Analogue Wayback, Ep. 18

Connections Redux

In 1993 I worked on a corporate image short film for AT&T entitled Connections: AT&T’s Vision of the Future. I wrote about this in a 2010 blog post, but I thought it was a good topic to revisit in the context of this Analogue Wayback series. Next year will be 30 years since its release, which makes it a good time to compare these futurists’ ideas with what was actually developed. (The full film can be viewed here on YouTube.)

The inspiration for the film came from AT&T exec Henry Bassman. It was designed as a vision piece to be used in various public and investor relations endeavors. The concepts shown in the film were based on the ideas of a number of theorists working with AT&T’s labs and grounded in actual technology that was being studied and developed there. The film’s concept was to extrapolate those ideas 20 years into the future and show actual productization that might come to be. Henry Bassman and director Robert Wiemer wove these ideas into the fictional narrative of this 15-minute short film. Bassman discussed Connections: AT&T’s Vision of the Future in this 2007 interview with the Paleo-Future blog.

The production was filmed in the Universal Studios Florida soundstages on 35mm and posted at Century III. We transferred the film to Sony D2 composite digital tape using our Rank Cintel Mark III/DaVinci-equipped telecine suite. The offline edit was handled with an Ediflex system and the online conform/finishing edit done in our online edit bays (CMX 3600 edit system, Grass Valley 300 switcher with Kaleidoscope DVE, and D2 mastering). My role was the online edit, along with a number of standard visual effects, like screen inserts and basic composites. The more advanced 2D and 3D visual effects were handled by our designers.

While the film might certainly seem quaint to modern eyes, the general concepts and the quality of the visual effects were in keeping with other productions of that era, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation – of course, without the fantasy, sci-fi component. Remember that the internet was still young, no iPhone existed, and most of today’s commonplace technology simply never existed outside of the lab. Naturally, as with any of these past looks into the future, the way that theoretical concepts morph into real technology is never exactly the same as depicted, nor as seamless in operation. But these were pretty darn close.

I covered much of the technology and those concepts in my 2010 post, but it’s worth taking a new look at the ideas shown:

Simultaneous Facetime or Zoom-like conversations

Real-time captioning with live foreign language translation

Seat back airline entertainment systems with communications capabilities

16×9 displays

Foldable tablets

Tablet cameras with augmented reality

A form of the metaverse with avatars and Oculus-style interfaces

Noise-cancelling communication area

Large flat-panel TV displays with computer interfaces

Computer intelligent assistants

Online shopping with augmented reality

Online, computer -assisted leaning in classrooms

Super-thin computers

Automotive communications/media electronics

One can certainly point out flaws when viewed through the modern lens. Plus, since this is an AT&T piece, it focuses on some of their ideas, like active phone booths, and the video phone. Not to mention some obvious misses, like not really seeing the advent of the modern smart phone in a clear way. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how close so much of this is. It makes you wonder how we will view back onto today 20 years from now.

©2022 Oliver Peters