Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Ode to Technology: Then and Now

A note to readers: Yes, it’s me, your as of late not-so-faithful Children of the 90s blogger. That is to say, the original eleven herbs and spices blogger, not one in many of the parade of worthy guest bloggers I’ve brought to you over the last few months. Now that I’m married and back from my honeymoon, my litany of excuses to put off blogging are dwindling quickly, especially with the long list of blog ideas I’ve yet to tackle. Don’t call it a comeback, of course, but hey: it’s an effort.

It can be hard to pretend you're still young and hip when so many of your technology reminiscences to anyone more than five years younger than you begin with a crotchety " When I was your age, we didn't have this newfangled (insert new and overly complicated mode of communication here.)" Who would have guessed that within a span of ten or fifteen years, the face of technology and human interaction could be rendered nearly unrecognizable from the simple telephone and instant messenger relations of our youth?

I freely admit I have found myself in multiple scenarios during which interacting with a friend in person has quickly devolved into showing off our respective front facing cell phone cameras to engage in simulated FaceTime. Never mind the fact that we are physically face to face in the same room. Because look how cool it is when we can video chat in tandem after only thirteen minutes and four failed network connection attempts! Now isn't that more interesting than plain old lower case face time?

While we're doling out the elderly style complaints (someone be a dear and bring me an afghan, wont you?) don't even get me started on hashtags. Why exactly does putting what I still think of as the number sign (or alternatively, the most boring button on my phone) in front of awholebunchofwordswithoutspaceslikethis suddenly constitute an astute sampling of social commentary? #imgettingtoooldforthiscrap

Call me a hypocrite for writing this on the Internet (and you probably should, especially since I'm typing it using my brand-spanking new Kindle Fire, albeit with lots of touchscreen misfire typos) but I just can't get behind changing my entire concept of communication and entertainment every time a new piece of technology is released.

Back in our day (and you legally need to be at least 22 to use that phrase, for future complaining reference) most technology existed to serve a single purpose. Even when I was in high school, it was largely unfathomable that someday you might be able to carry around some futuristic hybrid of your phone/camera/computer/calendar/book collecition/music player in your pocket. Barring, of course, the chance that you possessed a great deal of duct tape and/or some very large pockets.

Though there exist endless examples of fast-paced technological change from our simple 90s childhoods to the present day bonanza of ever-changing available devices, here are a few of my favorites that keep me feeling good and old at the ripe old age of 26.

Cell Phones: Then and Now



As any dutiful Saved by the Bell fan will attest, the quintessential “first realization of the existence of cell phones” moment came while ogling Zack Morris as he chatted on what looked like the indestructible little black box from an airplane crash scene. It was essentially a large plastic brick with a keypad and a huge antenna that veered dangerously into rabbit-ear territory and we all coveted it shamelessly.

Enter today, when our cell phones are about one-tenth the size with a thousand times the capability. Most of us have been out to dinner with friends or at some other in-person social gathering when you realize that every single person has whipped out their smartphone, creating a unique situation of socializing by proximity while simultaneously isolating ourselves into the self-created vortex of personal technology. Now that’s what I call a party!

Computers: Then and Now



It’s hard for me even to admit this sometimes for fear of sounding astoundingly middle-aged, but the first computer my family owned actually had a black-and-green-only screen. That’s right, pixelated screen colors hadn’t even broken onto the computer technology scene when I was playing Space Invaders on my Apple II. That’s how primitive our technology was. Scary, I know.

When laptops first debuted, it was hard to imagine computers could get any smaller. “But it can fit on my lap! Surely you can’t shrink it smaller than standard lap-size, adjusted for level of obesity!” But oh, they can. This mysterious “they” has morphed the oversized desktop into a cutely portable iPad or other knock-off tablet. Mark my words, someday we’ll be computing on pieces of looseleaf paper. That’s how thin these things are going to get (end prophecy transmission).

Data Storage: Then and Now



I remember looking at an oversized floppy disk and thinking, “but how did my ClarisWorks file get on you?” My understanding of data storage hasn’t increased, but my fascination with how small or even non-physical we can make it certainly has. Now we’ve got the ominously named “Cloud”, which conveniently stores all of my files in some remote online lair. It’s not perfect, of course. Any disruption of wireless internet means all of my files are dead to me until it’s restored. Damn you, Cloud, and your connectivity loopholes for holding my treasured Pinterest repins temporarily hostage!

Cameras: Then and Now



Remember film? If not, you should probably be reading some younger, cooler blog. Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to find something more hipsterish. Try looking for something wearing ironic black frames pseudo-intellectual glasses with clear lenses. That should be your first tip-off.
Are they all gone? Okay, good, now we can get down to business and recollect some things those kids have probably never even heard of. Seriously, some of them have never even seen a roll of film. They don’t even get what the film pictogram means on the sign that indicates what items should not go through the x-ray scanner at airport security.

Perhaps you remember when it was fascinating to think a photo lab had the capability to process your negatives into full-blown prints in just one hour. It seemed like such a breakthrough. If you can try to remember far enough back to the first time you saw a digital camera, perhaps you can recall just how amazed you were that the picture you just took was already visible on a tiny low-res screen. That was some crazy stuff. These days, we can take pictures with just about anything with an on-off switch, but back in the day, we used to actually wait for pictures to be developed to discover if they were flattering. Perish the thought.

Music Players: Then and Now



Boomboxes and Walkmans. Those words probably sound like no more than nonsensical gibberish to today’s children, whose music players are roughly the size of my pinky toe. I still remember upgrading from a cassette playing Walkman to a CD-playing Discman. At the time, I was almost certain that no, it just could not get any cooler than this.
Even in college, I still had a cassette tape adapter for my car that physically plugged into my external Discman to play burned mix CDs. It all seems so primitive now, considering every song I own is now available at the touch of a button on my phone. How are kids these days supposed to understand the significance of the gift of a good, heartfelt mix tape or CD? How, I ask you?

Books: Then and Now



Okay, I’ll just come out and say it. I’ve switched over to the dark side. I swore that books and I would never end our torrid ongoing love affair, but then my husband bought me a Kindle and I felt like a such a guilty two-timer. I tried to keep seeing books on the side, but they just didn’t have the same spark. Literally. They have no battery component. Bummer. I’m sorry, I promise I feel repentant. It’s just that now when I move to a new house, my book collection weighs one pound instead of 350 divided into 42 boxes. No offense, books, but that sounds like kind of a better deal, at least back-pain wise.

During what I assume was our respective period of childhood (since you’ve self-identified as a child of the 90s by virtue of arriving at this blog), a book was a tangible object and could be acquired at a bookstore or public library. Or a private library, I suppose, but I guess I never got invited to any of those. Of course, I don’t know two many eight-year olds with their own e-readers, so I suppose the Goosebumps franchise may still live to see another gory day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Remember when this technology excited us?

At some point in time, all now-tired technology was new and exciting. With the rapid rate of technological change, it is tough remember a time when what now seems simple seemed like super high-tech space age innovation. While we now use many more advanced forms of these gadgets and gizmos in our everyday lives, the first time we saw them, most of us were incredibly impressed. Here are just a few of the things that may once have blown us away with their modernity but have since been relegated to technological relics:

Caller ID/*69

It was fun to see who was calling, but it certainly made telemarketing and prank phone calling far more difficult. While you may have legitimately been wondering if someone’s refrigerator was running, you were now in peril of that angry crank-callee’s mom calling back your home and complaining to your parents. Talk about sucking the enjoyment out of frivolous childish fun.


In the days before cell phones--if you can strain to remember back far enough--there were pagers and beepers. For awhile, they existed as viable forms of communication for more than just doctors and drug dealers. When mobile or car phones were still as big and bulky as a suitcase, beepers gave us our first taste of the craving to be constantly and uninterruptedly reachable.

Beepers and pagers also gave us license to get incredibly creative with our use of beeper codes, arguably the most primitive predecessors of today’s text messages. 911 meant an emergency, but some were more cryptic, like the popular “143,” representing the number of letters in each word of “I love you.” Some of us also liked to utilize the upside-down number-to-letter comparisons, like 07734 as hello. Beepers may have encouraged creativity with messaging, but having to find a payphone to call for the full scoop was a less than efficient means of communication on the go.


Portable music you can bring with you? Back in the 80s, many people had never seen such a thing. Thus began the socially acceptable norm of blocking out all outside stimuli/avoiding human interaction by permanently attaching headphones to our ears. We’ve come a long way with portable music players since the introduction of Sony’s Walkman, but you have to admit it’s a lot harder to play a mix tape on an iPod.

America Online/Prodigy/Other early internet providers

I can still remember my first encounter with the internet. Our friends told us they had the internet, and I asked, “What is the internet?” I don’t think children growing up today in even the most remote regions of the world would ask such a naive tech ignoramus-style question. Our friends had “Prodigy,” an early internet service that linked to news, weather, message boards, and other prehistoric internet capabilities. At the time though, I couldn’t imagine anything more interesting than reading the bland reprinted news and weather reports that took thirteen minutes each to fully load.

Another friend’s family were early adopters of America Online; she told me she once tried searching the internet for “rhino” and came up with no results. Nothing. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine coming up empty on an internet search for just about any topic, but someday we’ll be able to act crotchety to our grandchildren who can’t appreciate that we were around before the internet’s search database was fully populated with pertinent information.

Dial-Up Internet

While we’re discussing the internet, we can’t possibly forget how we used to connect to the internet. More specifically, many of us will forever remember the sounds it made. A combination of dialing, beeping, and crackling static set the mood for most of our modem-driven early internet encounters. Today we take for granted our generally simple and uninterrupted methods of connecting to the internet from our computers and mobile devices, and we whine relentlessly when our connection speeds lag or stop working for even a minute a two.

In our dial-up days, there were all sorts of tricks to reset your modem when a connection was unavailable, and God forbid one of your family members picked up the phone while you were trying to establish a connection. Your AOL running man could be frozen in a perpetual state of mid-jog, forcing you to go through your long lists of alternate dial-up numbers until one finally struck a good connection.

Videotaping TV Shows

A recent survey showed that a 79% of respondents indicated that a specific home technology improved their relationship with their partner. The gadget in question? A DVR.
Once upon a time, we had to actually watch shows at the times dictated by the networks who air them. Back in our day, the only way to save your favorite show was to insert a blank (or re-recordable) VHS tape and go through an incredibly complex series of remote control commands to set a recording.

Digital Cameras

Just a few short years ago, photos used to be a surprise. You took the shots, you dropped them off to be developed, and when you got them back, you laughed over how horrible everyone looked in all of them. If we took pictures like we do now back when we relied on actual developable film, we would waste an incredible amount of money. After each group portrait, now we all have to check it out and approve it to ensure we’re not making a silly face and our eyes aren’t mid-blink. Digital cameras have significantly increased our collective sense of vanity; while once we were willing to settle for not always looking our best, now we’re pushing for twelve takes on those group shots to ensure we are fully camera-ready.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some Things Kids Growing Up Today Will Never Understand

After the popular "Technology We Grew Up With: On its Way Out" post back in February, I received a slew of suggestions for other ways technology has differentiated today's kids' experiences from our own. It's pretty incredible to recount the swiftness of technological change over the last 20 years. Things have very quickly become significantly more convenient, but they're also aging us at an equally rapid rate. While in other generations our childhood technological experiences should be reasonably well-matched to those of children ten years down the road, our own are proving dated and obsolete after a short period of time. Pretty depressing, right?

Not necessarily, it turns out. Nostalgia for the disputably existent "Good Old Days" is a thriving marketplace of discussion, ably summed up in the thesis "Kids today just don't understand." Just 15 years ago, we were right there with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince lamenting the lack of understanding among parents. How quickly the "just don't understand" tables have turned. Soon we may not even have the energy to rap about it.

Before we all turn into old coots grumbling about our simpler lifestyles, let's take some time to bask in the glow of our once taken-for-granted but now nearly obsolete pre-2000s technology experiences:

Being Out of Touch (unreachable by phone, text, implanted homing device, etc)

Gone forever are the blissful days of being dropped off by a parent at the mall or movies with a quarter (a quarter!) in your pocket for emergency purposes. Instead, today's kids have the added mischief-thwarting stress of cell phone GPS tracking and parents' persistent text messaging. We've all but pet-style micro-chipped our children, ensuring that parents know of their children's exact whereabouts at all time.

Getting Lost

I'll admit this still happens to me, but mostly because my on-hand portable technology is far behind the curve. For the majority of us, finding our way from point A to point B is as simple as inputting the destination address and letting a robotically polite voice do the guiding. Even the worst case technological scenario involves a printout from an online map service. It's tough to recall a time when we relied on the more primitive "Take a right on Main Street"-type directives scrawled on scraps of paper during a phone call.

Not Knowing who's Calling When You Pick Up the Phone

Once upon a time, you could lift a receiver with a flutter of hope and mystery regarding the identity of the person on the other line. Today, whether it's a potential date or the automated call service from CVS pharmacy calling to remind you of a prescription pickup, you know before even accepting the call. Where's the intrigue and allure in that?

Calling MovieFone

Imagine never having the joy of hearing the jovial deep intonations of the MovieFone guy. Sounds pretty sad, right? Now multiply that sadness times every child out there today who will never experience the joy of MovieFone. Sad, right? A little? Okay, fine, it's not a huge loss, but I'll miss it nonetheless. It's been real, MovieFone guy.

Looking Something Up in the Encyclopedia

Or better yet, looking something up on an encyclopedia CD-ROM. Before the days of the internet, this seemed like a high-tech research breakthrough. We could search for articles, watch videos, listen to sound know, like what we do now every day with the internet.

Back in the 90s, when we had a query, it was actually possible to come up empty on an answer. A frightening notion, really. There was no Googling to get us out of a quandary. We could go to the library or phone a friend, but failing those options we might actually have to have to write things off as a mystery. When I think of how frequently I type into Google a question about how to get my dog to sit still (positive reinforcement and/or high-grade tranquilizers) or why I'm tired all the time (possibly anemia but more likely daily caffeine overdose,) it's frightening to imagine a time when I'd be resigned to not immediately identifying an answer.

Not Being Able to Place an Actor or Actress
It used to be a source of frustration to see a moderately familiar face in a TV show, movie, or commercial and not remember the 37 other shows in which you'd previously seen that actor. The unanswered question would haunt you, hanging over your head and enshrouding you in a state of generally distracted confusion for days at a time. These days it takes minimal effort to access the internet and putz around for a few minutes on IMDB. Sure, you might learn something, but you're left with that cheap feeling of not really earning it.

Finding a Number in a Phone Book

You know, those moldy old books that get stacked up outside your house or apartment building when you never bother to bring them in out of the cold? After all, why should you? They serve a pretty limited function these days outside of killing a good chunk of our dwindling forest populations. Any and all relevant contact information can usually be found online. Also, there's no real need to speak to an actual person now that an email can serve in its rapid-response stead. Why talk to a human being when some passive non-confrontational typing will do?

Renting a Movie

Pretty soon, I imagine they will just beam a movie directly into our retinas. I can't imagine what other way they could elevate the convenience of watching movies at home. We used to peruse a local video store, picking out physical copies of our intended films. Today, you can easily access any movie your little technology-savvy heart desires at the click of a remote control button. It's hard to imagine them making it more convenient, but I'm sure they'll find a way to do it. Whoever they are.

Partying like it's 1999

This is a major one. They really have no idea. Unless they plan on living another 990 years, these kids will never get that feeling that Prince so eloquently described through the art of song. Heck, to them, he's probably just the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as a symbol formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince. The words "Party over, oops, out of time" mean absolutely nothing to these kids. For shame.

It may not be much, but we've got to cling to whatever makes our generation uniquely us. Sure, it's just MovieFone and encyclopedias, but someday we'll be amazing our technologically superior grandchildren with tales of our cavemen-esque childhood existence. Unfortunately, they won't even get our well-timed Encino Man references. It's too bad, really, because I'm sure we could have set up some great ones.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SimCity, The Sims, and Other Computer Games in the Sim Series

No wonder all of us 90s children have such a puffed-up sense of self-worth and entitlement. What else would you expect after repeatedly encouraging us to play the role of virtual God throughout our childhood and adolescent years? Through the magic of computer games, the Maxis company gave us a unique opportunity to create our own little worlds complete with a population of inhabitants to control according to our benevolent or occasionally sadistic whims. We may not all have been kind and compassionate gods to our burdgeoning creations, but we certainly were powerful.

The first SimCity computer game debuted in 1989, featuring a simulated city-building program. It seemed like an innocent enough concept, and almost extensively educational at that. The object of the game was to build fully functioning cities that could withstand the impact of various disastrous scenarios, ranging from the realistic (1906 San Francisco earthquake) to ridiculous (Tokyo attacked by unlicensed Godzilla knockoff). Upon first glance the game seemed tedious, but it quickly became exceptionally addictive. Dealing with zoning laws and tax codes are a small consolation for the unlimited control of our little city. We commanded our anonymous miniature townspeople to do our bidding, and we saw that it was good.

SimCity was a runaway success, leading to countless reincarnations and reinventions. Clearly, people just could not get enough of ruling their own microcosmic universes. It was a pretty good feeling, after all. For the cost of a computer game, you could elevate yourself to the status of almighty ruler. All in all, not a bad deal.

The follow-ups to SimCity were endless. We had SimEarth, in which we got to design and guide the development of your very own planet. There was SimLife, allowing us the opportunity to mold the "genetic playground" of an ecosystem of plants and animals. We even had SimFarm, a primitive predecessor to that pesky Farmville on Facebook. The next time you have to endure endless newsfeed posts regarding the sad encounter of an ugly duckling or sad brown cow found wandering on the outskirts of a friend's farm, you may want to shake your fist in disgust at the Sim creators who planted the idea in the first place. Yes, I said planted. It's a farm pun. Get over it.

Early predecessor of Farmville? We may never know, but I'm going to blame them either way

By the year 2000, it seemed nearly inevitable that the computer whizzes over at Maxis would run out of ideas at one point or another. SimCity 2000 and SimCity 3000 seemed to have covered all possible ground for the game. It was hard to imagine expanding beyond the already exhaustive details of the SimCity series. By SimCity 3000, the programmers had gone so far as to insert angry citizen protesters when we made an unpopular public works decision. It sounded like they must have used up all of their viable computer game ideas. How much more could they possibly squeeze into a reissue?

And then, suddenly, Maxis issued us an entirely new vantage point from which to get our world-ruling jollies. In 2000, they released The Sims, through which we could live the complete simulated life of a virtual character. We may have thought we had been playing God in all previous incarnations of the game, but that all seemed pretty entry level once we saw what was to come.

In The Sims, we had full control over a virtual person (or people, if you were an adequate multi-tasker). Many of us saw fit to actually model a Sim after ourselves, christen it with our name, and try to control its life decisions. What we may not have known, however, was that our mischievous little Sims were imbued with the pesky power of free will. Yes, that's right. The video game versions of ourselves over which we thought we had full control were actually wont to rebel against our commands and make their own decisions. Even if you tried your best to give your Sim an exclusively happy life devoid of disappointments and unfortunate experiences, he or she was bound to go off on their own and make some poor choices. Go figure.

Not all of us were kind and just rulers of our virtual underlings, either. Many of us derived great pleasure from cruelly experimenting with the emotions and reactions of our Sims. There were countless instances in which to muse, "I wonder what would happen if I..." and then proceed to subject our innocent Sim to all forms of unhealthy deprivation and morally ambiguous scenarios. "I wonder what would happen if I blew up his house?" "I wonder what would happen if I won't let him use the bathroom for six days?" "I wonder what would happen if I force him to have romantic liaisons with every neighbor on his block?" I wonder what would happen, indeed. Even without the aid of my handy Simmish to English dictionary, I could tell my Sim was not especially pleased with the lifestyle choices I'd made for him.

What , you don't like discussing Uncle Sam's hat with your neighbors?

What started off as an interesting concept and novel idea for a computer game quickly morphed into an existential experiment in human behavior. The trickiest part was there was no way to win the game. The combinations and permutations of situations were infinite, and as long as you kept your Sim eating and sleeping, they would keep on living. They dealt with the same minutiae as the rest of us; their circumstantial residence in a virtual world didn't preclude them from having to pay bills and brush their teeth. Unluckily for them, the original version of The Sims didn't give them weekends off. Bummer.

The Sims went on to become one of the bestselling computer games of all time, proving that we all must deep down have some morbid fascination with the notion of playing god to a host of virtual people. In The Sims and all of the Sim worlds that preceded it, we got our first taste of complete power, and it felt good. It wasn't until more recently that they unleashed the ultimate virtual rulership beast: Spore. Seriously, if you have not played it, go pick it up. It's amazing. You grow from a spore into a sea creature and you evolve and you kill things. Just don't blame me when you start dreaming in tribal strategy and have sudden flashes of inspiration for a redesign for your creature's aerodynamicity. Yes, I just made that word up, but didn't you hear? I'm entitled. I'm a creator.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology We Grew Up With: On Its Way Out

It's cliche to say we came from simpler times. After all, I've said it here alone probably 50 times. Every generation invariably feels this way, but the speed of technological growth has sped up the tech nostalgia cycle considerably. In past generation-to-generation technology handoffs, much of the first generation's technology is still in circulation at the time. In our case, in a matter of a few years many of the things we grew up with have become not only unfashionable but nearly technologically obsolete.

We've adapted to new technologies so fluidly it's almost difficult to recall a time when we weren't all totally dependent on today's gadgetry conveniences. Each of us right probably has within a 20-foot radius at least a few major pieces of technology that didn't exist in during our childhood years. If it did exist, its form is often nearly recognizable from the prototypes we grew up using. You could argue that an iPhone and an early suitcase-model mobile phone are the same idea, but they have about as much in common as your TV and your toaster.

While we have seen innumerable technological advances over the years, we rarely take the time to mourn the loss of the electronics that came before. Sit back in that ergonomic chair and adjust the easy-on-the-eyes tint of your high-tech computer screen, and enjoy the ease and quiet of your high-speed internet connection as we pay tribute to some bygone technologies:

Pay Phones

Remember when you were a kid and your parents couldn't reach you every minute of every day? It was still possible to get into a little mischief when our parents weren't constantly harassing our cell phones and tracking their signals via online GPS. In our day, your parents could drop you off at the mall or movie theater with twenty five cents and you could call them at your leisure. They didn't worry about not having total control over our teenage whereabouts for an hour or two. We used to be the ones to decide when and where we'd contact someone. Oh, how the times have changed.

Having Your Own Phone Line

That's not to say we didn't have plenty to talk about with our friends. Yes, talk. It's an unfamiliar mode of communication to many of us whose brains now automatically interpret the phrase "I don't know" as "IDK". 15 years or so back, there was no texting and instant messenger was fairly new technology. If you were very lucky, your parents might award you your very own landline to communicate with your friends without tying up their lines. In an even further example of total technological obsolescence, I actually shared my personal land line with the modem. How's that for a phenomenon you don't see today? That meant I could only talk on the phone if no one was using the internet and vice versa. Nowadays, we've all got internet on our phones themselves, but back in the day it was an either/or type ordeal.

Getting Film Developed

I'm willing to venture we all took significantly fewer pictures in our adolescence than teenagers do today. The reason? Film. We paid to have every one of our photos developed; we couldn't just browse for a select few. If a picture turned out badly, none of us would know until we'd gotten the photographic evidence back from the 1-hour photomat. We'd have to divide the developed photos into two piles: keepers and duds. There was no instant gratification, nor did we immediately see the photos posted online. The aura of suspense has faded with the rise of digital technology. It's not quite as thrilling to look back and reminisce on an image that happened two seconds earlier.

Floppy Disks

Remember that little disk drive our computers used to have? Take a look around your current computer model. I'd guess the majority of us don't even have an input for these guys anymore. From the big CD-album sized originals to the more compact later incarnations, they used to be a major means of saving information to our computers. Now we don't even have an insertion slot. Sunrise, sunset...*

Purchasing CDs/Cassettes

...Or for that matter, popping them into a Walkman or Discman. Yes, they still sell CDs, but the market has decreased significantly. These days most musicians are barely making money off of record sales, especially considering pirated music downloads. For those of us who go the legal route through iTunes, we're far less likely to buy a full album and suffer through the songs that weren't good enough to be released as singles.

I'm being a bit facetious, sure, but when's the last time you burned a CD or made a mixtape for a friend? It's sadly sliding out of practice. How are we supposed to express ourselves without the art of mixtapery? I can't tell someone I love them unless I can find 12 appropriate songs, record them off the radio, and drop it in their locker. It just doesn't feel right.

VHS tapes

Once upon a time, if there was something you wanted to watch on TV but you were going to be away from home, you'd have to program your VCR. This, for its time, seemed like pretty cutting-edge technology. We kept loads of blank videotapes next to our TV and continually taped over them with movies of the week or the latest episode of Dawson's Creek. The other day at Half Price Books I saw them selling bins of 50 VHS tapes for five dollars a case. Five dollars. These were good movies, too. Clearly VHS is no longer the preferred media, but if you've got a player you could certainly rack up quite the cheap collection.

Watching Commercials

Speaking of TV (sort of), our television remote controls didn't always have a pause, fast forward, and rewind function. We sat through every last commercial. Sometimes we even enjoyed it. There's a lot about TV we'll have to miss, actually. For example, that fuzzy snowstorm static you sometimes got? Gone. Kaput. Finito. You'll never see that again. Sort of sad, isn't it? It's strange getting dewy eyed over an irritating TV function, but I'm actually a tad verklempt.

Polaroid cameras and film

Yes, it's true. Now when we hear Outkast's instructions to "shake it like a Polaroid picture" we'll just have to used our imaginations; they no longer exist in their quick-printing form. It once seemed so high tech to instantly have a copy of your photo, but that's since been rendered obsolete by digital photography. It's sad, when you think about it. That "Hey Ya" was pretty recent, but a couple of years from now kids won't even get the reference. Tragic.

Dial-Up Modems

...And that charming noise that come along with them. Remember that? All the buzzing and the beeping and the waiting for the little AOL running guy to reach his final destination of internetland? That
dial up noise is now relegated to the back spaces of our memories. I'll never forget you, Ringers. That's what I just named my modem. Posthumously, of course.

Oh, how quickly things change. Just as we're getting accustomed to one mode of technology, another sweeps in and changes the course completely. We wouldn't trade our modern technology for anything, but it's crazy to think that ten years from now, the iPhone and Blackberry may just be retro kitsch. I can't imagine what else they'll tack on to these things, but that's sort of the beauty of it. We can mourn the loss of these bygone tech practices, but there's always something new just over the horizon. My guess is the next generation of phones will also be flying cars. Just don't forget you heard it here first.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

90s Internet Phenomenons

Here's a helpful hint in garnering attention for your silly, senseless ideas: simply jump on the bandwagon as early as possible in the technological timeline. If you can somehow finagle yourself a little corner of that virtual marketplace when the competition is light, people will probably find their way to your inane website. Nowadays the internet is over-saturated with all kinds of drivel but in the web's earlier days, these useless pages made up a far more significant proportions of websites. When you only have so many websites to visit, you're far more likely to check out a singing hamster or a dancing baby. That's just simple statistical analysis. So, sorry self, you've entered the world of novelty websites a decade too late. I'll give me some time to grieve.

We've all grown increasingly more difficult to entertain over the years. We have constant access to multiple forms of entertainment, many of which we choose to employ simultaneously. Have you ever noticed that you get bored just putzing around on the computer if there's no TV on in the background? This constant buzz of entertainment has dulled our reactions to internet stimuli. In the 90s, though, if a site offered us some sort of animation with accompanying irritating soundtrack, we were enthralled and immediately forwarded the link to all of our friends. While today when I get a forwarded email my major reaction is disdain to the sender for clogging my inbox, in the early internet days I would cross my fingers that my inbox contained a chain letter or a link to one of the following early meme gems:

Hampster Dance

In 1996, all it took was a couple of GIFs and some captivatingly irritating music playing on loop to lure us to a pointless website. The site featured four different types of hamsters arranged in rows, with each type feverishly perpetuating its signature dance move as a sped-up version of a song from Disney's Robin Hood played in the background. Hampsterdance exploded onto the meme scene overnight, jumping from just a couple of pageviews to a shocking 15,000 visits daily. It was sort of cute, yes, but not exactly the stuff groundbreaking internet phenomenons are made of.

Dancing Baby

This animated three dimensional rendering of a dancing babies made its rounds on the internet before ascending to television fame on Fox's Ally McBeal. It was, as the straightforwardness of the name suggests, a dancing baby. Really, that was it. A baby. Who danced. Like I said, it didn't take all that much to impress us in these early days of the internet; most of us were generally enthralled by the ever-growing capabilities of the internet. Sure, the dancing baby site probably froze every couple of minutes on your dial-up internet or shut down when someone picked up the modem's phone extension, but it amused us all the same.

Bill Gates Chain Letter and others

Over the years, we've become more and more accustomed to monitoring our emails for spam. I no longer jump for joy every time a Nigerian banker tries to share his lucrative fortune with me or when I'm notified of my winning $14 million in a foreign lottery I never entered. I used to experience a brief, gullible thrill at these messages, but they've since lost their luster.

In the 90s, however, we weren't quite so disillusioned with the notion of our inboxes bringing us great luck and free cash. Many chain letters were of the old-fashioned variety, warning that failure to forward it to 12 friends will leave you unlucky in love and life. Some, though, were a bit more enticing, notably the notification that an imminent merger of AOL and Microsoft meant Bill Gates wanted to send you a big fat check. Most of these fraudulent emails claimed the now-merged companies wanted so badly for Internet Explorer to remain the most popular browser that they were putting forth a little cash to cement its status. Who wouldn't press "forward" in hopes of receiving a check for somewhere between $200-$1000? As in most cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Bill Gates is a generous guy, but I think his money's a bit more useful in funding clean water supplies for impoverished African villages than ensuring I don't switch to Firefox.

Ate my Balls

Just as the name implies, the site depicted popular characters with thought-bubble overlays detailing their desire to eat balls. Sound stupid? It is.

Mahir Cagri: I Kiss You!!!

Who can deny the charm of a Turkish accordion aficionado with a standing offer for a kiss? Apparently none of us can, or so reveals the incredible amount of traffic to Mahir Cagri's personal web site in the late 90s. His site was full of little tidbits of broken-English self-proclamations, such as "I like music , I have many many music enstrumans my home I can play" and of course, "I Kiss You!!!" Cagri alleged that Sacha Baron Cohen's based the Borat character on his website. There are definitely an assortment of similarities, but Cagri's post-Borat movie lawsuit against Baron Cohen seemed more like a cry for lost attention than a legitimate legal claim.

Bert is Evil

Much to the chagrin of Susame Street producers, this website showed the puppet Bert consorting with all manners of unsavory characters such as Osama bin Laden. The idea was that Bert was actually some form of conniving evil genius and not just the disgruntled foil to the cheerier Ernie. The site's proprietor eventually took down the site, but not before Bert's image began cropping up on the posters of actual bin Laden supporters. Scary stuff. I thought it was bad when he was getting mad about cookies in the bed, but this is taking it to an entirely new level.

Bonsai Kitten

What does a group of rogue MIT students do when they get together to kick back and have some fun? Why, start an elaborate internet hoax, of course. The Bonsai Kitten website claimed that you could raise a Bonsai kitten in the same manner as you would grow a Bonsai tree, complete with photographs and descriptions of the process. Gullible animal lovers worldwide cried out in outrage, forwarding the site to all of their friends in hope of putting an end to this cruel, inhumane kitten-pruning practice. The joke may have been in poor taste, but it was just a joke nonetheless.

Rating Sites (Rate my Face, Hot or Not)

Have you ever wondered whether you were attractive? Do you have a camera and an elevated sense of physical self-esteem? Then we've got a whole slew of websites made just for your own mirror basking self-admiration. You simply uploaded a photo of yourself to the website and people would give you a numeric rating based on your looks. I'm not totally sure why we needed this type of validation from the general internet-roaming public, but the site was admittedly fun to browse. Now many of these sites have added a dating element, which I suppose hinges on the notion of matching individuals of equal attractiveness.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

The meme featured just a dancing banana emoticon and the song "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" by the Buckwheat Boyz. The frantic banana has had many imitators including Family Guy's Brian, but none can compare to the simplicity of the original.

There's no means of predicting just which of these crazy little corners of the internet will skyrocket to disproportionate fame, but they do seem to have a common thread throughout: complete and total ridiculousness. The internet's bursting at the seams with heaps of viral memes and trends, but in the 90s the novelty was enough to draw us in to watch a dancing banana instruct us in the art of sandwich making.

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