Technology from the 90s that we suffered from (and survived)

Sometime last week. I was amused and inspired by a tweet from Twitter User Irwin in which he reminisced about technological marvels of the 90s that he had seen (probably before most other Twitter users were born)

If any of these strike a chord with you, then you have given away your age :)

It inspired me to remember the technology from the 90s, from my college and early working days that I loved, struggled with and I am so thankful that I don't have to deal with them today

So here goes with my list

1) A dialup internet account
Lifetimes have gone watching the 'connecting' icon and listening to that whirring sound of the dialler.  Multiple times over, patiently, till it finally connected. We switched providers from VSNL, to Satyam to Nutkracker from Wipro, trying to find the best one. 

Oh, and the bummer is that, initially, every time the phone rang, the internet would disconnect. Thankfully someone figured that out and fixed it.

And let's not even remember that we measured speed like snails in bps vs MBps today.

2) Zip Drives and Floppy Drives
Today, each of us generates and stores hundreds of gigabytes of data, between our smartphones and laptops. Life is all about juggling the data, backing it up, storing it in the Cloud, or on hard drives. Sometimes we lose some data accidentally. But believe me, it's nothing compared to the horror of storage that failed at any moment. Anyone remembers this horror moment, when trying to access some really important file (like a thesis, or a super important presentation?)

Specially for agency folks, a requiem for Zip Drives. The bane of every Account Management persons, those drives carried their lives - from the agency to the printer or the processing house. They also led to the most embarrassingly intimate remarks addressed to DTP operators and delivery boys.
"Open My Zip First"
"Open my Zip quickly and put it in"

3) Handwritten (or  worse, typewritten) transparencies
Yes, I started my career as a researcher making handwritten transparencies. And we used an Overhead Projector.

When we had more time, a secretary would type the slides in Power Point and then we would get them printed on A4 and Xeroxed onto transparencies. Typos or re-done slides meant extra labour for everyone, and time loss of at least half an hour. 

Be very, very grateful for the backspace and 'Undo' keys. You have no idea what they save you.

And some of my older colleagues remind me that there was something worse than transparencies. It was the Slide Projector. Which was an actual carousel with physical slides that had to be made and physically arranged in order. And if there was a mistake, you could not see it. Or if you discovered it, it was too late to do anything. That's like Twitter. You can only delete, you can't edit. 

Like I said, be grateful that today your mistakes are erased at the click of a button. 

4) Specific Person STD Calls

Till the late 1990's, we did not have direct outstation dialling. So when we wanted to call anyone outstation, we would call the exchange, place a call through the operator - and wait. Sometimes the waiting period was as much as 1 hour, if it was a weekend or a holiday season. Our life went by waiting for the phone to ring.

Then there was this thing called a 'specific person' call.  You asked the operator to connect you to a specific person at the other end. The operator would enquire and if that person was not there, there was no charge for the call. Pretty cool right? 

This principle was similar to the early days of the Postal Service, when receivers had to pay (and pay a hefty amount) for receiving a mail. If the person was not present, or refused to pay, the mail was returned to the sender at no charge. 

5) VHS Tapes
On weekends, our main recourse for entertainment was the VHS libraries.
We used to pay Rs.20-40 per day to rent films and serials on tapes like this.
And we spent a fortune (including customs duty) on VCRs that could record programs on TV. Thankfully by then, we had around 5 channels to watch, and not just Doordarshan.
Has anyone had the nightmare of getting one of these stuck in the player and having to remove it?

6) Single PC Office Mail
The first email I used at work (in 1999) was installed on a single PC in the center of the office. And it had a dedicated secretary. When we wanted to mail anything to a client, we used to bring it to her on a Floppy Drive and give her a handwritten covering note. I have literally stood in a queue to send email.

Thankfully we graduated to Sprint Mail, which was not exactly internet mail but more like an intranet. At least we could send mails to local colleagues from our own (Shared) workstations.

In this era, we used to hand deliver printed copies of proposals to clients.

7) Yahoo Chat, MSN, AOL and ICQ Messenger
In retrospect, I think that Whatsapp (and more importantly Facebook Messenger) have replaced the messenger services that we used to install. And in turn these messenger services replaced and probably killed the older habit of having pen friends and writing letters to loved ones who lived abroad.

In my college days, it was a big deal to get messages. I would dial up, login and wait to see my friends online.

8) Word Perfect
The DOS based program was THE way to create formatted ready-to-print documents in a Pre-Windows era. I learned dozens of keyboard commands by heart. Without them you could not survive, because there was no mouse or touch pad to navigate. Many of these commands still work today like Ctrl-S (Save), Ctrl-P (Print), Ctrl-A (Select All). A few were life saving (like Shft F7 was center text). How did we remember the commands. Well, there was a Help Menu, but we referred to printed books to help us. I had a copy of Word Perfect for Dummies.

So people who say they are not tech savvy today, can thank their lucky stars. To survive technology in the 90's you had to be way more tech savvy. Today, we only need to manipulate a touchscreen. 

9) PAC-Man
Today's gamers are spoilt, with their quad-core smartphones, still complaining that games run slow. Thanks to Google and their doodles, I don't need to explain PAC-Man to anyone. It ran on our low powered computers (and unless I am mistaken on DOS as well). My memory of office after hours is seeing half of  my colleagues, including my bosses, playing this game.

And then of course, there was Snake. Alas that there are no Nokia Symbian phones around anymore. Who needs an X-Box and all the assorted complications when you can play this?

10) Syntax Error
In my school days, if you wanted a game, you programmed it. So I spent my summer holidays with a book filled with games that I could code and enter. The book was in Japanese so each game was a surprise package. Until I ran it, I would not discover what the game was. The code thankfully, was in English.

These were simple arcade games or space shooters, the predecessors of games like Super Mario Brothers

A game required on an average, 700-800 lines of code. This would take me 2 to 3 days of data entry, along with compulsory play time, outings and family time that my mom insisted on.

On the 4th day, with great excitement I would run the finished game, hoping to play it. Then I would get this message *Bummer*

Often it took another half day to proof and correct the code before the game would run again.

This is life with technology in the 1990s. Let's have a moment's silence to celebrate what we have moved on from. Yes, life may be way more complicated today. But it's also way easier.


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