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Internet Shopping, as Conceived in 1961: Plenty of Rocket Deliveries Thursday Morning [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I know, you’re disappointed that we don’t have the flying cars and moving sidewalks as promised in those old film reels from the 1950s and 60s that you may have seen in school. But this clip, from the AT&T Archives and History Center, does do a great job predicting how we shop in the digital realm today. The daily rocket deliveries for pâté a la bergère are not here, of course, but airplanes and cold packs have proved to be a pretty good substitute.

The film’s prediction for the future drew from recent developments by AT&T: in 1958, it had invented the modem (110 bits per second) and committed $2.5 billion in 1960 (about $20 billion in today’s dollars) to develop satellite communication. As amusing (and nostalgic) such films may be to contemporary eyes, they undoubtedly captured many imaginations that would later help lay the foundations of modern life.

You can watch the full 15-minute video here.

Philip Yam About the Author: Philip Yam is the managing editor of He is the author of The Pathological Protein: Mad Cow, Chronic Wasting and Other Prion Diseases. Follow on Twitter @philipyam.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Scienceisnotagenda 8:03 am 08/30/2013

    Why the AT&T promotion?

    Too lazy to write?

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  2. 2. huntershoptaw 8:53 am 08/30/2013

    @Scienceisnotagenda Why the jackass comment? To lazy to be a real human?

    Things like these are great, and many of us enjoy watching them for the ability to relive a small moment in time when the internet wasn’t foreseen to be a haven for trolls and idealistic teen-angsters with no experience in real life.

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  3. 3. jtdwyer 12:24 pm 08/30/2013

    I doubt younger people can conceive of the world of 1958 – where the population of the U.S. was less than half what it is now and most people lived in small towns rather than urban metroplexes – any more than we could have conceived of today’s world back then. At that time, AT&T was the publicly held communications monopoly that provided all telephone services in the U.S. Other countries had their own communications monopolies, typically run by government held postal service monopolies.

    Essentially all television was run by three national networks, which provided three channels of local and network programming in most urban areas via land lines and microwave relay stations (I suspect provided by AT&T). Yes, back in 1957 the Russians had shockingly launched the very first artificial satellite, Sputnik, demonstrating the ability to receive radio signals from an orbiting satellite. As a result, AT&T received funding for the development of satellite communication systems & NASA for rockets.

    The big entertainment competition back in those days was between the 3 television networks and a few movie production studios… Golly, gee – things sure have changed!

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 12:32 pm 08/30/2013

    I neglected to mention that the movie studios distributed their products through local theaters (increasingly featuring refrigerated air conditioning!) and, most importantly, drive in movies! They were _the_ place to go on a summer night! Ah, well – enough reminiscing!

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  5. 5. M Tucker 2:06 pm 08/30/2013

    For someone watching in 1961 everything in that video seemed futuristic. Rotary telephone dials were still the industry standard. I expected TV phones to arrive any day but that really had to wait for the internet. AT&T was the parent company of Bell Labs and that is where the future was invented.

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