How-To Geek

Seeing the Digital Future: An AT&T Look at the Future from 1961

In this archival video, courtesy of AT&T, we see how visionaries at the company predicted the future would look from the vantage point of 1961.

The notes provided with the archive film provide addition insight into the short video:

In 1961, the digital future was just starting to come to fruition. And the Bell System had a number of products that had either just come onto the market, or were incipient, that implemented these new computer technologies. In December 1960, AT&T had just announced an investment of $2.5 billion for satellite communications and improving the network for data services and computer communication.

In 1958, AT&T had just announced its first modem. Springing from technologies used for the computerized navigation of missiles, the modem, i.e. the Data-Phone, was rolled out in a few markets in the midwest. It would be made commercially available throughout the network by 1960. The Data-Phone could transmit at up to a bit-rate of 110 bits per second.

This film breaks into approximately two parts — part I: the problems of the present, and part II: the way those problems could be solved by the technology of the future. This film not only serves as almost the birth of the information age, it also projects that technology far into the future.

The commercial products that would allow this connected, computer-communicating network? They’re basic, but at the time seemed radical:

* The wireless Bellboy Pager, which was introduced commercially in 1962
* The Data-phone, which was supposed to revolutionize business communications
* The videophone—shown as a credit-card-reading vertical two-way television
* The card-reading phone or automatic dialer, which would dial a number from small plastic punch cards, introduced in 1961
* Oh, and package delivery via rocket (which had just been tested in 1959).

Our favorite moment, near the later end of the film, was the casual mention of goods being delivered by rocket.

AT&T Archives: Seeing the Digital Future (1961) [via Boing Boing]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/22/12

Comments (8)

  1. Chronno S. Trigger

    So AT&T knew technology changed, they just woefully underestimated how fast.

    I liked the part at 9:38 where the one guy steals the other guy’s pager.

  2. Jeremy

    “There are plenty of rocket deliveries Thursday morning.” HAHAHAHAHA! Where’s that rocket delivery today?

  3. Anonymous

    @ Jeremy

    Here’s your rocket launch:

    FYI: That’s was done TODAY! Maybe you missed today’s news?

  4. xana452

    Coming from a 16 year old: this is ancient to me. I do know what a punch card is, of course, but I can’t imagine what the people of 1961 would think of today’s regularly used technology.

  5. MoMo

    Rocket deliveries? And where did they get that creepy, eerie music? LMAO

  6. B dalzell

    Most missed development. Wireless phones and phone handpieces etc. seems to me that rockets for routine transportation and air cars etc are the missing aspects of these future scenarios.

  7. SeaBee

    xana452, I am a creature of the 1960s and my take on modern technology is that it has provided all the knowledge of the World at the click of a button and yet the majority appear to be clouded in ignorance.

  8. Dorothy

    Instead of rocket deliveries, we need (Star Trek) Transporters. Just beam it over!

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