8 Things Teenagers Did in the ‘90s That Are No Longer A Thing
Much like your mom when there’s a sale on lube, technology just keeps moving faster. Like, if you time-traveled a person from the 1820s to the 1850s, they wouldn’t look around and start screaming about witchcraft. They’d just be like, “Wow, trains are really a thing now, huh?” By the same token, sending someone from the 1850s back to the 1820s wouldn’t render them unable to function.
But 30 years makes a big difference here at the turn of the millennium. For people who were teenagers in the ‘90s, it’s hard to even figure out, let alone make fun of, what the kids are into these days because they speak a completely different language. Everything is rizzed up or bussin’ or has no cap on it, and no one will tell us why. They might as well be a different species, scrolling and streaming and hoverboarding instead of…
Talking On — And Arguing About Using — the Phone
What do siblings fight about now? Do they just have impeccably harmonious relationships because there’s no longer one line of communication with the outside world? It’s not even just that everyone has their own phones now. Without texting and social media, kids talked on the phone a lot more. It was even a hackneyed and largely gendered joke. And forget about using the internet, which was mysteriously delivered through the phone line, if your sibling was waiting for a call. Stitches were given. It was not pretty.
Go to the Mall
You ever notice that there’s nowhere for teenagers to just hang out anymore? That’s because malls died, and the ones that are left are sad looted corpses boasting little more than a haunted Sears and a bafflingly mismanaged pretzel stand. They used to be fairly safe, climate-controlled spaces where you could eat junk food and play arcade games or just walk around without getting in trouble, but now that everyone shops online or at Target, nothing has really stepped in to replace them. Trust us, if you hang out long enough at Target without buying anything, they notice.
Man, you were just a big nobody in the ‘90s if all your junior-high birthday parties didn’t take place at the local roller rink. It was basically like clubbing for 15-year-olds, a place you could go to get food and drinks and show off your balance and coordination (without the risk of grinding). Then the Great Recession happened, and it turned out it was super unprofitable to run a business requiring massive square footage for broke kids. Roller skating enjoyed a brief revival during the COVID pandemic, but parking lots proved to be no substitute.
Record Songs Off the Radio
We’ve become so spoiled with our Spotifys and Tidals and iTunes and Apple Music. (Those are different things, right?) Back when we were still pretty sure MP3 players were going to destroy the music industry, you had two options if you wanted the freedom to listen to a song whenever you wanted: You could spend $17 in ‘90s money to buy the album the song was on (alongside potentially a bunch of crap you don’t care about), or you could wait patiently with your blank tape and your finger on the “record” button for it to come on the radio. Don’t make us explain what radio was.
Make Mix Tapes
Recording skills were especially important when it came to making mix tapes, the primary mating ritual of the ‘90s teenager. Do kids just not express their deepest emotions via carefully curated sequences of songs anymore? Or do they, like, share playlists called “I Like You, Jayden”? What if Jayden accidentally plays it on shuffle? Disaster. Teens have it so rough these days.
Before social media, the place you went to hear personal insults from strangers was a chat room. Unlike Twitter, though, where you can call someone out for being in your mentions, every chat room was like walking onto a subway car where you’re expected to make conversation with everyone, or even worse, sitting down uninvited at a table of lifelong friends. If anything, it was somehow more stressful than in-person socialization.
People who like to bemoan the fact that MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore are now two generations removed from that era. What they fail to understand is that the music was initially replaced with really good shows. It had news, fashion, documentaries, the birth of reality TV and some of the best adult animation in the history of the genre. I mean, Beavis and Butt-Head is still making money. The 20-freaking-22 movie has a 95 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. But it wasn’t shown on MTV. They had to run 14 consecutive hours of YouTube clips instead.
Having the entire history of the world’s knowledge in your pocket is overrated sometimes. Sure, you can fact-check anything on the spot, but that has destroyed a teenage rite of passage: lying to make yourself look cool. Your uncle works at Nintendo. Your cousin is in Oasis. (Same household, very well-traveled.) You could say anything, and nobody could definitely prove you wrong. Today, all it takes is 30 seconds of googling, and before you know it, the whole class is passing around a TikTok diagnosing you as a pathological liar. That’s the real reason Google is slowly making itself useless, and we salute them.