5 '90s Tech Problems You Will Never Have Again

by Jennifer Li Shotz
Originally Published: 
Flickr/Harshad Sharma

It’s time I speak my truth: I made a lot of tech faux pas back in the day. And by “day” I mean the prehistoric era when we still wrote checks to pay for our groceries. Checks that had addresses on them. House addresses. For houses that had real landlines in them. Landlines that plugged into actual walls, with cables that eventually connected to telephone poles. These are, thankfully, missteps for which my children will never have to apologize. If you once perpetrated any of these ’90s flubs, raise your hand, make amends, and move on.

1. The VCR Mooch

If I got stuck at work or wanted to go out at night but had forgotten to program my VCR to record … oh, I dunno, let’s say The X-Files or Twin Peaks or ER (don’t judge), I would routinely call my friend Kristen and ask her to record it for me. This was annoying for multiple reasons: 1) Because I was essentially asking her to watch what I wanted to watch, as you could only record what you were actually watching; 2) Because it required her to track down a usable VHS tape; and 3) Because I was basically using her for free cable.

2. The “Oops, I recorded over your Geraldo”

If you had a roommate in the ’90s, you probably “accidentally” recorded over a show they treasured at least once. Like their flickering copy of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or that episode of The Price Is Right when they sat in the front row and smiled every time the camera cut away from Bob Barker to show the audience. I did. Sorry, pal—but seriously, you should have popped out the little tabs on the back of the tape. Message me on FB sometime!

3. Using Up Someone Else’s Talk Minutes

Gather ’round, children, and I’ll tell you about a time when we used to have to pay for every minute we spent talking on our flip phones. It was the craziest thing! What’s that? Yes, I said “flip” phones. No, they didn’t do flips … aaaahahaha, you’re cute, kiddo. Actually, they flipped open, like a CD case. What’s a CD case? Oh, come on now. You know what a CD is, don’t you? No, they came before flash drives. I’m sorry—what did you just ask? What is talking? Why, it’s what we’re doing right now, little fella!

4. Watching TV Together. Over the Phone.

Sometimes, back when I was 20-fetal, I was too tired to go out at night (I know! So crazy, right?!). Which was complicated, because I was also not capable of spending an entire evening without some form of social interaction. Thus, the evolution of the worst-of-all-possible-worlds hybrid: talking to your friend on the phone while you both watched the same show. How quaint it seems now to simultaneously perform two activities that have passed their expiration dates: talking on the landline (see #3, above) and two people watching the same episode of the same show at the same time … because they had to.

5. Interrupting a Dial-Up Connection With Call Waiting

There are some sounds I will never forget: my newborn son’s first cry. The glass breaking under my husband’s foot at our wedding. The perfect C-note of my mother letting out an angry “JENNIFER!!!” when I was a kid. And the screeching, popping, bleating, stuttering shriek that was the sound of a 56k modem extending the gnarled, grasping hand of modernity. When it worked, it was joy, that sound. It meant you could “get on,” you could access the world out there. (And Earthlink.) Part of the excitement of it all was the fact that you just never knew … would it connect this time? Or would you get through the 30, 60, 90 seconds of auditory anticipation, only to be disconnected at the last moment? Dial-up was a cruel, cruel master. The only thing crueler was when you forgot to block call waiting and someone beeped in when you were juuuust about to connect, thereby interrupting the tiny robot in your computer who was about to reach the mothership.

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