If the 1980s were a decade of excess, this influence did continue to the 1990s, but this decade was a bit calmer.

Brits were still spending. People spent their time shopping - out of town shopping centres started to spring up, like Lakeside in 1990. These offered a safer and cleaner alternative to the high street, and were cleverly designed to make you spend as much money as possible.

Technology at home was very common. Devices like a microwave, CD or DVD player and dishwasher were in many British homes. There was also an increase in personal technology, which meant less family time, as the Ashby-Hawkins family discovered in the latest episode of the BBC’s Back in Time for the Weekend.

Having ‘time travelled’ to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the family’s household was transformed to the 1990s. See how the family fared on BBC iPlayer (which is also available to watch through BT TV).

DIY boomed. People were investing in their homes more, and the arrival of Sunday trading meant more time for shopping. Here are some of the ways technology changed during the decade:


Ground Force team with Nelson Mandela

The rise of cheap imports from China meant the price of a television dropped - in the early 1990s a colour TV cost £200, so it was common to have televisions in each room. By the end of the 1990s half of children had TVs in their rooms.

In the days before digital TV, there were only four terrestrial channels (five when Channel 5 launched in 1997). Satellite TV was the only way of watching multiple channels - particularly from 1992 when it was then the only way to watch Premier League matches.

Reflecting the nation’s interest in DIY, Changing Rooms (1996) and Ground Force (1997) were immensely popular, getting viewing figures averaging 11 and 12 million at their peak. Sales of garden and home products rocketed - B&Q decking sales increased from 5,000 to 16 million over a few years.

Mobile phone

Nokia 2110 red

Mobile phones were initially the preserve of business users, but prices dropped in the mid-1990s and they started to become affordable. These phones couldn’t connect to the internet, had few games and no cameras, but for the first time people could stay in touch wherever they were.

By 1994, cheap phones were more readily available. The Nokia 2110 (the first with the distinctive Nokia ringtone) was popular because of its small size. Over the decade phones got successively smaller. The Nokia 3210 released in 1999 went on to sell over 160 million units and was one of Nokia’s most successful devices.

In 1995 7% of people in the UK had phones, rising to 46% in 1999 – or one sale every four seconds - according to Professor Nigel Linge from Salford University.


Nintendo Gameboy

Consoles started to creep into houses in the 1970s with games like Pong, but in the 1990s home gaming truly became mass market. The handheld Nintendo Game Boy was released on September 28, 1990 and all versions went on to sell 118 million units worldwide.

If Betamax and VHS was a 1980s tech war, in the 1990s it was Japanese gaming giants Nintendo and Sega slugging it out.  Mario on the 1992 SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) took on Sonic on the 1990 Sega Mega Drive. Super Mario World sold 20 million and Sonic the Hedgehog reached 15 million worldwide.

Home computer

In 1995 just 2.5% of UK households had access to the internet, rising to 13% in 1999 which meant a boom in internet cafes.

Internet was dial-up, which meant waiting and listening to the familiar sound below to go online:

In comparison to today, the 1990s internet wasn’t the wealth of information it is now. Discover how your favourite websites used to look.

By 1996, 27% of UK households had home computers – PCs not laptops - rising to 45% in 2000. Many computers ran Microsoft’s operating system Windows 95, which sold 40 million copies within six months and remained hugely popular until the introduction of Windows 98.

Windows 95 box

One of the most popular computers of the late 1990s was the Apple iMac G3 (1998), designed by Jonny Ive. With its distinctive egg shape and colour, it was dramatically different to other rather dull machines.

Gym chains

Mr Motivator

What Jane Fonda started in the 1980s continued into the 1990s, as personal fitness took off. Remember Mr Motivator on GMTV?

Private gyms also soared in the 1990s - Fitness First launched in 1993 and LA Fitness in 1996. Gym membership doubled between 1996 and 2001.

For a monthly fee you could use gym equipment and take part in classes – step aerobics was immensely popular.

With this came the rise of the home fitness gadget - the Thighmaster, Ab Roller and, of course, the step were all popular.


What was your favourite gadget or piece of technology from the 1990s? Let us know in the Comments section below.