Visions of the future via Flickr

Visions of the future at Los Angeles International Airport (photo by Flickr user brewbooks)

Which television family do you prefer: the Jetsons or the Simpsons? If you picked the former, you will certainly enjoy this visit to the future past, when sci-fi-esque advertisements provided a vision of the then-future, which is now a part of our present reality. It’s as if Ray Kurzweil — inventor of the scanner and author of the seminal The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology — visualized these videos, which we found thanks to Mashable.

This 1993 advertisement from AT&T, simply titled “View of the Future by AT&T,” eerily predicts in-car GPS, tablets that can send faxes from the beach, and ebooks. Nowadays it’s unlikely for people not to whip out their smartphones and punch in directions, or tap them into an in-car GPS. We thank the technological gods for GPS and wonder what we did in the days of glove-compartment maps. In fact, this AT&T advertisement did offer a vision of the future in 1993, but not one that was completely sci-fi; according to, the US Department of Defense launched the satelitte-based system TRANSIT around 1960, and it was refined in the early 1980s. Still, it wasn’t until around 2000 that GPS navigation went mainstream.

In a video from 1967, Walter Cronkite describes how people will spend their free time, mostly at home. Offering a vision for the “family of the future,” Cronkite explains what appears to be a slick home entertainment system. A Bose it is not, but as Cronkite describes, it’s a way for us to “escape from our 21st-century lives and fill the room with stereophonic sound from another age.” Sounds familiar.

An Apple video from 1987 gives us a computerized conversation between a dorky professor and a man in a white shirt and black bow-tie nestled in the corner of an iPad-like screen. Rather than barking commands at an ambiguously feminine robot personal assistant, as in the 2011 commercial that launched Siri to the world, the professor in this video engages in intense personal conversations about academia with his screen assistant, who’s more like a grad school TA than a Siri-like secretary.

The year is 1966, and this home computer ad offers a heteronormative couple conveniences that not even Betty and Don Draper could refuse. Hanging out at home with her kids, the housewife is able to glide through outfits on a personal shopper screen nearly 30 years before Clueless star Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) plays around on her computerized personal style program, which set the tone for contemporary fashion apps like Swivel. But back to the video: here, the husband handles all of his financial matters through the home computer with the touch of a button … and approximately three screens. Is such a futuristic invention possible, or were these people domestic dreamin’?

“By the time we are in college, the internet will be our telephone, shopping center, and workplace,” explain these delightful little kids in a 1995 PSA. THEY EVEN PREDICTED CATS ON THE INTERNET! This is by far the creepiest of all the futuristic videos; these children make adolescent-themed TV shows like My So-Called Life look incredibly low-tech. Thankfully, years later, the internet found a way to meme-ify Claire “Cry Face” Danes. Thanks, kids of the future!

In this video, Arthur C. Clarke predicts the internet and what computers will look like by the year 2001. “He will have a console and get all the information he needs, in a compact form, in his own house,” says Clarke. In other words, computers will rule our lives, we’ll have existential crises about not being social all the time on social networks, and we’ll have relationships with both humans and technology at the same time. Hear ye, hear ye: long live the future!

Oddly, none of these videos anticipate a future that offers a way to meet your soulmate through a computer screen. I guess those visions should be left to futuristic artists.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...

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