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Have you heard of a thing called the 30-year nostalgia cycle? It’s also called the nostalgia pendulum, and it refers to the point at which creators reach the age of 30 and become shaped by the culture on which they were raised. Since we’re in the 2000s now, it stands to reason that major nostalgia for the 90s is about to begin (if it hasn’t already). There’s a good reason for that, too; for those who grew up during that time, the 90s hold some extremely fond memories. It was a great time for technology, too; tech rapidly expanded and evolved during the 90s. Here are some of the best gadgets from the 90s.
Nintendo Game Boy
We’re cheating a little here, since the Game Boy technically made its first appearance in 1989. However, Nintendo’s second handheld (after the Game & Watch, naturally) launched in Europe in 1990, so we’re including it on this list. Many 90s kids have fond memories of taking their Game Boy out with them, playing the first Pokemon games, and enjoying the console’s incredible battery life and ludicrous survivability. Unless you’re able to source an actual Game Boy, there isn’t really a way to play these games legally today, which is a crying shame.
Everyone who grew up in the 90s remembers the Tamagotchi. It was a tiny device with an LCD screen on which you could see a little creature. It was your responsibility to feed the creature, clean up after it, and generally ensure that it was well cared-for. The name is a Japanese play on words; “tamago” means “egg”, and “uotchi” is the Japanese transliteration for “watch”, so “egg watch” (or “tamago-uotchi”). The Tamagotchi’s inventor said he wanted to impress upon children that taking care of pets isn’t always sunshine and rainbows; sometimes it’s hard work.
This has been a very gaming-heavy list so far, and we promise that we’re moving on to other pastures shortly. However, it wouldn’t be a list celebrating 90s tech if we didn’t mention the PlayStation, the first foray from Sony into the gaming world. Launched in 1994 after a failed collaboration between Sony and Nintendo (yes, really), the PlayStation revolutionised gaming thanks to its huge software library, ease of use, and innovative Memory Card system. Sony would go on to become a dominant force in the gaming landscape, but the PlayStation was a gamble, albeit one that paid off.
Nowadays, a huge library of music is available on our smartphones via streaming services, but in the 90s, that wasn’t the case. That’s where the Sony Discman came in. It wasn’t the first portable music player, but it allowed you to play CDs on the go. You could skip tracks, pause and stop your music, and even change play modes if you wanted to. The Discman constantly skipped and glitched, which was a shame, because it was advertised as having technology that would stop it from doing so. Still, we have fond memories of our Discmans (Discmen?).
Pilot 1000 and 5000
Before there was the PalmPilot, there was this device, the Pilot 1000 (and 5000 if you were really swish). It was a kind of proto-smartphone-come-PDA that contained a built-in address book, as well as a memo pad for taking notes and a to-do list to help you organise your life. These devices were fairly primitive, but remarkably, the Pilot had handwriting recognition, and it actually worked, which made taking notes surprisingly intuitive. You could also sync these devices with your PC or Mac, so they were dominant in the business world for a while.
3 ½ inch floppy disks
Again, we’re cheating a little by including 3 ½ inch floppy disks on this list, because they’re technically an invention of the 1980s. Still, if you had a PC in the 90s, then you were almost certainly au fait with floppy disk technology. Many important software programs came on floppy disks, as did games. You could also store files on floppy disks, making them an early precursor to USB drives. They were much less reliable due to their mechanical nature, but how many of us who grew up in the 90s didn’t have a few disks lying around with game files on them?
The Password Journal was a nifty little piece of tech that contained a notebook and invisible ink-using pen, but that wasn’t its main selling feature. It came complete with a voice recognition-activated password system that meant nobody could access your journal unless they were you (or somehow had access to your voice). It was remarkably difficult to fool, too; recordings just wouldn’t cut it. Interestingly enough, these devices are still being manufactured today, so if you’ve got lots of secrets but you just don’t trust your smartphone, then you might want to consider picking one up.
Announced by the Finnish mobile company Nokia in 1999, the Nokia 3210 was a constant companion for many of us during the 90s. It was an incredibly sturdy phone that was virtually impossible to destroy, but it was also a pretty stylish-looking device, especially if you managed to swap out its relatively bland frontage with something a little more snazzy. The 3210 also popularised the now-iconic Nokia Snake game, which was preinstalled on the phone and caused us to lose countless hours that we should have been spending on homework.