We had a unique experience growing up in the 1990’s. Modern computers were making their way into the public school system, phones were becoming handheld, and people were becoming glued to devices. We experienced the rise of social media and instant messaging. Megabits became Gigabits and then Terabits. Storage was getting bigger while devices became smaller. This technologization happened in such a short period of time that we were exposed to it all. We used both the big, bulky corded phones and the sleek Motorola Razr. It felt like the iPod was halving in size every year.
While we weren’t born with a cellphone in-hand as it seems like the children of today are, 90’s babies have become a fine mixture of old and new. We understand the hardwired world from which the information age sprung and watched as the current world was built on the success of major tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, and IBM. Like the generations before and after us, our experiences have uniquely prepared us for what is to come.
MySpace and HTML
As one of the first major social media platforms, MySpace gave adults and tweens alike the ability to create their own profile to showcase their personality. What made MySpace so memorable was the ability to edit your page with HTML. Although the MySpace developers admit that giving users the ability to add and edit code was a mistake, they decided to retain the function once they saw that community response was so positive. Suddenly, there was an incentive to learn a programming language. You could embed music players and craft custom themes. You could litter your page with .GIFs and Lisa Frank stickers. Custom cursors and prismatic backgrounds were so abused that I still have flashbacks from some of the noisier pages.
Visual Basic was a required subject in many high school Computer Science courses. The program worked with the BASIC language, which is used to create applications like web browsers and help organize data. BASIC uses a logic similar to other programming languages in its syntax and shorthand.
My high school Computer Science classroom was windowless and had almost a dungeon-like quality to it: dark, cramped, illuminated by the gentle glow of computer monitors and florescent lights. Admittedly, it was never my favorite class. Up until high school, CS class meant playing Oregon Trail or making interactive games using PowerPoint. When I was first given an assignment in Visual Basic, I groaned at the thought of having to do actual work. Looking back, I am quite thankful for the BASIC platform and the introduction it gave me to computer languages.
Downloading the World
Using file-sharing applications like Limewire taught us to use cracks and workarounds to activate software (although not always legally). We downloaded and applied patches and modifications to our favorite games. We learned that not everything in the digital world is set in stone or requires intense coding to modify. Most importantly, we learned to use the internet as a tool and as a manual to learn from the experiences of others.
Poor Tech and Crashes
The internet in its earlier days was not the swift browsing experience it is today. Many of you probably have fond memories of waiting for AOL to boot up while listening to the hiss and pops of your modem connecting to the web. Instead of using various phone applications, you sluggishly surfed the web. In a time where less than 1% of the world’s population was online (compared to ~50% today), things seemed much more relaxed. Like a Sunday in a small town, no one seemed to be in a rush to get where they were going. Browser timeouts were common, as were half-minute page load speeds. Having technology that was prone to fail helped us learn to save and back up our work and to have a bit of patience.
Paint in a Pinch
Know that I’m no graphic designer. I’d hesitate to even say I’m art-inclined. Luckily for people like me, MS Paint exists. This application taught us how to grab and edit images off the web and may have inspired a few of us to go into graphic design!
And so it goes…
I love a good nostalgia piece. That’s why I wrote this blog and a little bit about Clippy and early AI. I’ve also written a bit about the future. If you enjoyed my mad ravings, you can check out some of my other work here.