How I remember the 90s

I grew up surrounded by technology, although it wasn’t always the bleeding edge kind of technology. I remember playing with an HC-91, a ZX Spectrum clone made in Romania, when I was 6–7 years old. The fact that you could write some weird, cryptic lines of characters that could load a game or make one by yourself was fascinating back then. I still remember the sound this thing made when you were loading a game. It was something similar to the modem dial tone, and I think it took a minute or two to load something, and you could hear variations of that tone.

Here’s one in action:

This is how personal computers sounded at the start of the 90s in Romania

The 90s in Romania were like the 80s in the USA from a personal computer point of view. At least that’s how it felt to me over the years. I remember magazines that had a DYI look to them, printed on newspaper-quality paper, spread all over the house. I don’t remember seeing glossy magazines until the later half of the 90s. In those DIY-looking magazines people used to write reviews of games from series like King’s Quest and Dizzy, share BASIC code for simple games and programs.

Another thing that I remember is a game console called “Terminator 2”, a cheap — even by the Romanian standards of that time — game console. It was a clone of Nintendo NES, using 60-pin cartridges to load its games. It was so popular at that time that you could find it even in flea markets, along with a large selection of cartridges.

But the most important piece of tech that I got was a PC with a 486 processor, 16 MB of RAM and a video card with only 4 MB of RAM. This wasn’t “bleeding edge” technology when I got it in 1998. I was 11 years old and some of my friends had computers with Pentium II processors and much more powerful video cards, with 32 or 64 MB of RAM. I used to go to a friend just to play Mech Warrior 3, because my computer couldn’t handle it.

Then dial-up internet connections came up. First in internet cafés, then in homes. Or maybe it was both at the same time, I don’t know exactly. I remember how wonderful it felt to just type in some keywords on Google and find what you need. It felt like all the knowledge of the world was at your fingertips and Google helped you find it.

Because dial-up was a little bit expensive, companies started creating time-based offers. If you went online after 10 PM, the costs were lower. It was the time of download accelerators and “offline-mode”. At that time I started looking for things online and save entire websites so I could read them when I wasn’t connected to the internet. Nobody took digital sabbaticals back then because there was no need for such things. Distractions weren’t ubiquitous as today.

When I had a better computer — still lagging behind those of my friends — I started using Linux distributions. This is how I started learning programming. I tried every language I could get my hands on, trying out Python, Perl and bash, but I didn’t stick to any of them. They helped me understand the basics of programming, though. Over the years, I went through a few other programming languages, taking large breaks — even months — from coding anything. As I had a lot of free time to spend, in 2014 I turned to front-end development and creative coding with Processing and P5.js. These things stuck. I don’t know why exactly, maybe it’s the visual aspect that made these things more appealing, but they somehow stuck with me; but that’s not the point.

Right now we have smartphones probably ten or more times more powerful than the computers we had in the 90s, free and paid online classes, tutorials, code shared on Github and other services, open source apps etc. Now I am thinking if I had all these things when I was 12 years old, what would have happened? What would be different now?

*This was a post that I originally published at on August 5, 2014.*

*It was exported from Medium on June 1, 2019.*


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