The ’90s are full of ahead-of-its-time ideas, particularly when the internet is involved. We could not wait to make the internet our slave, and were simultaneously just as eager to create a critical umbilical between our lives and the internet that could barely tolerate any disruption. Windows 95 was full of ways to plug into the internet to stream music and video and access information about the world around you. Online services like Prodigy, Compuserve,and America Online provided communities, news, and up-to-the-minute stock updates. The problem was that it took forever; broadband was a rarity and dial-up internet moved at a snail’s pace. “Up-to-the-minute” was “thirty-minutes-ago” at best and more frequently “yesterday”.
You can’t fault the world its enthusiasm, though; the internet was exciting and the possibilities were endless! Here’s a video for an AT&T service that never took off, a way to use the family computer as a personal assistant hub for events in the family’s life. AT&T’s strength then, and now, was the ubiquity of communication it held domain over; cellular phones were starting to become more widespread, landlines were still heavily relied upon, and AT&T was poised to serve as the connective tissue between the internet and all of the other devices in your life. You could also use the microphone to send commands and, obviously, make voice recordings for others. We take it for granted now, but all of this was a novel idea in 1995.
The idea is great, the execution…not so much. The fact that you had to dial into the service to sync and receive updates was just enough to take the promise of a seamless ‘everywhere you are’ digital assistant and reduce it to being only as useful the schedule of the lazy humans required to enter and update the data themselves would allow. Also, this never made it to market, so there was really no execution to speak of.
Still, this video’s worth a watch. It’s got that beautifully bland infomercial panache, a strained narrative, and a good look at the devices of the day – huge cellphone with the buttons on the back, huge landline, and that enormous CRT computer monitor – and if you can place yourself into a 1995 mindset, this is a very exciting idea.
Here’s the whole thing.