Beverly Hills, 90210: Technology Time-Capsule
When Beverly Hills, 90210, premiered in 1990, it was buzzed about for all the reasons high school dramas ever make headlines. Namely, teens were obsessed with it. That, and it pushed the envelope on topics like sex, in particular, in a way that was unfamiliar on television at the time.
But looking back at the two-part pilot, which aired 26 years ago this fall, the thing that’s most striking about the series—other than the synthesized theme song, with a saxophone that would make Kenny G blush—is how dated it looks. The fashion, definitely, but even more so: The technology.
This show, in particular, offers a telling glimpse of cutting-edge technology of the era because it depicted the super-rich kids of Beverly Hills. Luggable laptops and clunky portable phones were a way of signaling that wealth.
Just check out this mobile phone that has a curly cord and a monster battery pack:
Even clunkier is this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Macintosh Portable, which weighed 16 pounds and cost more than $7,000 at the time:
Jim Walsh has a pretty sweet keyboard:*
More than a decade before the iPod was introduced, music players ranged from this kind of ultra-portable cassette player, worn here by the West Beverly Hills High Spanish teacher:
To this boombox on the chemistry teacher’s desk:
To the fancy-looking CD player at this smooth guy’s apartment:
Notice that he also had what I think is one of those neon light-up landline phones, which makes sense, because basically everything in his bachelor pad looks like it came out of the Sharper Image catalogue.
Before text messaging and Snapchat and Facebook, gossiping with friends meant curling up in bed with this monstrosity (which, as my colleague Ian Bogost has pointed out, had its charms):
It looks like Kelly Taylor had a pretty sleek portable phone, though:
Naturally, there were plenty of payphones around, too:
In the 90210 reboot, which first aired in 2008, there’s a prominent blogger, several plot-lines that involve mass-texting inappropriate photos, and a school TV station. But in the original there was this high-school radio station (notice all the vinyl and the reels):
And car radios that looked like this:
Along with high-end car alarm systems like the one Steve Sanders had for his Corvette; when it sounded, it also set off an alarm on this portable device:
And, finally, in the days before Tinder, going on a date usually meant asking for someone’s phone number first. And if you didn’t have a pen and paper, the best technology at your disposal was, at least in the world of 90210, lipstick and a human arm: