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Growing Up in the 90s: #3 Technology

It’s an interconnected world these days. You can travel to the farthest corners of the globe and still be connected to everyone, with a computer in your pocket. Your smartphone can make voice and video calls, play music, provide GPS navigation, store your contact information, play games, stream video, take pictures and much more.

Growing up in the 90s, we didn’t have smartphones. In fact, each device was built for one primary purpose and function. Here are my memories and experiences with technology when I was growing up.

First of all, the idiot box. Television was very different to how it is today. We did not have razor thin TV’s that you could hang on your wall like a painting. No, old TV’s were large boxy Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) units, each weighing at least 15 to 20 odd kilos. I remember television being black and white in the 80s with Doordarshan being the primary channel, and with the advent of cable, we got colour TV’s in the 90s. The standard TV size was 21 inches then, which seems miniscule to the 50 plus inch models that are popular today. Also, the picture was in a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 widescreen format which is prevalent today.

We purchased a 21” Sony Trinitron in 1994. I still remember it cost an eye-watering 25,000 rupees, which in today’s money would probably be over 70,000 rupees. It was a reliable and rock-solid unit and it travelled with us as we shifted houses and lasted us almost 20 years.

Cartoon Network also first started in the 1990s and in those days there were no 24 hour channels. So I would wake up at the crack of dawn to catch the Flintstones and the Jetsons before I had to get ready for school.

We were dependent on the local cable-wallah for our content those days, and we did not have dish antennas to catch the signals from the satellites above. Instead, we had those multi pronged antennas which surprisingly gave a good signal even in bad weather, unlike today’s DTH signals which disappear at the sight of a light drizzle.

Next we come to music. Nowadays it is all about streaming music over the internet. We can stream the entire catalog of music in history via spotify, gaana, prime music and youtube, amongst other services. Those days it was all about the good old cassette tape. You could either buy them preloaded from the music store, which cost a lot of money, or buy blank tapes and record the songs which played over the radio. Who here remembers keeping tapes like these, your own personal mix track, with the songs scribbled on the back of the case.

How did you play the music? With a boombox or a walkman.

The boombox could be carried everywhere, but needed 4-6 large batteries to run it, and those were expensive. It was more likely to be left plugged in at the house, and maybe occasionally carried to picnics and other outings.

The Walkman was something special, and was something you had to request your cool uncle to get from the States, as it was much cheaper doing that than buying it in the country. Of course, you would have only one cassette in it, which held a total of 12-18 songs. And so, before going out you had to choose which music you wanted to take with you.

Nowadays we can play all sorts of graphically intensive games on our phones, from Fortnite to Need for Speed to FIFA. During my childhood we had the ‘Brick’ game console, with 9999 games in 1. This was a strange device which I cannot properly describe even now. It had a black and white display with blocks, and you could play tetris, snake, car racing and space invaders on it. The batteries on them also lasted a long time, and it was a godsend when you were on a long train journey.

Speaking of games, how can we forget the DOS games on the computer. I still remember my first experience of using a computer was in what I call the ‘wooden room’ at Khagempalli. It was here that I enjoyed Digdug, Digger, Test Drive 2, and Prince.

You can actually play these games nowadays on your phone, many are available on the google play store. Still, nothing beats the joy one had of playing them on a 14 inch CRT monitor and a white keyboard, with the 8-bit soundtrack playing in the background, in that little corner of the wooden room with other cousins waiting impatiently for their turn.

Do you remember taking pictures in the 90s? It was so, so different from how we take and handle pictures today. Nowadays we have seemingly over a million photos on our phones, and don’t hesitate in clicking over 10 photos each time to get the best shot. In the days before digital cameras and camera phones, taking photos was a deliberate, carefully thought out affair.

After all, a roll of film would cost Rs. 100 in those days, and another couple of hundred to process and print them. You could not afford to take random pictures because that would be wasteful. Plus, you never knew how the photos would turn out. You would take a couple of film reels worth of photos during holidays and cross your fingers and hope you got a few good ones in the end. Sometimes the film would get accidently exposed to light and your precious photos would get wiped out and you couldn’t do anything about that. You would also gleefully carry your whole photo albums with you to show your friends and relatives, or keep those huge coffee table photo albums in the drawing room to show off to guests.

Next we come to some quaint pieces of technology which don’t exist these days. Going to the railway station was very exciting for me those days because I would get one rupee to try out the weighing machines at the station platform. These machines would have a medley of light and sound effects, and getting a ticket with your weight was always a treat.

Another strange item was the Digital Diary, which was something you could keep phone numbers and small notes in. The only other way was to write them down by hand in a small notebook and carry it with you. These devices were not really practical, but I carried them anyway to school to show off to my friends. I still remember the teacher getting fed up and confiscating it one day, and I had to apologize after class to get it back.

It feels quite nostalgic remembering these old devices. It was a simpler time when we did not have too many choices, when we were not inundated with notifications, and where we found joy in a single song or a single picture, cherishing them. They were not commodities in those days, they were members of the family, handled with care. And they were built tough. I must have dropped my walkman, cassettes, digital diary and other items quite a few times, and yet they still kept on ticking, with just small scuffs to show for the accidents.

These old devices may now seem quaint compared to modern gadgets,but they were a precious part of growing up, and the fond memories they created will live on far longer in my heart.

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