart at a time?” I’m guessing this is via some sort of RFID tags/reader combination. Not there yet. Give it three years.
“Have you ever had an assistant who lives in your computer?” Software agents. Nope, not there yet either. Again, give it three years.
“Have you ever gotten a phone call, on your wrist?” Wristwatch cell phones. Done
“Have you ever conducted business in a language you don’t understand?” A combination of video conferencing, speech recognition, and translation software. They are working on it.
“Have you ever kept an eye on your home when you’re not at home?” Home automation which is accessed in the ad via a touchscreen smartphone. Done
Aside from the pointed-out technology, what struck me the most re-watching these ads were the touchscreens everywhere. Touchscreen monitors, tablets, medical record viewing screens. Some real forward-thinking devices here, years before they would hit the general public. All in all, these commercials are surprising in how well they predict a lot of the day-to-day existence we find ourselves in now. This “possible future” they predicted has mostly come true. Even if, ironically, AT&T had very little to do with it. (by Dan Saffer)