Welcome to Dial Up, Mashable’s most excellent look at technology in the ’90s, from the early days of the World Wide Web to the clunky gadgets that won our hearts.
Gather ’round, children, and let me take you back to the 1990s, when the internet was new and everyone wanted to get in on the action.
So, for the kids who never got to experience 1990s, and for those of us who survived them, enjoy this walk down memory lane with seven of the era’s most embarrassing tech videos.
1. Apple’s big flop
Looking back, perhaps the weirdest thing about the 1990s is that Apple was more often a punchline than a success. It wouldn’t recover until Steve Jobs returned in 1997 and, soon after, resuscitated the company with the iMac in 1998 and then the iPod in 2001.
But, in 1993, Apple dropped what would turn out to be one of its biggest failures ever: the Newton. Meant to be an easy way to take notes and convert them to digital text, the original release ran into trouble actually recognizing handwriting and came with a $900 price tag that was extremely hefty (roughly $1,500 in 2018 dollars). The negative reviews led to ridicule, even leading to a joke at the device’s expense on 1990s TV juggernaut The Simpsons. Miraculously, the line of devices lasted for five years with some minor success until Jobs mercifully put it out to pasture in 1998.
Ironically, digital conversions of handwritten notes became a thing again with the introduction of the Apple Pencil in 2015 and was received with a smattering of applause. It helps it’s just an added feature as opposed to the whole reason for a piece of hardware, too. Just don’t expect the new version to translate your swears.
2. Understanding Windows 95 with… friends
Nothing crystallizes the 1990s in a single video quite like this one, which is why it’s probably the most well-known and widely mocked tech-related video to come out of the decade. It captured the two breakout stars from one of the 1990s most popular sitcoms, Friends, trying to understand the most-heralded (and subsequently most maligned) operating system, well, ever.
Everything about this video screams “THE 1990s WERE HELL,” from the term “cyber sitcom” to 3D pinball to actors’ “party” at the end. Both Aniston and Perry have been in their fair share of misfires (Along Came Polly and Serving Sara, respectively) but this has to rank among the worst for them.
At least the Windows 95 release was a big success, thanks to the huge push Microsoft put behind it, from the above actors to the Rolling freaking Stones. While bad reviews kinda put a damper on things, it still stands as a monument to that weird, wild decade.
3. The kids are alright
There are no famous actors here, just an intro that borders on self-parody, wooden acting, an email to the president, and searching the web for information about rainbows. As awkward as this video is — and it is most definitely awkward — it’s even more useful for reminding us that this is how we really reacted to the internet in the mid-1990s.
4. The scourge of piracy
Before Napster made piracy such a big deal on the internet, there were other ways of copying digital items and running afoul of the law. You just did it with floppy disks, a term that’s as outdated in 2019 as “Crystal Clear Pepsi” and “smoking section.” The whole thing is dated before you even get to the actual bad part of the video which, at around 45 seconds in, is the very 1990 rap song that looks like the entire decade barfed all over the screen. They probably show this video on repeat in Copyright Violator Hell.
5. Eye-rolling dads are timeless
This whole thing with computers! Wow! I mean, I don’t get it but my kids sure do! *Chuckles* A computer you can take with you? Ha! Next thing you know, they’ll have computer phones! *shakes head* Whatever, Einstein!
6. The archaeologist’s guide to the internet
I have a lot of trouble focusing on the content of the above video because I’m mostly distracted by the narrating archaeologist’s palatial estate. Also, why an archaeologist? Why not someone your average mid-1990s user could identify with more? My guess is the makers of the ad were riding the Jurassic Park popularity wave. The archaeologists himself is a perfectly fine narrator but that he suggests, “if possible, get a 28.8 modem” is enough a sign that this video is the real dinosaur (sorry not sorry).
7. AOL solves all your problems
Believe it or not, there was a time before you could do literally everything on the internet but somehow this video makes us wish the internet never existed. Even if it helps us coordinate with our kayak group.