I was enthusiastic about the AT&T Picturephone, and it helped form my my perspective as we developed the first Internet browser, Gopher.

Here’s a picture I took in about 1971 of myself on a Picturephone:














In college I took a number of classes on human communication, and wrote several term papers discussing how some researches suggest that over 55% of human communication is non-verbal. As I recall, my thesis was that good telecommunications engineering should include nonverbal elements of haptics , kinesics, proxemics, and paralanguage, and so must consider human vision as well as hearing, in order that our mental processes of decoding and comprehension be complete and accurate (especially in the feedback loop i.e. smile/frown). I still find myself lecturing on how the “dyadic” model of communication (source, encode w/reference, channel w/noise, decode/w reference, and sink) applies equally well to human as it does to electronic communication!








While the AT&T Picturephone was a failure commercially, it contributed indirectly in a number of ways to the development of the Internet and our modern era of high speed networking. It certainly helped shape my efforts to help make the Internet (i.e. gopher & the web) a tool for human collaboration, and not just an advanced form of teletype.

Bell labs and AT&T made a heroic effort to launch it as a product…. but missed the mark on price and marketing.















Here is a nice YouTube video on it:
PicturePhone: How Bell Telephone lost a half billion, but nearly created the internet

I recently obtained a real Mod II Picturephone, and have collected other related items (Only a limited number were made, and it appears almost all were destroyed by an embarrassed AT&T in the late 70’s). I hope to retrofit this one with a Skype or Facetime instance, so I can finally live the 2001-Jetsons future we all dreamed of in the 70s….

My Picturephone:

(This one was a gift to a publishing company, thanking them for their participation in the original Picturephone trial in Chicago, so it survived…):