In this lesson, we explore the culture and technology of the 1990s, from the cultural issues of Generation X to the creation and spread of the Internet.
Culture and Technology
Today, it seems hard to imagine a time without the Internet. Whether it's checking your phone for the weather in the morning, sending emails at work, or watching videos, the Internet has proven to be an indispensable part of our 21st-century lives. It may be surprising for younger readers to learn that just a short two decades ago, the Internet was in its infancy; it was interminably slow, only accessible through large desktop computers, and the idea of combining phones and the Internet hadn't even been hatched yet. In this lesson, we'll explore that time when the Internet was new and how the introduction of the Internet irrevocably changed our daily lives as well as the culture of that era.
The 1990s may not sound like a long time ago, but by today's standards, it might as well be light years behind us. The 1990s were when Generation X, a term used to refer to those born in the 1960s and 1970s, came of age. Douglas Coupland's 1991 book Generation X popularized the term and exposed how radically different this generation viewed the world than previous generations.
Generation Xers were generally more open-minded than their predecessors, and demographers point to the tumultuous experiences of their adolescence - the Vietnam War, the falling of the Berlin Wall and communism, the economic lows of the 1970s and highs of the 1980s - as events which helped sculpt the views of Generation X. In general, they are considered more open-minded to a range of things, including sexual orientation, religious preference, and other non-mainstream lifestyle choices that may be made by their peers or customary in other cultures.
The high culture enjoyed by this generation and by others in the 1990s explored the social issues of the period, such as the AIDS crisis and urban poverty. Works like the Broadway show Rent exposed the lives of struggling young adults and the rampant drug use that was often part of their world. In addition, consumer culture and the drudgery often associated with the typical nine to five, middle-class job was dissected and parodied. Movies, such as Office Space, poked fun at the absurdities of cubicle work environments, while books like Prozac Nation seriously examined the depression which often resulted from 1990s lifestyles.
The Internet Boom
All of the old cultural mediums - books, movies, the theater - were eclipsed in the 1990s by the rise of a new one: the Internet. Pioneered in the early 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee and others as a way of sharing research and other information instantaneously across great distances, the Internet quickly developed practical uses for the everyday person. By 1993, both the Office of the President of the United States and the United Nations had developed rudimentary web pages and established an official online presence. Before long, radio stations were broadcasting their shows over the Internet, as well as over the airwaves. By the mid-1990s, people could get news briefs, email, and myriad other forms of information directly to their desktop computers.
The advent of the Internet not only completely reconfigured the way people received and sent information, it affected the business world as well. For example, in 1995, eBay and Amazon were both founded. Though today they are websites where nearly anything can be bought, Amazon began as a new and used bookstore, while eBay began as a public, online auction house. With the success of Amazon and eBay, other 'dot com' companies started cropping up everywhere, and their stock prices soared well above their value. The subsequent crash at the end of the decade in 2000 saw only the hardiest dot com companies survive.
As exemplified today by enormously popular online games, social media, and real-time video conferencing (just to name a few), the pioneering technology of the Internet in the 1990s merely scratched the surface of the Internet's capabilities.
The 1990s were an interesting time. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism across Eastern Europe signified a world that was markedly different than what the rest of the 20th century experienced. However, those who came of age in the 1990s - Generation X - still carried the baggage of many of the conflicts of that previous world. Nonetheless, Generation Xers proved to be more open-minded than previous generations, and their culture explored social issues that were off limits earlier in the century. The 1990s world also was considerably different than those before it because of the advent of the Internet. The rise of the Internet - indeed, what you are using to access this lesson right now! - revolutionized telecommunications and the way people lived, worked, communicated, and played.
After reviewing this lesson, you'll have the ability to:
- Describe the make up and culture of Generation X, and provide examples of events that helped shape that culture
- Explain the advances of the Internet in the 1990s and how these advances impacted culture