When Tech Was Cool

We used to be a real country

The possibility of the future used to seem fun and exciting. Zenon gave us space station life and hologram teachers, Back to the Future had hoverboards, even The Jetsons showed us the possibilities of flying cars and robot housekeepers that were friendly and not creepy at all. Sometimes the actual future we live in feels underwhelming.

The reality, though, is that the technology we do have has grown impressively, almost scarily, fast. Some of it is a little dystopian and some is beyond helpful. The real problem is that it’s boring. 

Memory Full

Our first computer was a mammoth—a Gateway with its cow-print logo—that sat in the living room. At first, it did nothing but play games like the first Sims and Reader Rabbit, but eventually, we had that sweet sweet dial-up, and suddenly my world opened to AIM, message boards, and, a few years later, Myspace. The computer gave you a world you entered and then left. You chatted with friends, played Neopets, maybe yelled expletives at SmarterChild, and then you logged off. Some people had computer rooms. A room just for interneting!

Sometimes I long for those days when I had an attention span and people didn’t film strangers at their worst moment to shame on the internet. But I’m thankful for the phone that is constantly in my pocket. Could I get anywhere without my GPS? Would I have met my husband without Tinder? Would I have been able to remember the game Reader Rabbit if not for ChatGPT translating my garbled memories? I’m eternally grateful that I had a childhood before the internet was all-consuming, and it’s impressive to have witnessed the growth.

Last year, American Girl released its 90s dolls. Yes, the 90s are officially historic. Nicki and Isabel’s accessories are a perfect representation of how fun life was as a kid in the 90s and early 00s. Just look at this computer setup. There are aliens and smiley faces everywhere. They have inflatable chairs (!!) and a Walkman. They aren’t thinking about what they need from Sephora in order to craft the perfect post for maximum likes. I want so badly to crawl into their world, I could actually cry writing this. Part of it is childhood nostalgia, but it’s also a reminder that while the evolution of technology is impressive, it’s become boring and utilitarian in design. You can’t deny that shit used to be way cooler to look at. 

Phones used to be an extension of your personality. Landlines could be bright red lips or shaped like Garfield. Even the basic plastic corded phone came in fun colors. Cell phones didn’t start out exceptionally cool looking, but the early 00s birthed a slew of fun options. Pink Razrs, Sidekicks, EnVs. Phones used to be interesting and satisfyingly tactile. Now everything is a grey glass slab. Sure, it has to fit in our pockets but would a little personality hurt? (I have a lot of opinions on phones.)

Not convinced we’ve landed in monotonous hell? Consider cars. I need a new one, but the problem, like with my phone, is that all I want is a cute car that’s also affordable. I dream about a powder blue Beetle. I’d all but sell my soul for a vintage Bronco. Give me a Suzuki Sidekick or a Geo Tracker. At one time, every car was artistically designed, from the fins of the 50s to the boxy shapes of the 90s. Today, unless you have excess money to spend on your wheels, cars are smoothed-out spaceships that all vaguely look the same, painted in the same shades. See? Boring!

A Clear Divide

My coworkers are likely annoyed by my incessant talk of transparent tech (sorry!). It’s always on my mind. There was a time when you could get literally anything in a clear version. Gameboys, landlines, N64 controllers, the unbeatable iMacs that lined schools’ computer labs. The queen of clear is obviously the iconic landline with candy colored wires but there were blue Vtechs, neon yellow Swatches and various other shades of transparent pink.

I’m not the only one obsessing over what tech used to be like. Every few months, some version of this photo is shared around. Phone charms have come back into public consciousness. Airpod cases are among the kookiest things I’ve ever seen. One creator turns vintage iBooks into modern day iPad cases for an eye-watering $900 price tag. People are craving personality in their gadgets again but the companies that make them don’t seem to hear it.

I imagine every generation is nostalgic for a specific decade, but the 90s has had a long-lived revival. Many of us millennials had vague memories of a booming world, but have never known it in actuality. We have a failing economy and 14 once-in-a-lifetime events happening every year. The 90s seemed fun and full of opportunity. The 2020s feel scary.

I love gadgets and gizmos and I’m grateful for modern technology. But in the year of our lord 2024, why can’t it just be cute too?

🇬🇧 The world’s best fictional movie featuring a real music group, Spice World, was released in the US 26 years ago on January 23, 1998 (and in the UK the month prior). It had iconic sky-high sneakers, aliens, Meat Loaf, and one insane tour bus. The Spice Girls introduced some of us to girl power and we’ve never been the same.

📟 Y2K: we survived!
💻 January 3, 1983: Time names the computerMan Machine of the Year
🍻 January 27, 1993: Coyote Ugly opens in NYC. Pre-Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert pens a GQ article (originally published in 1997) about bartending there, and in 2000, a perfect movie is born. Girls everywhere dream of being Coyotes.
👩🏻‍💻 January 24, 1984: Apple releases the Macintosh with a 1984 Super Bowl ad.
🍝 January 10, 1999: The Sopranos airs its first episode. 25 years later and we’re still talking about it.
🤸🏼‍♀️ January 26, 2001: Sugar and Spice, a classic tale of bank-robbing cheerleaders, is released.
👻 January 18, 1999: TV show So Weird airs its first episode. It was X-Files for kids. (Expect more on kid horror TV at a later date in Always Nostalgic.)

Thanks for reading the first issue of Always Nostalgic! Thoughts and praise can be sent to [email protected]