Time magazine cover from 1994.
It may not seem like it, but the 1990s are now a really, really long time ago. I was gobsmacked one day not long ago when I realized the year my son was born (1991) is exactly halfway between 2016 and 1966! 1991 only seems like yesterday, while 1966 seems like it might have been a thousand years ago. Of course, time does seem to speed up the older you get (I was just a little kid in ’66), but the chunk of time between ’66 and ’91 seems light years longer than the same chunk of time between ’91 and today. What the hell is going on?!
In some ways, the 1990’s don’t seem much different than today. The fashions haven’t changed all that much, women in the workplace was a given, computers and video games were around (even if they were clunky and primitive) so that decade still seems fairly “modern.” But not really! In actuality, things have changed so fast in the last two decades (technology especially) that the 1990s really more closely resemble the 1960s than they resemble the mid-late 2010’s. Here are six ways they do.
1. There was no (well, hardly any) Internet.
Not for most of the decade anyway. The Internet actually existed as early as 1969, and was called Arpanet back then. It was used only by the Department of Defense and by university employees and scientists working for the government. Yes, there was email in the 1970s too. But no one else had access to the ‘net and probably wouldn’t have wanted it since it was so much more complicated to use in those days. During the ’80s, computers became ubiquitous, but it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that Windows began to replace DOS, making computing a lot easier and more fun. In 1991, the World Wide Web went public, but it didn’t really catch on until the mid-late ’90s. I remember a lot of people dismissed the Internet as a “fad” back in those days. And of course, at first, there wasn’t much on it so it wasn’t the time consuming addiction it is today. Few people had Internet until the last years of the decade, and of course there was no social media, so people got their news and gossip the old fashioned way–by reading newspapers, watching the news, or making a phone call. We were all still isolated from each other. It would be unheard of to chat in real time with someone in, say, the Phillippines.
2. People still relied on land-lines, pay phones, and called long distance.
There was no social media, the first cell phones were clunky, inefficient, expensive affairs called “car phones,” and the closest thing to texting was something called a pager–where you still had to find a land line or phone booth to contact whoever paged you. People still worried about their long-distance bills. Although Mama Bell had already given birth to her five “babies,” Bell Telephone still had a monopoly on the phone industry. When you set up phone service, you were given a Bell phone rather than buying a phone from a myriad of manufacturers because they didn’t exist yet. Pay phones were still on every corner and in front of every gas station and grocery store, and if you did have Internet, you had to sign off in order to make a phone call. You could actually have a conversation with someone without them suddenly having to interrupt you to “take a call.”
3. Kids still played outside.
Yes, there were computer and video games and Game Boys and cable TV, which tended to keep kids inside more than in earlier decades, but there was a lot less to do than there is today. The games were pretty primitive and didn’t have great graphics and were a lot simpler–not as many “levels” you could achieve. You also couldn’t play games over the Internet with other users or chat with kids in other states or countries. Although parents were more anxious about letting their kids out to play unsupervised than they had been in earlier decades, kids did still play outside when they grew bored with the limited technological activities at home.
4. The economy was booming and it was easy to find a good job.
Whether you loved Bill Clinton or hated him, you gotta admit he got the economy going and in a big way too. Jobs were everywhere, and they weren’t all low wage service jobs like they are today. Companies still cared about their employees, encouraged employee growth, and offered good health insurance and other benefits, generous vacation time, and even time and a half pay for hourly workers who worked overtime. There were lots of start up companies, and although many of them (the Dot Com boom) went bankrupt later, there was always a job to be found. You also didn’t have to apply for a job online only to have your email or online application never even seen by anyone. In those days, you could still walk into a place and ask for a written application, and sometimes even see a manager that same day. It still wasn’t a rarity to lose or leave one job but be able to find a new job the next day, and sometimes a better one.
One other thing–you weren’t likely to be “profiled” and have background checks run on you the way you are today.
5. People still listened to rock music on the radio and bought “records.”
The ’90’s is thought by many to be one of the best decades for rock music. Grunge got its start in the early ’90s, but there were plenty of other new rock and pop genres being played too–and you could hear all of it on most radio stations that played music. Deejays were still allowed to play what they wanted, rather than playing only what corporate executives told them to play, and there was a lot more variety in the kinds of music being played. Today, if you listen to the radio at all, you’ll hear the same 10 songs played in rotation, and those 10 songs all sound pretty much the same. Although there’s still rock music being made, it doesn’t get airplay on commercial radio. You have to find a local indie station or go to Youtube or Sirius for that. Also, people still bought their music in tangible form. Okay, they were CD’s rather than LPs, but it was still something you bought in a store and could hold in your hand and have the pleasure of peeling off the cellophane.
6. People still read magazines, newspapers, and books.
Magazine, paper, and book sales have plummeted, due to Internet “magazines” and websites and digital readers like Kindle. Sure, there are book purists and books may never really go away because there’s nothing like the smell and feel of a book, but magazines? I could see them going the way of 8 Track Tapes in the not too distant future. What will we do in waiting rooms when that happens? Play on our phones, I guess.
Can you think of any other ways the ’90’s resembled the 1960’s more than today?