The 1990s: so recent, yet so long ago
For those readers who have reached the ranks of middle age, or if you’re still in your thirties, you might look back at the 1990s with a smile. Yes, the decade that closed out the 20th century was filled with optimism, awesome technology oh, and not to mention, some of the best rock music in the history of the genre.
While the 1960s have been referred to by cultural critics and sociologists alike as the Decade of Love, the 1970s the Me Decade, the ultra-conservative 1980s the Decade of Decadence and Greed, the 1990s have earned the deserving moniker of ‘The 80s with a Conscience’, an era where striving to make the almighty dollar was still king, yet where there was decidedly more of a social conscience, with environmentalism and other forms of left-of-center political activism that perhaps had not been so cool in the 1980s coming back into vogue.
With the rise of every new decade comes a backlash against the previous one, and the nineties were no exception. On the music front, gone were the cheesy hairstyles of 1980s New Wave rockers and those ridiculous corporate hair bands (some of which were actually quite good, by the way), giving way to a more organic, natural sound found within the stylings of the countless grunge and alternative bands who took over the landscape.
The political landscape also took a radical departure from the one that dominated the 1980s in the United States and much of the western world. People said good riddance to Reaganism and Thatcherism in favor of Bill Clinton. While we’re on the topic of politics, by 1991, the Cold War was officially over, as the Soviet Union collapsed, ending decades of fear over the real possibility of nuclear war, China became very westernized and open to the world, and everyone seemed to be optimistic about a future living together in global harmony.
But, as we all remember, the most impressive feat brought about by the 1990s was the advent of the Internet, or, to be more precise, the commercial use of this great invention that, until about 1994, was generally limited to military personnel and members of academia. Yes, if you went to high school in this era, when comparing the humble beginnings of the Net to the modern technology that permeates every inch of our lives, you might look back and cringe and wonder how we even survived back then.
It was just after the Christmas break in 1996. I was in Grade 11 at Charlottetown Rural High School in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and this newfangled system that everyone was talking about but most knew little about had just been installed in our high school. A friend showed me how to surf what at the time was known as the “Information Superhighway.” Oh, and one had to dial and wait as long as ten minutes before they could get onto the internet.
Recently, I looked through Netflix trying to find a comedy to watch. I stumbled upon an independent 2013 film titled ‘The To-Do List’, a teen sex comedy set twenty years earlier in 1993. Needless to say, the film made me feel nostalgic but also brought home the reality that my teenage years weren’t a few years ago, more like a quarter of a century to three decades ago. And, I must say so myself, my 42-year-old eyes have witnessed an astounding amount of changes in the past 30 years, some good, some bad, many of which I couldn’t have foreseen during my prom night back in June 1997.
To those born after the year 2000, you’re probably wondering what life was like as a teenager in the 1990s. In the early portion of the decade, those conservative dressers amongst us had to contend with such horrors of gasoline jeans and bright neon on every piece of clothing imaginable. While we had plenty of video games and VHS (yes, you heard that correctly) movies to keep us entertained, texting, being woke, skyping, and social media were a good decade or two away from establishing themselves as words of the English vocabulary.
This was long before MTV and Muchmusic became depositories for endless corny reality tv shows and actually did their job, which was to play music videos on a 24/7 basis. By the middle part of the decade, grunge and hip-hop ruled the airwaves and the CD changers in our cars and the world was becoming a smaller place due to the rise of technology, chiefly the internet and cellphones, which while more commonplace, hadn’t yet found their way into every teenager’s pocket.
Looking back, I can say in all honesty that being a teenager in the last decade before the onset of the often unstable 21st Century was a good experience. Sure, we didn’t have all the conveniences of today, but, when one looks at the way the world is going right now with climate change, political instability due to the pandemic, and the threat of a third world conflict, the era of boy bands, the dreaded mullet, moshing, Saved By the Bell, Seinfeld, primitive internet, and Pauly Shore was a damn good time to be alive.
Chris McGarry is a professional freelance writer. He uses his expert knowledge, skills, and personal experience in writing about such topics as real estate, travel, fitness, politics, and digital marketing to create innovative, entertaining, and engaging content for his clients. He writes for Medium, TravelPlus, ThriveGlobal, The Canadian Firearms Journal, and more. His specialty is writing articles and books as well as copywriting and editing and proofreading.