I miss the 1990s, too

The headline read, “American Girl declares the year 1999 ‘historical’ and ’90s kids are losing it: ‘I’m getting old’”. 

Indeed, it is hard for some of us to believe that the 1990s began more than 30 years ago, and ended almost 24 years ago. But it’s true. Do the math. The 1990s are no longer recent. Just ask a current 20-year-old, who wasn’t even born yet.

As for me, I am not a child of the 1990s. I’m a child of the 1980s. I was a young adult of the 1990s. I was 21 years old as the decade began, and I was 31 on December 31, 1999. 

Although I had a pleasant [1980s] childhood, it is the 1990s that evoke the most nostalgia in me. The 1990s was a good decade for me personally, and overall, a better decade in the world at large. The USA was at peace, the economy was booming, and our culture still had a sense of humor. (The 1990s was a time when you could watch F·R·I·E·N·D·S without a lecture from the finger-wagging “woke” crowd, for example.)

Bill Clinton was in the White House. I didn’t vote for him in either 1992 or 1996, and I thought he left much to be desired as POTUS. But I would welcome him back with open arms, compared to what we have now. 

The 1990s represented a brief Goldilocks era for digital technology. In the 1990s, digital technology was making life more convenient, without taking over everything and making it weird. 

In the 90s we got Windows ’95 and the Internet (more often called the “World Wide Web” in those days). By the end of the decade, most everyone had an email account. 

But we hadn’t yet reached a point where young people had become socially and emotionally stunted by living so much of their lives online. There was no social media as we now know it in the 1990s. No Twitter mobs, no Reddit, no 4chan. No one fretted over what happened on Facebook or Instagram, because Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist.

You could get a cell phone in the late 1990s, if you wanted one. (Or you could rely on public pay phones, as those were still around.) But people didn’t walk around with their noses glued to smartphone screens. 

Also by the late 1990s, you could order a book on Amazon. (I made my first Amazon purchase in 1998.) But brick-and-mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders were still thriving. 

This last one is especially significant for its metaphorical purposes. A Saturday afternoon at Barnes & Noble might mean a cup of coffee with real people, and a chance meeting with someone you knew. You might even meet someone new and interesting at the bookstore. 

Those same hours spent clicking through screens in an online bookstore simply don’t provide the same experience—or opportunities. Never mind the millions of titles for sale online. The all-consuming Internet made our worlds narrower, even as it provided us with more “choice”. 

As a working adult during the 1990s, I was rapidly shedding my attachment to youth culture. I didn’t personally buy much music after about 1991 or so. I was meh where grunge was concerned (I never understood all the fuss over Nirvana and Kurt Cobain), and I had only the vaguest awareness of the Spice Girls, Metallica, or the Back Street Boys. I still like some music from the 1990s…mostly for the memories those old songs summon forth.

Bad things happened in the 1990s, of course. The 1990s was the decade of the civil war in Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide, Waco, and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. 

I had some personal tribulations and setbacks in the 1990s, too. The latter half of the decade was much better for me than the first half. 

But if I could go back to one decade that I’ve lived through, it would probably be 1990s. Based on the latest Twitter comments, it seems that a lot of people about ten years my junior feel the same way.