1990s Culture and Technology: Events & Trends

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  • 0:01 Culture and Technology
  • 0:32 Generation X
  • 2:02 The Internet Boom
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

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.

Generation X

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.

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