1. World Key – My first visit to EPCOT was in 1984. I was still so young that my parents had a stroller for me, even though I could walk around as well. After getting off of a ride, we noticed that my stroller had been taken by somebody else. My parents asked an employee what they should do, and we were all guided to a World Key terminal. Through a touch screen interface, my parents had a two-way video conversation with EPCOT customer service, who were able to get us a replacement stroller right away. For some reason this memory sticks out to me, though I don’t remember a lot of the finer details like what ride we were on or what color my stroller was or why we couldn’t just go to the stroller kiosk and get another one. Anyway, the fact that we could have a touch-screen videocall with an EPCOT employee in 1984 sums up just what makes me so nostalgic about EPCOT as an adult. The entire park felt like you were in a prototype version of the future, not just some exhibit on what the future might be like.
The World Key system was an array of kiosks all over the park. In addition to their video chat technology, they also had little information databases on each attraction, restaurant, and other details about the park. You could make dinner reservations through it or get information on any of the resorts at Walt Disney World. Developed with Bell Labs, the kiosks used fiber optic cables to access a central bank of laserdiscs (laserdiscs!) to retrieve the information. This proved difficult to update regularly, as the entire laserdisc would need to be rewritten, and the World Key slowly faded out of relevance and then out of existence. Here’s a video of the World Key system in use – must be in the early 90s, as the Wonders of Life pavilion is featured:
While it wasn’t a commercial success, it’s endeavors like this and the PeopleMover that emphasize EPCOT’s original intent: to be a laboratory for technologies aimed at making everyday life better in the real world. That facet is almost non-existant in today’s EPCOT, and there doesn’t really seem to be an experience that picks up the slack. It’s a shame.
2. AT&T Viewtron – Going to ride the AT&T information-retrieval wave here and feature this video on the Viewtron system. The Viewtron is kind of a halfway point between reading newspapers and actually accessing the internet through early services like Prodigy and Compuserve. The video, though…the video:
3. Pro Stars – Pro Stars answers the burning question in any 1991 kid’s mind: what if Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky teamed up to fight crime and help kids all over the country? A short lived cartoon on NBC, Pro Stars addressed that issue week after week, for about ten weeks. Then it got cancelled. My nephews were either given a videotape of this show or found it themselves at a thrift store, and were obsessed with it for a short time. There’s nothing surprising about Pro Stars – not that somebody tried to make it, not that it was terrible, and not that it got cancelled.
Here’s the intro. It’s all about helping kids!