Saturday, March 05, 2011

It was the best of times and a time when people wore plaid polyester bell bottoms

It was a time of long hair and long lines to get into gas stations. A time of inflation and resignation. A time of war and peace. A time of hatred and love.

It was the 1970s, and the occasion was my Grandfather's birthday. We lived 400 miles away, and corralling all six kids into a car to drive eight hours for a one hour birthday dinner--only to have to turn around and repeat the process for the return journey--was out of the question.

However, the Pacific Telephone Company, which Dad worked for, had developed something called a picturephone that allowed people to talk with each other at great distances via video. Not only that, but it had multiple microphones and cameras that were coordinated, so that when a person talked at a particular microphone, the system would cut to the camera that was focused on them.

So Dad booked us some time on it with Grandfather, Grandmother and other family on the other end of the line.

It even had a whiteboard with a separate camera focused on it, in case you wanted to do some brainstorming. Or a song and dance number, apparently.

After the call, we discussed the utility of such a system if it could be put into homes. Would people use such a thing? What if your phone rang and you were in your pajamas?

Never did we contemplate a whole cadre of workers laboring in their pajamas, slouching toward Bloggerhem. In those days, there only Hugh Hefner got to go to work in his pajamas, and even then everyone knew what he did wasn't really work. Which is totally different than what everyone thinks about bloggers.


The idea of putting it in everyone's home was, of course, an idea before its time. None of us ever even considered that it would be possible to put it in anyone's pocket. But the idea of businesses using such a system seemed logical, if expensive, at the time.

Good to see that 30 years later, someone else agrees.

And here's Dad, explaining how, 30 or so years from that day, Cisco will roll out this same system and call it "a new way of working."

Papa Bradstein is going to carry a CRT and vacuum tube video camera 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to videochat via picturephone throughout his ride to fight cancer.

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