Why I Think Kids Want Our Pre-Internet Lives More Than Ever These Days
By Laura Mullin
Photo © spencerpa440/Twenty20
Jun 30, 2021
One day deep into the pandemic, my 14-year-old wanted to know: do we have a VCR lying around?
She wanted one so she could watch “old” movies.
I reminded her that it’s 2021, most people don't use VCRs anymore and VHS tapes have gone the way of Blockbuster video. (Sure, there’s a single store left in Bend, Oregon, but people go there for nostalgia, not to actually watch movies.)
I told her she’s lucky because, unlike kids from the '90s, she has access to modern devices paired with high-speed internet. No dial-up pings, bings and static, hoping that the connection doesn't take too long (or worse, that someone picks up the phone). She can pretty much watch any movie she wants, whenever she wants!
But she was not convinced. She wanted the VCR experience.
Be Kind, Rewind
And then, as if Britney Spears herself had the power to grant 90s wishes, a nice stranger on Facebook magically offered up a free TV with a built-in VCR to anyone who wanted it.
I found myself arranging to pick it up before remembering that I’m trying to get rid of outdated junk, not acquire more.
Alas, it found a new home in my kid’s room. The only problem was that the closest thing we had to a '90s video was my 2000 wedding engagement party tape. It wasn’t exactly the kind of retro entertainment she had in mind.
But her time-travel back to the days of Nirvana and the Spice Girls didn’t end with the VCR.
Next, she managed to get her hands on a used boom box and a handful of CDs. Then she became the owner of a vintage video camera. Soon she was lamenting: why didn't I have the forethought back in the '90s to keep all my clothes for her to wear one day?
We're Not Old, But Our Vibe is New Again
For those of you on either side of 40, you may find it chilling to know the '90s and the early aughts are now considered vintage.
And for some reason, Gen Z is obsessed with all things of this era.
Many are actively working, probably right now, to recreate its aesthetic in their own lives. That’s right, they’re bringing back baggy jeans, chunky highlights, plastic chokers, scrunchies and grunge plaid — even though to some of us, they just left.
I wanted to understand it. What was so appealing about this decade to the TikTok kids?
It seemed strange to me that this high-tech generation would become so transfixed with the antiquated era of dial-up internet, brick-sized cellphones and cameras with film that you had to actually take to a store to get developed. Why aren’t they working to create their own aesthetic rather than borrowing from bygone generations?
Are Kids Dialing Up to Dial Down?
The internet has given Gen Z access to media in a way that has never happened before. With just one click, they can consume endless hours of '90s pop culture.
It’s not totally surprising that Gen Z feels a bit like the grass is greener on the other side of the century. Like generations before ours, and even our own, many will romanticize times before as idyllic.
While those of us who lived through it understand the '90s were far from perfect, but in many ways, it was a simpler, if not naive, time. It was pre-9/11 and before social media and smartphones, dating apps, streaming services, cultural and societal shifts and of course a global pandemic.
It feels like this celebration of the past is a form of escapism for kids living a more complicated, present-day existence.
The Time Traveller's Mom
So, one night in the dead of winter, after months of isolation, I decided to take a trip with my daughter back in time.
We popped that old engagement party video into her VCR and journeyed to the year 2000. We watched Y2K me with my Jennifer Aniston shag hair celebrate my impending nuptials with my not-yet-grey fiance.
Together my daughter and I became transfixed seeing our family and friends appear young again and having fun at an old-fashioned social gathering. And we watched loved ones who’ve since passed on become alive again before our eyes celebrating a future they wouldn’t get to see.
And at that moment, we were both grateful to seek a little comfort in the past.
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