In the 90s, the closest thing to a smartphone was a brick known as Nokia 3310.
We had to make do with mere SMSing, and it was a pain in the ass when all we had then was just 500 messages to send every month, with each message limited to a measly 160 characters.
Here, check out this video we’ve done about a love story set in the 90s:
(Do check out our YouTube channel for more videos like the one above!)
But the world has changed so fast that people born after 2000 might not even know what an SMS is. Ironically, the lack of new technology that brings convenience has somehow made life much simpler, more interesting and less stressful.
Most importantly, they made us more sociable. If you’ve lived through the 90s as a teenager, do you remember any of these activities you did back then?
Playing soccer in an HDB void deck or playing basketball on a basketball court
The void decks of old HDB flats are seductive: they’ll lure teenage boys there after school just for a game of soccer. A skilled soccer player would be able to use the columns to his advantage—a blur sotong would bang onto the column and cry, and no one would give a damn about him.
Of course, we need to highlight that it’s not legal to play soccer in void decks. But come on lah. Once, we were caught and the policemen merely took down the name and IC number of the oldest person in the group. “Just for record,” I remember him saying.
Now: Teenagers download the free version of Fifa 2019 and play on their phone.
Playing Counterstrike in lan shops
Here’s a trick question: Are there still lan shops in Singapore? Bringing an extra T-shirt to school merely meant one thing then: you were going to a lan shop after school to train for your “clan”. Counterstrike and lan shops were then so damn serious that each lan shop had a clan, and there would be clan wars between different shops.
A few of my friends once represented a lan shop and got to pay only $2 per hour instead of $3 per hour. In retrospect, that was one heck of a good marketing strategy by those lan shops.
Now: Teenagers play Counterstrike or DOTA at home with 1 GBPS Fiber Internet. That could be even faster than physical connections in lan shops then!
Spending $4 per hour inside a comic book shop
If you find this unbelievable, then you’re too bloody young. The number of comic book shops in Singapore is dwindling, and comic books have become a sunset industry. But just twenty years ago, every Tom, Dick and Harry read comic books.
To save money, and to focus on the comic books, they would go to a comic book shop, pay $4 per hour to have access to ALL comic books there. There would be chairs for you to sit, and the nerd level will be pretty high there as you would encounter people with thick glasses focusing on the latest Dragon Ball Z. Or if you would like to, you can even rent a comic book back home to read. Yeah, rent.
Now: Spiderman, X-Men and even Dragon Ball Z have all progressed to the big screen. Or on Netflix.
Renting video tapes or LDs in video rental shops
You won’t find any of these shops now, but in the 90s, they were everywhere. Renting a blockbuster was tricky—you might need to “reserve” it, and once the call came, you would have to rush down to the shop to collect the tape or LD.
Despite the dead industry, here’s one interesting titbit for all businessmen out there: Netflix started out renting DVDs. They followed the technology changes and see where they are now.
Now: YouTube. Netflix. Or even Viu if you’re into Korea shows now.
Watching WWF on Channel 5 or EPL on TV12
I know Dwayne Johnson as The Rock because during my teenage years, all of us watched WWF. Royal Rumble was like the show that defined whether you’re the cool kid in town—if you missed it, you’re a nerd.
When Dennis Bergkamp was in Arsenal and Zola in Chelsea, watching EPL was free on a defunct Singapore channel, TV12. I’ve got to admit that I stopped watching EPL because as a kiasu Singaporean, I don’t want to pay watching twenty-two people fighting for a ball with their feet.
Now: Teenagers didn’t even know what is Channel 5 or TV12, but they’ve subscribed to 512 channels in YouTube.
Building our own computer and realizing they didn’t work
Computers was then so new that one desktop would cost well over $2,000…and the RAM was only 256MB. But we all wanted a computer because everyone was having one, so the best solution was to go to Sim Lim Square to buy the individual parts and building the CPU ourselves.
The results of that? Many blue screen of deaths because the “motherboard wasn’t compilable with the RAM”, or a computer that had no sound because we didn’t know we needed a sound card. #truestory At least it costed just $800.
Now: Teenagers wonder what a desktop is, and why they need a laptop when they have a smartphone and a tablet.
Playing Sega Mega Drive or Super Nintendo
In the 90s, you can’t have the best of both worlds by owning both the Sega Mega Drive or the Super Nintendo. You could only have one console, and because video games were then so addictive, you would spend hours in front of your TV just to complete Sonic the Hedgehog. Multiplayer mode meant getting your friends to your house.
Soon, you would master the technique of “blowing”: if a game cartridge didn’t work, you just needed to blow the cartridge and it would magically work.
Now: Kids didn’t even know how to switch on the TV, and you expect them to play games with it? It’s all smartphone, boys and girls.
Watching 双天至尊 or any show at home based on a fixed schedule
When there was a 大结局, the house phone would be disconnected, every HDB flat would be quiet and everyone’s eyes would be glued to the TV. If you did not do this, you would not have anything to say in school the next day.
Now: People are glued to their smartphones in the MRT, because who the heck still rushes home to watch a 大结局?
Searching for jobs with friends
To be honest, while it was inconvenient, tiring and time-consuming, it was fun. Teenagers looking for part-time jobs would do this daily: Buy the Straits Times and circle those shortlisted jobs, calling them, going for interviews and then going to a shopping centre and asking every single shop whether they needed part-timers.
Because of this, my group of friends (at least ten of us) worked together in an NTUC FairPrice. #nokidding
Now: Teenagers would go to any online job website and click on every “submit” button without even looking at the job description. You’ll be surprised at how many teenagers have blindly applied for the post of a Managing Director.
Going to Orchard Road
It seems like Orchard Road is pretty dead now, but in the past, Orchard Road was the place to go. Teenagers did not go to Orchard Road to shop or eat: they were there simply because it was cool to be there. It showed your friends that you were trendy and were a “town-er”. In fact, it was already cool to say this: “Want 下 town?”
Now: Why Orchard when you can JEM?
Hanging out in McDonald’s until it closed
Seriously speaking, I don’t know where teenagers hang out nowadays, but in the past, we all hung out in McDonald’s simply for the air-con. One drink would be able to last us the entire day, and we would talk about everything under the sun…until the outlet closed. Now, teenagers are no longer in McDonald’s, and McDonald’s outlets aren’t closing anymore. Am I too old?
Now: They hang out in…staycations?
Going to Sim Lim Square for electronic stuff
In the 90s, we thought we lived in a revolutionary age: songs could be recorded and burnt into a CD, and we could listen to songs on the go while in the bus. Going to Sim Lim Square meant one thing: you were either there to buy some revolutionary cool stuff or you were collecting flyers to show your friends that you were part of the digital era. And of course, back then, Jover Chew was also a teenager who did the same thing as we did.
Now: Sim Lim Square—or any retail shops—is being threatened by a new competitor: Online shops.
Doing Great Singapore Workout
What else could I say? A video speaks a million words.
Now: Teenagers would complain online on why there were foreigners doing the Great Singapore Workout #nologicalargument
Going to arcades to pick a fight
There were two types of fight: the X-men-VS-Street-Fighter fights and the real punches-and-kicks fight. Teenagers in the 90s did not rebel with YouTube videos—instead, they did so with their fists. Losing a video game because a person was using air-combo could lead to a real fight. Sometimes it occurred in the arcade or somethings they would slowly make their way to the stairway landing.
Now: Teenagers only go to the arcade when there are still thirty minutes before their movie starts.
Recruiting someone to join a small gang or being recruited
When I was a teenager, my friends and I were led to stairway landings at least five times. The conversation would always be something like this:
- Gangster: You from where one?
- Friends and I: No places (some joker would say their address)
- Gangster: Then come with me.
- *All of us go to an empty stairway landing*
- Gangster: Join us and we’ll protect you.
- Friends and I: Can don’t want?
- Gangster: Kthxbye
I’m not kidding you. This really occurred many times. And of course these small gangsters operate from a void deck and often ace their 2.4 km run when they saw a cop.
Now: Act beng buay beng.
Shopping in HMV, CD-RAMA or Sembawang Music Centre
I know teenagers nowadays can spend the entire afternoon on their smartphone, listening to songs while refreshing their Facebook newsfeed every two minutes. In the past, teenagers could spend the entire afternoon in a CD shop, listening to 200 songs before deciding to buy a CD just for one song. Well, for this, I think the present is much better than the past.
Now: They download or stream songs. They didn’t even know songs used to come in CDs. They might not even know what a CD is.
Playing board games like chess seriously
Do kids nowadays know how to play chess? Chess and Chinese Chess were serious shit in the past: shops even sold timers. Not only do the games simulate your brain, it is also a good social activity, with every void deck having a chess board. Now, void decks only have lifts, seats and dogs.
Now: Don’t show your age by telling teenagers you want to play chess. Teenagers would think you say you want to play “chest” and call the police instead.
Dating inside playground or stairway landings
Teenage dating in the past is soooooooo different from dating now: any teenager caught dating would be given ten strokes of canes by the school, by his parents or by any of his elders. Hence, we all had to whisper sweet nothings inside a concealed playground or on an empty stairway landing. If we hear anything unusual, one of us (usually the guy) would run away to avoid being spotted as a dating couple. Kids nowadays have it better.
Now: Check out Stomp.
Collecting stickers and stamps
It used to be so hot that there were shops selling just stamps for collection, and each stamp could cost over hundreds of dollars. We were burning money just to fill up our stamp book (or whatever it is called) and to fill up our sticker books with passport photos of soccer players. The only stamps we use now are from SingPost, and the only stickers we have now are…wait, what stickers?
Now: Teenagers be like, “Dafug with the obsession with stamps and stickers?!”
Playing with yoyo
…or to be more precise, with ProYo. Every fifteen minutes, we would see a yoyo commercial on TV with an angmo spinning a yoyo so skilfully that you tried it yourself at home, only to break one more vase. The trend died as fast as Digimon, but the trend was so hot that even 7-Eleven sold them.
Now: “Yoyo” is a greeting. “Yo,yo, how are you?”