20 years ago, AT&T ad campaign ‘predicted’ technology that was well on its way

A YouTube compilation of a 20-year-old AT&T ad campaign dubbed “You Will” is getting pass-along traffic today (and not for the first time). It’s a fun look at the company’s predictions for a range of technologies that would become the likes of GPS, online books and electronic toll collection.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that anyone could have seen these things coming back in 1994. It’s remarkable that these innovations would become not only real but commonplace so soon after this ad campaign aired. That they would become a reality at all? That’s less remarkable, because many were already well on their way.

If you’d rather read, there’s a partial transcript of the ads, peppered with a bit of historical perspective, below the video.

Ad begins: “Have you ever borrowed a book … from thousands of miles away?

“You will.”

Of course you will. By 1994 Project Gutenberg had been digitizing books for two decades. They weren’t doing it for fun.

“Crossed the country … without stopping for directions?”

Twenty years in development, GPS by 1995 was fully operational for military use and only a few years from commercial availability. It was not a secret, either.

“Or sent someone a fax … from the beach?”

Wireless fax was coming to a beach near you, all right, as wireless facsimile transmission had been around since the Coolidge Administration. True, this ad pre-dated smart-phone ubiquity, but mobile phones themselves had been on the market for 10 years by then.

“Have you ever paid a toll … without slowing down?”

You had if you were visiting from Norway, as electronic toll collection had been in use there since 1991.

“Bought concert tickets from a cash machine?”

Not sure that was ever a good idea, or actually happened, but ATMs date back to the 1960s.

“Or tucked your baby in from a phone booth?”

The video shows a businesswoman coo-cooing her infant via a video-enabled phone boo … wait, a what? As for the “you will” part, videophone technology had been around since the early 20th Century.

“Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to … the minute you wanted?”

Granted, the range of options available today would have been difficult for a consumer to imagine in 1994, but a video on demand service was being tested in England at the same time these ads ran.

“Have you ever checked out of a supermarket … full cart at a time?”

The commercial shows a woman pushing a full cart under a scanner at walking speed and not stopping for so much as a receipt.

Life will be grand when this comes to my local Price Chopper.

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