I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
The 90's encompassed in a jigsaw puzzle
Most people feel a strong connection to the decade in which they grew up. For my parents, it was the 70’s. For me, it was the 90’s. For today’s kids, it will be now.
We tend to become nostalgic when we grow up and realize that the 70’s are the new 50’s, the, the 80’s are the new 60’s, the 90’s are the new 70’s, and so on. We realize that we are now the adults, that childhood is behind us, and those who are coming up in the world will never experience life the same way.
Just to be clear, I’m not here to gripe about how the 90’s was the best decade ever just because I grew up in them. I’m not going to put down the millennials for their alternative childhoods or complain about how things used to be so much better. Each decade has their pros and cons to pick apart.
The following is a love letter to the decade that I love the most and a random sample of 10 elements of the culture that disappeared with the decade, at least in their previous form. Here are 10 things that I miss about growing up in the 90’s.
A Hollywood video store
Everyone reminisces about going to the video store. So, why did they stop going? I know I didn’t. For as long as they were around, I visited the local video store, walked around for hours looking for the latest new release to rent, and then returned it before the next day’s deadline.
We were the first to grow up in an age where we didn’t have to wait for a movie to come on TV after it left the theater. We had a theater at home, and if we were willing to pick up a membership card or press “record” on our VCR while a good movie or show was playing on TV, we had an all-access pass to start a home movie collection to watch whenever we wanted.
Going to RedBox or streaming movies at home just isn't the same. Going to the video store felt like going out without actually going out. They were usually connected to grocery stores so you could pick up your snacks too, and maybe even a frozen pizza and a two-liter bottle of Surge while you were at it.
You respected the hunt and the fact that the latest new release might not be available when you get there. But life is a compromise, and video stores reflected that sentiment in their first come, first serve set up perfectly.
Some 90's MTV ads
Gen X may try to claim the inception of MTV in the 80’s as the channel’s heyday, but I disagree. Not only did late 90’s MTV play music videos regularly, but they created shows based around music in general, from Cribs to Making the Video to TRL and The Osbournes, we got to know our favorite artists as people rather than just as performers.
Their Video Music Awards and Movie Awards were the highlight of the year. And their annual Spring Break broadcasts showed poor kids like me how the other half lives without having to pay up or risk getting killed on an underage free-for-all trip to Florida.
This is how you would talk to your friends after school.
Long conversations on landline phones
Being on the cusp of the technological age, most people were just acquiring their first cell phones in the 90’s. Kids especially had no chance of owning one unless they lived in Beverly Hills like Cher in Clueless. So, you had to compete with parents, siblings, and dial-up Internet for phone time with your friends.
They were real, verbal conversations too. Even if there were long periods of silence while you painted your nails or flipped through a magazine, the time was well-spent.
How do parents these days keep their kids from texting their friends till 2am on school nights? Back in the day, you couldn’t get away with sneaking on the phone past 9pm.
Yet another example of how less was more. You used your time wisely when it was limited to that sliver of time during the day when no one else was using the line to catch up on your daily gossip.
Magazines - our original Google.
Yes, these are still around, and I still subscribe to a few, but this used to be the number one place to learn about recent trends, human interest stories, and answers to cultural and personal questions. I remember being 14 and getting my first subscription to 17 Magazine as a Christmas present. My parents were amused that my interest in the publication fizzled out once I actually turned 17. But we didn’t have Google back then. This is where we got our celebrity interviews, feature articles on hard-hitting topics like eating disorders and school shooters, and insight into the latest teen trends. Also, you just don’t get that perfume sample smell when you scroll through social media.
Watch Mojo's 90's sitcom list video
TV is more popular than ever, and binge watching is a modern-day treasure, but to me, true TV is having a different lineup of sitcoms to watch each night. And if you miss one, you’re going to have to wait until summer to try to catch a rerun.
Most family sitcoms are too cheesy to work today, but audiences in the 90’s ate them up with their catchphrases, theme songs, and middle class, first world problems. It was breezy escapism that could occasionally turn into a dark public service announcement.
But that was the fun of it all. These shows were something that the whole family would watch together, and they gave you something to look forward to before bedtime, whether it was a school night or TGIF.
Ozzy knows how frustrating it is to deal with a complicated remote control system.
Needing only one remote control
Advances in technology dictated that consumers up their game in order to understand how to work their devices. In the 90’s, you had one TV remote and one VCR remote.
Now, you need an average of three remotes to watch a Blu Ray, and you need to know the exact series of buttons that you have to press in order to get it to work right. I feel like this should be a class that you can take at your local community college.
Oddly enough, remote controls don’t go missing anymore like they did in the 90’s. Why is that?
Hand crank for a car window.
Car windows with a hand crank
In the early 90’s especially, humans were still living in an age when if you wanted to raise or lower your car window, you turned a crank that would move the glass up or down to the desired millimeter of your choice. The hand crank worked as long as you could reach it.
Now, if you forget to roll up your window after you have shut off the car, you have to start the car. It’s a minor annoyance, but to me, it feels like a step backwards in technology.
Jim Henson's was one of the first celebrity deaths of the 90's.
Celebrities we lost
Every era deals with losing notable people tragically or too young. The 90’s sure had their share. From Kurt Cobain to Chris Farley to Princess Diana, drugs, murders, and accidents constantly peppered news headlines. When their deaths have hit notable anniversaries in more recent years, you can’t help but wonder what they would be doing now if they were still around.
Would they have gotten clean? Would they have done great things? Would they be remembered for something unexpected? Would their children have turned out differently? Nearly 30 years later, we are still grieving over some of them.
My collection of letters from the 90's.
From passing scribbles on notebook paper in class to writing letters to pen pals out of state, handwritten notes were like getting a homemade gift. It meant that someone took the time to think about what they wanted to say to you and to put it down in their best handwriting. Even more impressive was if a boy took the time to write you a note that was more than two sentences long.
School notes used to be folded in intricate ways. Girls collected gel pens and bought stickers to make them really pop. I’ve saved a bunch of notes from school as well as letters that I’ve received over the years.
After all, pen pals were still a thing in the 90’s too. Nothing was better than getting a handwritten letter in the mail from a long distance friend or family member, especially for no reason at all. It’s a nostalgic keepsake that no text message can touch.
An old TV set
Saturday morning and after school cartoons
I held a personal moment of silence when I learned that the major TV networks were no longer going to run Saturday morning cartoons. That time slot between 6am and noon on Saturdays belonged to kids, whether they slept in or got up before dawn to watch their favorite shows.
It’s where I was first exposed to some of the mega superheroes that dot our cultural landscape today. It’s where I got ideas for toys to ask for on my Christmas list. And it’s also how my brother, sisters, and I kept ourselves occupied until our French toast was ready. I still can't believe that we live in a world without Saturday morning cartoons.
Likewise, while there are plenty of kids channels that play kids shows nonstop, having a solid block carved out to watch cartoons after school while you practiced your multiplication tables was another comfort in the long, boring grind of your school week. Having good shows to watch and just a few hours devoted to watching them gave you an appreciation for the genre which shaped our unending interest in them as adults.
What do you miss about or wish you had experienced during the 90’s? Leave your answers in the comments below!
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on February 17, 2019:
Me too. Thanks for commenting!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 17, 2019:
From your list, I choose handwritten notes and landline phones as the items I miss the most. Communication is so different now. I would love to bring back handwriting and one phone number per residence. Thanks for the memories.