Break out your best oversized vertical stripe shirt and gather the Troll dolls 'round … we’re about to take a misty-eyed stroll down memory lane.

It’s 20 years ago (give or take) and technology is just starting to get totally radical. You’ve just starting to surf the World Wide Web at home on something called CompuServe and you’ve finally saved up enough cash to invest in a DVD player (and “Twister” and “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” to go with it!) When not rollerblading, you spend a fair amount of time catching up with “Real World: Miami” reruns and kicking butt on PlayStation. Life is good.

During the Clinton administration, many newfangled, now ubiquitous technologies splashed up on (cathode ray tube) television screens across the country, completely confusing/terrifying one generation and delighting/intriguing a younger, more innovation-hungry one. And while there’s no shortage of cringe-inducing commercials from the 1990s to go around, the ones involving technology cellphones, the Internet, PCs, gaming systems, etc. are often the most illuminating. Because, really: look how far we’ve come.

Below, you’ll find 10 far-out adverts for nascent technology that was white-hot in the 1990s. Everything we’ve included is still in existence in some shape or much-improved form, although a couple once-ubiquitous items have become nearly obsolete. (We’re looking at you, Discman.)

Instant messaging

AT&T proudly presents the beginning of the end for overprotective, technology-weary parents everywhere. But hey, at least the young lady in this mid-1990s WorldNet advert dear lord is that you, Alex Mack, laying the foundation for the adolescent sexting craze? managed to keep things perfectly chaste. Please note that the scanning of Polaroids into clunky desktop computers plays into the rather tame, IM-fueled teenage tryst.

Email, etc.

From AT&T comes yet another squeaky-clean ad depicting what happens when emerging personal technology email, pagers (!), cell phones and, gasp, fax machines is left in the hands of mischievous teenagers. Oh, kids those days! Also, note the quick cameo appearance from a public pay phone.


Set aside that VHS rental copy of “Runaway Bride” and hang on to your hats folks because this is DVD! Over 3,000 titles to choose from! Rent or buy! The finest in fiery explosion-based entertainment!

America Online

Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding. Keep in mind that during the 1990s, commercials like this gem positively blew the minds of average Americans who had yet to encounter the cringe-y hiss and crackle of a dial-up modem handshake or be asked for their a/s/l by a complete stranger in a virtual Town Square. “You know, I can even send email on the Internet? And then, of course, there’s my personal favorite, live chat. That’s how I met my new kayaking buddies!” Mmmhmm. Sure, kayaking buddies. Likely story, BondageStud99.


Words truly fail us with this one. What in the world is that? Did anyone actually own one? (If you did, congrats). And is that one of Suzanne Somers’ brood from TGIF masterpiece “Step by Step” at the end?

The iMac

Ahhh … the original egg-shaped iMac G3 with its signature “Bondi Blue” translucent plastic casing and not a floppy drive in sight. Brings back memories of a simpler time, doesn’t it? Designed by Jony Ives the genius Brit responsible for the iPhone, iPod, Macbook Air and on and on the iMac has been subject through a countless number of transformations since its introduction in the summer of 1998. Now pretty much obsolete to the point where thrift stores turn them away, at least there’s a market for DIY iMac G3 aquariums.

Flat-screen televisions

Look at that beast! Back in the not-so-distant dark ages when bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions still ruled the market, flat-screen televisions were a newfangled luxury item apparently marketed to extremely good-looking Euro-types with stunning minimalist apartments and a penchant for mounting expensive electronics on the ceiling.


Finally, an advertisement that marries the 1990s fitness craze (check out those Eric Nies-worthy abs!) with analog video recording! Although handheld camcorders do very much still exist in digital form, it’s hard not to get a bit nostalgic when thinking about those clunky and super-spendy VHS-shooting models that your wicked awesome uncle Roger (you know, the flip phone-carrying bachelor with the laser-disc player and collection of G-Shock watches) would whip out at family reunions, graduations and bat mitzvahs.

Sony Discman

Believe it or not, the defining portable audio player of the Clinton administration, the Sony Discman/CD Walkman, is still kicking around all these years (and really, they didn’t fall out of favor during the ascent of the iPod that long ago). And we’re proud to say that we personally know more than a couple of MP3-eschewing folks of a certain age that pack ‘em up in their gym bags for a Bon Jovi-aided power-walk around the indoor track.

Sony PlayStation

When released in the American market in 1995, Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation, or PS1, quickly dethroned Nintendo and Sega systems from the top ranks of home video game console-dom. Everyone, adults included, went crazy over PlayStation and it remained the top-selling home console system until it was discontinued in 2006 and its next-gen sibling, PlayStation 2 (the one that also plays DVDs), emerged as the best-selling video game console of all time. Quick round of Battle Arena Toshinden, anyone?

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

10 commercials for '90s tech that we can't get out of our heads
Here are 10 far-out ads for technology that was white-hot in the 1990s.