The Technology 90s
The 1990s saw many of the biggest technology innovations we take for granted today. Computers went from being a rarity in homes to being commonplace and affordable.
Windows was released, bringing computer users fonts, color pictures and mouse interfaces. CD-ROMs, with their capacity measured in hundreds of megabytes, replaced floppy disks.
Mobile phones enabled users to communicate with friends and family at any time and place. The technology was a great innovation for students as they could check their grades after school or ask their parents for help with homework.
Throughout the ’90s mobile phone development continued to progress. The first mobiles were heavy, clunky and expensive. A model known as the Brick and featured in many scenes from the 1987 film Wall Street was a prime example.
In the early 90s flip phones became more common, colour screens appeared and built in cameras were added. WAP-enabled phones allowed access to the internet although this was a very stripped back version.
Nokia started to dominate the market releasing a range of iconic phones such as the 3210 and 5110 that made mobile phones a fashion accessory for teenagers and were relentlessly marketed using popular faces including Robbie Williams, David Beckham and Michael Jackson. Clip on cases, choices of ringtones and games like Snake all contributed to making phones desirable items of technology with an emphasis on style rather than substance.
A staple in many offices, fax machines are still used to send and receive documents that require an instantaneous physical transfer. They are a reliable form of communication and remain an important business tool, even though they may seem like relics from a technology boom that passed long ago.
In 1843, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain created the first fax machine or facsimile machine. His system scanned and reproduced a document on electro-chemically sensitive paper, using the same process as his chemical telegraph invention.
Modern fax machines use the Group 3 Facsimile standard to transmit information over a telephone line at 9,600 bps. They are able to transmit color and black and white images, as well as text. This allows for a high volume of data transmission and provides businesses with an efficient way to send and receive documents from across the country or the world. Unlike other technological advancements, such as the computer, that died from a lack of innovation, the fax machine is still alive and well.
Data storage is a key aspect of digital technology. It involves recording bits of information on magnetic media using a binary number scheme (ones and zeroes). Data can be read using a device called a reader, which converts the bits back into a signal that can be used by a computer system to process or display the data.
During the 90s, portable storage devices increased in popularity. The company Seagate Technology developed the hard disk drive, which stored information on a rotating disc in a circular format. Its size and speed allowed it to store more data than previous devices, such as DECtape.
The emergence of the Pentium processor enabled desktop computers to become more powerful. This meant that more complex applications could be run on these devices, and games like Doom and The Sims had a higher level of graphics and sound than their predecessors. The introduction of graphical user interface operating systems like Windows made these powerful devices affordable and accessible to many people.
By the end of the 90s, personal computers had become widespread and were linked to a wealth of information through a system called the Internet. But many people were concerned about the impersonal nature of electronic communication compared to a phone call or a handwritten letter. Others worried about pornography, violent threats and a lack of government regulation.
Fortunately for those in the mood to be more human, online chatrooms appeared that allowed you to talk one-on-one with friends using AOL Instant Messenger. Similarly, you could swap music files on the Internet through programs like Napster. And, of course, you could organize all the Very Important Things going on in your life with a Palm Pilot (or its granddaddy, the honorable Palm). Cellular telephone technology also made dramatic progress as new microprocessors allowed phones to function without needing large batteries. The result was a shift from the brick-sized cellular phones of the 1980s to smaller, handheld devices that did more and more every year.