Lately, I’ve been engaging in some ’90s tech nostalgia, mostly via watching YouTube videos that spark my memory about what computers used to be like. I know that on some level, nostalgia is pointless and frivolous, but I find it comforting to experience prompts that help me reclaim memories and feelings that have been in long-term storage for decades now.
And what I’ve realized is that for all we’ve progressed in terms of convenience, computer saturation, processing power, and internet accessibility… we’ve lost some things along the way. One of those elements is an actual attachment and even fascination with an operating system. An operating system! I mean, who cares these days? If I think about Windows 10 and its cold functionality, it’s to be annoyed with its start menu, its pushy Cortana interface, or how Windows update seems to have broken my laptop. It’s not fun. It’s never been fun. I don’t enjoy love using it; I just use it.
You’re probably shrugging, because who does enjoy operating systems in 2021? But the weird thing is, we totally used to. Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 were godsends for a kid who grew up navigating the ins and outs of the DOS command line. Now we had this graphical flash and organization that made sense, and it felt revolutionary. That start menu… man, that start menu. It was a portal to possibilities. It was your computerized life, neatly filed and arranged for access.
Pretty much everyone I knew in the ’90s went nuts customizing Windows. Desktop wallpaper, screensavers, animated figures, sound files, color schemes… the works. Often it was garish, in the way that late ’90s homebrew websites lacked subtlety. But it was ours. It was like putting stickers all over your pencil boxes or posters in your locker in high school. You were taking this space that everyone else had a copy of, and you were making it distinctly your own.
Perhaps Win 3.1 and 95 were of much more interest to me prior to always-on internet, because I wasn’t spending 99.9% of my time in a browser. That limitation forced me to poke around, trade for programs, and see what my computer could do with the tools at hand. But that’s not entirely the case. Even as “recently” as Windows XP, I did like tinkering around with the OS and enjoying setting up various extra applications and options.
I kind of miss that. But with my phone and the internet, my desktop and OS don’t serve as great of a purpose. I have precisely two modifications to Win10 — Open Shell (to add back the start menu) and Stardock’s Fences to organize my icons. I have a static background I change maybe once every six months. I feel so dull in this space compared to how I used to be.
Of course, it’s not like I’m being held back from tinkering once more, so the change might be just as much me as Microsoft (or Apple or whatnot). I guess I just miss when interfaces and OSes were just as fun to use as the actual programs.