Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What February 28th Means To Me: Looking Back At The 1990s

Recently, this post detailing the 48 pictures that perfectly captures the 1990's has zoomed around the internet and, yes, it's definitely good for some lulz, but it got me thinking about what really defines the 1990's.  For a while, I thought the 1990's were either 1) undefinable or 2) was a decade whose identity was not quite formed, but would be defined over time. 

But the more I think about it, the more the 90's appears to be a launching pad for the foreseeable future.  I'm not a pop culture expert, and am willing to fully admit that all previous decades had similar influence to the subsequent ones and, on many levels, I'm sure they did.  But, to me, the 1990's featured three important, seismic changes in culture that propelled society into overdrive, and changed (or exacerbated) our collective wants and needs at their base level. 

*69, *66, *67 - I honestly can't remember the differences between these phone aids, but as far as I can recall, they were the last improvements to the land line before the world went mobile.  I was a child of the 80's, and will never forget the competition for long distance phone services.  It seemed that every commercial break involved either ATT or MCI (or both) vying for our attention and the right to gauge us for cash with every long distance call.  But towards the end of the 1990's, the affordable cell phone was released, the long distance charge died, and we, as a society, instantly changed.  The long distance commercials slowly dissapated, pay phones suddenly seemed superfluous, and we all became constantly reachable.  Remember the days when if you were out of the house, you were off the grid?  How did business function?  How did anything function?  And, sadly, it wasn't that long ago, and the changes seemingly happened seamlessly and without much warning.  With the improvement of mobile technology, social expectations and customs completely morphed, and with it, our understanding of patience.  No longer do we have the luxury of calling people (or returning a text) on our own time, and no longer do we have to do things like synchronize watches to make plans.  The positives and negatives of such a shift can be debated, but the altered state started here. 

Titanic - Movie historians will probably tell me I'm wrong (and I probably am), but in the late 90's, movie studios seemed to shift towards big budget "tentpole" movies to buoy their studios, and none were bigger than Titanic.  The following is certainly a chicken/egg argument, but the shift in movie making mirrored the American shift in thinking "bigger is better," along with our need for instant results/gratification.   It seems the idea of letting something build is lost, and we want results now now now. 

You've Got Mail - Let's face it, millions obviously knew about the internet, and had ideas on how much it would change our lives, but for the vast majority of the world's citizens, the advent of the world wide web snuck up on us and ingratiated itself into our collective conscience faster than a communicable disease.  We were not teased for years about the wonderful thing called the internet, and that's probably why it remains as a "wild west frontier" that is loosely regulated and infinitely possible.  Every governing body, from actual national governments to parents, scrambled for ways to control it, but because of its accessibility, Pandora's box has been opened, and its effects have been widely spread.  The internet has produced infinite amounts of opportunity as it has shrunk the world, and has also allowed all of us a voice that was previously reserved for the mainstream media.  With social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc, the playing field has been somewhat leveled, and we have been provided a launching pad for our thoughts that can, potentially, be heard by millions. Since we all want positive attention and a strong identity, we keep feeding the world with our personal information in an effort to be noticed.  This has changed everything, and has created a society of the entitled, and an entire generation of inflated self-worth.  Again, the benefits and pitfalls are debatable, but when pop culture historians look back at shifts in society, I assume they will point directly to the 1990's as the launching point for when everything changed. 

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