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Picturephones died but live on

Last night, at about 9, my iPad “rang.” I had never heard it ring before, opened its cover and there was my great-nephew Sam and his dad, Matt. They had just bought an iPad and were calling me on its FaceTime feature, I don't Skype — yet. And I hadn't investigated the FaceTime feature on the iPad. We had a fun chat.

After I hung up, I remembered how intrigued I was by Picturephones when I was a kid. It was, according to a history on the web, developed by The Bell System as a prototype in 1956 and test marketed in the early 1960s and featured at an exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1964, when my intrigue with it began, because it was all over the news in 1964. In the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the characters of the future use Picturephones.

The Bell System folks who worked hard to develop it must have felt disappointed that Picturephones seemed to have “failed.” Some of the inventors are likely dead. They will never know that their idea from 55 years ago is a 2012 reality, in the form of Skype, video conferencing and FaceTime. It was a wake-up call to not feel so bad when some of our work and life projects seem to reach dead-ends. We will never know where our efforts lead. Picture that!

(In this S-R archives photo, the Picturephone is displayed at the AT&T Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.)

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Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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