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Cool Stuff | Pop Culture | 90s

The 90s vs. Today: How Technology Has Changed Our Favorite Things

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Unlike any other decade in the last 50 years, the 1990s was when technology changed our lives. Internet technology and the World Wide Web transformed the world. Little expertise was required to explore the internet, just a dial-up modem and a computer.

America Online, better known today as AOL, was incredibly popular, with people rushing home after work to check their email and hear the familiar message, "You've got mail." From how we consume movies to how we socialize with friends and meet new people, the technological revolution that began in the 1990s still reverberates today.

Gaming Culture: Then vs. Now

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Fourth-generation 16-bit games consoles first appeared in the 1990s, around the same time the internet became part of the public domain. At this time, Nintendo made the first advances in internet gaming with the Satellaview modem add-on that allowed players to download games, news, and cheats directly to their consoles.

Nintendo's online technology was rudimentary by today's standards, but to 1990s gamers, it was a giant leap forward. Gamers would only have to wait a few more years for a gaming console with built-in internet connectivity—the Sega Dreamcast. Released in 2000, the Dreamcast was the first internet-connected console to gain a massive following.

Unfortunately, the internet was still expensive in those days, and Sega ended up shelling out a lot of money to pay for the bills racked up by its PlanetWeb browser. The advent of smartphones and tablets marked another revolution in gaming. People could now carry the internet with them wherever they went and play games on their phones.

Slots never seem to get old, but technology has just changed the way we play them. Trips to Las Vegas are no longer required to play slots. Today we can visit sites like Betway slots online, where we can choose from hundreds of themed slots, including Wanted Outlaws, Game of Thrones, and Anna Van Helsing. Best of all, we can play our favorite games from anywhere in the world. It's as simple as downloading an app to your smartphone or tablet to get started.

Movie Rentals: Then vs. Now

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The 1990s was an era before DVDs and high-definition TV. When people wanted to watch a movie at home in the 1990s, they went to their local Blockbuster Video to rent one. These movies were watched on VCRs using VHS tapes. DVDs would replace VHS tapes towards the end of the decade but renting movies remained a weekend ritual for many families.

At that time, few dreamed that technology would make Blockbuster Video obsolete one day. Fast forward to the late 1990s when Netflix was founded by two American entrepreneurs in California, with the company shipping its first DVDs in 1999. The subscription-based service had no due dates or late fees, and users got unlimited access to all content for $19.95/month.

Netflix subscribers received DVDs in the mail and could update their online queue with the movies they wanted to see. The system automatically mailed DVDs to customers as soon as they returned the previous DVDs they had ordered.

By 2007 internet technology had improved significantly and Netflix began streaming content directly to TVs, computers, and tablets via its Watch Now service. The company changed its focus to streaming in 2010, and Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy the same year.

Over the next decade, Netflix would go from a rental service to a streaming service, reaching subscribers in over 190 countries. It'll be interesting to see how technological trends shape Netflix over the next decades.

TV Shows: Then and Now

It's hard to believe but, once upon a time, people watched TV shows from week to week over several months. The season finale of a sitcom or drama series was a major event, often publicized in newspapers, and discussed on TV programs and online. Families would gather around the TV to watch popular 1990s sitcoms like Full House on Friday evenings.

However, just as Netflix turned the movie rental business on its head, it would do the same to TV viewing. When Netflix began acquiring the rights to TV shows and producing its own, it didn't release individual episodes. Instead, the company would make a show's entire season available on-demand. The Netflix revolution transformed pop culture, with streaming and cord-cutting becoming the norm.

The Netflix binge-watch model became common, with people worldwide watching the entire season of a series over a weekend or sometimes on the same day it was released. Although some platforms, like Disney+, have tried to return to the once-a-week TV show model, the public is used to Netflix bingeing. It's doubtful that TV viewing will ever return to the way it was in the 1990s.