The Mandatory Time Capsule: Everything That Mattered To 90s Kids

Photo: Getty Images

The 90s. Baggy jeans. Portable CD players. Cellphones were still mostly a mystery. What a time to be alive!

If you grew up in the last decade of the century there’s no question that those years hold a special place in your heart. From pop culture to tech, there were pinnacle moments that paved the way to life as we know it today.

Below are five things that molded a generation.

Super Nintendo

Photo: Peter Bischoff [Getty Images]

Although Sega Genesis was an incredibly popular gaming console for us 90s kids (who didn’t love Sonic?), it was the Super Nintendo nearly every one had at home. Mario Kart, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Zelda: A Link To The Past, and Super Mario World were just a few of the legendary games that kept us indoors for hours at a time.

The SNES debuted in 1990 and was the system every gamer had to have until the Nintendo 64 came out towards the latter half of the decade. There’s a reason the SNES Classic is still so popular nearly 30 years later.


Photo: Getty Images

If you don’t know the acronym above you most certainly weren’t a 90s kid.

What started out as a low-budgeted MTV late night show called Total Request quickly turned into a cultural phenomenon. It was a simple concept — have people vote by calling in to request their favorite music videos,  announcing the ‘top 10’ just hours later. But it was such a smash hit that it soon turned into Total Request Live, a daily program that would soon feature live interviews with bands, pop artists and fans, a show that epitomized the golden era of MTV. And yes, it was a time when the channel actually played music videos. Crazy, right?

Although there’s been a recent comeback for the show, the late 90s original was one of the biggest hits on television. It was a show long before iTunes, YouTube and Spotify. If you wanted to find the hottest new pop/rock songs of the 90s you had to watch TRL.

Starter Jackets

Photo: Vivien Killilea [Getty Images]

90s fashion included a lot of doozies. But for the adolescent 90s sports fan, surviving any winter meant having a Starter Jacket.

They were poofy. They were slick. They were bright. And it didn’t really matter which team you had. My friends and I went for the obscure; I bought a purple and gold Milwaukee Bucks Starter Jacket; My buddy bought a Vancouver Grizzlies one that was turquoise. It didn’t matter if we weren’t ‘cool.’ We sure looked like it.

I saw a lot of Chicago Bulls Starter Jackets growing up in Illinois, but whether you went for the most popular team or a team now defunct, there’s a reason these vintage coats are selling for serious change decades later.

Instant Messenger

Chinese computer screen using IM. Photo: Huang He/VCG [Getty Images]

Telling teens to give up their cell phones today means starting Armageddon. But most of us — who weren’t Zack Morris — didn’t have the luxury of cell phones, and those who did have the luxury certainly couldn’t text.

So how did kids communicate? Through instant messaging online.

Whether you used AOL instant messenger, MSN, Yahoo! or ICQ (sometimes you would download and use all of them at once) it was your only path to instantly talk to multiple people at the same time. Sometimes you would chat with your friends. Sometimes you would chat with strangers. Sometimes you would meet girls — not kidding. I know a couple who met on AOL instant messenger and are now married with two kids.


Photo: Bruno Vincent [Getty Images]

‘Hey mom! Pick a song! Any song! What do you want to hear? I’ll find it. Download it. And we can listen to it RIGHT NOW!’

That’s about how it went for yours truly circa 2000 after discovering the first peer-to-peer file sharing network. Although the software blew up in the early 2000s, now infamous Sean Parker co-created it the summer of 1999, allowing anyone to upload and ‘share’ their music, meaning people could eventually download just about any song they wanted for free in a matter of minutes.

Although court rulings eventually shut the network down, including most copy cats that later emerged, the music industry never fully recovered. Napster is the reason most musical artists are now thousandaires instead of millionaires. And it’s the reason we know what the hell an ‘MP3 is.’


Now as we prepare to roll into the 2020s, what can we expect? Flying cars? The end of world hunger? Stylish Crocs? The possibilities are endless…




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Josh Helmuth is a sports reporter in St. Louis who contributes to Mandatory. 

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