It's well-acknowledged that your sense of smell can call up memories like nobody's business — but for me, particular sounds can also serve as a big reminder of times gone by. Take, for example, these '90s computer sounds: Hearing them immediately transports me to the room in which my family's PC sat, plunking me down in front of the keyboard and making me feel like I'm a kid again.
There's a scientific reason our senses have the ability to bring back memories we'd otherwise all but forgotten, by the way. A study published in 2010 found that the part of our brain in charge of processing our senses also deals — at least in part — with the storing of emotional memories. The fact that it performs this dual purpose, therefore, means that smelling a certain scent might call up a memory of a place you used to encounter it; seeing a certain object might make you think of a time that object played an important role in your life; and hearing a specific sound might trigger a memory associated with that sound.
And there's no denying that the sounds of the early digital landscape were unique. For those of us who grew up as home computing became the norm, these sounds were commonly encoutered on our family computers, in the computer lab at school, or in the local library. It was an exciting time to be alive, with new advancements happening seemingly every day — and sometimes, I still kind of wish that's the landscape we currently occupied.
Remember these iconic computer sounds from the '90s?
1. ICQ Startup Horn
I'd totally forgotten about most of messaging program ICQ's noises until last week — but once I opened the floodgates, so to speak, it all came rushing back to me. The startup noise, for example? It was so loud that I always had to make sure I'd turned the volume on our family PC's speakers aaaaaaaaall the way down before I booted it up. I'm not kidding — that thing shook the very foundations of our house.
2. “You've Got Mail”
America Online's sound cues are perhaps the most iconic part of the '90s computer and Internet landscape — and the cheerful indication that you had a message in your inbox when you logged on is arguably the most iconic of the iconic. Nowadays, most of us (or at least, most adults) probably wish we got less email; back then, though, a little thrill always ran through us whenever we heard those three words.
3. Windows Startup Noises
For me, it's all about the Windows 3.1 trumpet fanfare and the harp-like Windows 95 sound, but the others are pretty memorable, too. Also, does anyone else find it interesting that the Windows Vista noise is the only one that stuck around for more than one incarnation of the operating system?
4. ICQ “Uh Oh!”
I'm really curious about whoever did the sound design for ICQ. Why was what sounds like either a small child or a cartoon character saying, “Uh oh!” chosen as a notification noise? We may never know.
5. The Sweet Sound of Dial-Up
Annoying? Yes. Slow? Yes. A magnificent piece of nostalgia? Heck yes.
6. AOL's Greeting and Farewell
“Welcome!” Why, thank you, AOL! “Goodbye!” See you next time, AOL!
7. Mac Startup Noises
I appreciate how calming most early computer noises attempted to be. Just listen to that. So soothing. So relaxing.
8. The Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Intro
While the Rockapella tune may have cemented itself as the quintessential Carmen Sandiego theme, I also think there's something to be said for the MIDI-based music and sounds of the 1990 PC game to which the television show owes its very existence. My dad and I used to play this game together, so I have a ton of fond memories connected to these noises; funny how just a sound can bring up a whole host of remembrances, isn't it?
9. The Dulcet Tones of the Dot Matrix Printer
Not going to lie: I kind of miss dot matrix printers. In addition to the fact that I don't recall my family's old dot matrix giving us nearly as many problems as my current inkjet printer does (seriously — it's a battle every time I try to print something), they made awesome noises, and you could turn the little perforated bits from the edges of each page into awesome paper springs. These days, you can also apparently make them play a glorious rendition of “Eye of the Tiger.”
10. AIM Buddy Noises
I'm particularly fond of the "door open" and "door close" sounds that indicated when your friends logged on or off, but, I mean, take your pick. They're all there, and they're all terribly nostalgia-inducing.
11. The 3D Space Cadet Pinball Music
My family was super into pinball when my brother and I were growing up — an interest which may have partially been spurred on by our collective love of The Who — so naturally, 3D Space Cadet Pinball was considered the absolute best of the games that came pre-installed on every Windows PC we ever owned. While the realistic sound effects of the game were pretty awesome, too, there's no denying the glory of the actual song you had the option to play during it took the proverbial cake. There are some pretty impressive remixes and covers out there in Internetland these days, too, for the curious.
12. The Nokia Ringtone
OK, I'm cheating a little here — although today's smartphones are essentially tiny little computers, I'm not really sure we can consider the cell phones of the '90s and early 2000s to be the same. Even so, though… well, just take a listen to that and tell me you're not automatically transported to the time at which you received your very first cell phone.