It’s the future – but where’s social media?

Since the future’s on everyone’s mind right now – by which we really mean the long Labor Day weekend – we thought it’d be a good time to look back at these feel-good AT&T ads from 1993, which depict The Future in some ways that look, from a vantage point of 18 years, remarkably spot-on. (Except when was the last time anyone sent a fax? Or used a phone booth? Oh well, you can’t be right about everything.)

While these old AT&T ads are definitely a trip down memory lane, and a pretty accurate vision of some aspects of the brave new digital universe in which we’re now apparently living, there’s one thing missing in 1993’s view of 2011: one-to-many sharing by the masses, otherwise known as … social media. Like the AT&T spots say, we’re paying our highway tolls without stopping at a toll booth; we’re having video conferences from far-flung corners of the earth; we’re watching movies on demand with our kids. But where are the video memes, the LOLcats, the global hashtag jokes? And, more importantly, where was the vision of “civilian” one-to-many sharing that leads to the viral-style distribution now viewed by marketers as the Holy Grail?

That’s just it: In many senses, there’s no way we could have seen the social media explosion coming, at least not in 1993. Here’s an analogy. In 1977, Digital Equipment Corporation founder Ken Olsen told a convention of the World Future Society, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Olsen was talking about computers as they were, largely, in 1977 – enormous multi-room mainframes built for specialist purposes, not the do-all devices currently resting on our laps or even the clunky desktop PCs of the early 1980s. It was a statement based on the information of the time, just as AT&T’s ’93 ads were based on a world where a super-fast broadband connection running into your house was about as much of a pipe dream as a personal jetpack.

So here’s the point to mull over on your long Labor Day weekend: What’s the next big thing that we’re overlooking in today’s futurist visions? Maybe it’s a bit of an unfair question, so to get the flow of ideas started, here’s a latter-day answer to the old AT&T ads (this one’s from Nokia). Use your imagination: What’s it leaving out? Leave your wildest dreams in the comments.