Why Were ’90s Girls Obsessed With Phones?

The toys and games of Generation Dream Phone gave us communication devices with a line to…no one.

Generation Dream Phone

The goal of Dream Phone was to call as many guys as possible to figure out which other guy was crushing on you. pinterest.com

As a precocious second grader in 1992, I spent a lot of time on the phone. Usually with Dan, Steve, or Jamal. These conversations weren’t exactly rich with intellectual content. Dan, Steve, Jamal — these guys didn’t have much to say other than,”He’s not at the beach!” or “He’s not wearing a hat!” But every once in a while, you’d hear from him, and he’d declare into your ear, “You’re right! I really like you!” Yessss.

I conducted all of my 7-year-old business on Dream Phone, the hulking piece of pink, pre-programmed plastic that came with the board game. This was my phone, and I know I’m not the only Gen Y girl who brought her Dream Phone to school in her Hello Kitty backpack. While Dream Phone may be the most recognizable piece of mobile history from ’90s girl culture, it wasn’t the only phone we had.

The Power Wheels Barbie Car: drive to nowhere and talk to no one to your heart’s desire. pinterest.com

In fact, we were talking on phones as soon as we passed our Barbie Car driver’s exam (which only required parental supervision). That tiny, pink, battery-operated car came with a car phone, which was a good thing because going back and forth in the driveway became boring pretty fast. If you could have pretend conversations with Barbie while driving, then things got interesting.

We may have been the original multi-taskers.

Barbie and Skipper were girls who could always be counted on for talking in those early, pre-teen years. thosewerethe90s.tumblr.com

We didn’t just play-talk with these toys in public to convince others of our rich-in-pink status. We brought these with us in our bedrooms when the doors were closed, continuing those imaginary conversations alone.

Were we lonely? Probably. There’s a really depressing quote from the publisher of Seventeen magazine in a 1993 New York Times article in which she says, “Teens are doing food shopping, preparing the meals and getting more responsibility because their moms are working. They spend $28 billion a year in grocery shopping for their parents…”

Telephone Tammy, the doll with whom you could discuss pizza, shopping, and love.

So, it’s easy enough to point to the common circumstances of our generation. If our parents weren’t totally absent, they were usually divorced or headed that way. Many young girls of the early ’90s were especially headed to a dark place a la Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen. (Well, if you went off the deep end. If you did, that blows.) So yeah, it’s entirely possible we were lonely.

Especially if you were looking to your Telephone Tammy doll to hear any of the following phrases she spoke: “I’ve been waiting for your call!”; “Let’s share secrets!”; “I have something to tell you…I love you.”

Why yes, that shit is indeed incredibly messed up.

A Phone of One’s Own

Clarissa, of Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, on her bedroom phone. fanpop.com

Of course, as we got a little older, we began to realize that phones weren’t just pretend things to play with. In theory, they represented connection.

If you could convince your parents to put a phone in your room (and a cool one like Clarissa’s), that was one thing, however having your own, personal phone line with your own, personal answering machine was another, catapulting your social image.

The famed clear, plastic landline. A favorite more popular in the late ’80s, but nevertheless a ’90s preference as well. pinterest.com

Cell Outs


We became obsessed with the TV and movie girls of the late ’90s and early 2000s who were tied to their cell phones, who used them in a way that made constant-girlfriend-contact seem professional. Having a cell phone made you more than just a student with a Wonderbra.

Clueless’ Cher and Dionne, the original mobile phone queens.

We were convinced — even if we didn’t know it at the time — that cell phones could make us important.

Items like this voice-changing phone created with Clueless (the TV show) branding remind us how much we were originally tied to the phone-as-playtime concept. pinterest.com

When we finally got our first mobile phones, they seemed particularly branded with us in mind. Remember those cute, interchangeable Nokia face plates? These allowed you to change you to dress your phone. Much in the same way you dressed your Barbies.

Nokia phones with interchangeable “expression” faces, popular around the year 2000. thirdrailmobility.com

I have to wonder what happened to Generation Dream Phone because we’re no longer these girls who talked on the phone for hours. Part of it is simply the reality of everyone having a phone.

But we now weirdly have a fear of actually talking on the phone. We’d rather text or email or IM because God forbid you actually give a candid, verbal response to someone. Calls are now the worst and best when avoided, especially when it’s your parents.

Of course, for Telephone Tammy, you might still answer. Because we’re nostalgic for those phone calls, which actually were the best.

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