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Back to the Future: Ad's Predictions Fall Short in Education

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By Ifanyi Bell
Ifanyi Bell has been a classroom teacher and a filmmaker, and currently develops and produces educational media for web-based, digital asset repositories at KQED.

I was 13 years old in high school when this ad came out. As a young man, I was captivated by this optimistic depiction of a world where we could pay tolls without stopping, and tuck my future child in from a phonebooth with a view screen (what's a phone booth?).

America is a land of dreamers. Look back at the literary history of American fiction and you'll see elements of an imaginary world that have found their way into reality in the novels of Ray Bradbury and Aldus Huxley. Technology companies have also predictably provided us a vision of a future where the world is made better by the technology they will hypothetically deliver to us.

AT&T actually did pretty well with their predictions -- in all but one area. Yes, we have Skype and video chat, turn-by-turn navigation, go-to-meeting virtual conferences, TV on demand, E.Z.-pass and Fast-Track and iPads.

But where has reality not quite lived up to the ad's vision? The K-12 school setting: classrooms where, based on this ad, there should by now be well-established remote, real-time interactive learning environments and a primary school child interacting with another halfway around the world in real-time from a view screen integrated into  her desk. Yes, those technologies are available, and they do occur sporadically here and there, but they are by far the exception.


In 2008, Cisco Systems launched a similar campaign to the AT&T spots. This time, though, the company has chosen education as a vehicle to drive its products, depicting scenes where classrooms across the globe are used as an example of how their line of never-mentioned "telepresence" hardware and software tools can be used. Check it out:

Recently, Cisco introduced something called "The Learning Society." Sounds promising -- I look forward to finding out more about this.

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