In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey told his Uncle Billy that the three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. I would say that for tech geeks, the five most exciting sounds are one of the nostalgic technology sounds described in this article.
If you were born any time before 1990, then you’ve likely experienced the evolution of both computers and the Internet. Along with that evolution, there have been numerous sounds that entered into the everyday lives of people as they used technology in their work and daily life. As technology progresses and those sounds fade from daily life, they never really fade from public memory. For generations of technology users, those sounds evoke emotions of childhood games, long nights of friendly ICQ chats, and the promise of a new message arriving in your email inbox.
Throughout the decades, there have been some especially memorable sounds – the kind of sounds that will make you recall a time when technology was much simpler , the future of computers seemed entirely limitless, and everyone had a dream for what it would all become – a dream that fell dramatically short of what the future became.
1. The Floppy Drive Whir
Years ago, video games came delivered in a box filled with a half-dozen 5.25-inch floppy disc drives . You would launch a game using Disk 1, and then once you got far enough into the game, you would need to insert the next disk to continue. As the years progressed and technology advanced, computers finally came with hard drives – so you could install the game from those many floppy disks onto your computer hard drive. Receiving a new game was an exciting moment. Even more exciting was the moment you popped Disk 1 into the disk drive, ran the game, and listened to the whir of the floppy drive.
That sound – the start of that magical whir – marked several moments of staring at a blank screen with rapt anticipation – waiting for that moment when the introduction game animation would start. Those pixelated little characters and amazing virtual places had nothing on the advanced CGI graphics of today’s games, but at the time they were the most exciting and magical things to ever appear on those green monochrome computer screens. Those were exciting times, and the scratchy whisper of the floppy drive is still one of those sounds that will still induce a rush of excitement for anyone who was a game-playing child during those early personal computer days.
2. A Dial-up Modem
George Bailey mentioned the three most exciting sounds in the world were anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. Well, the introduction of the Internet brought similar ways to explore the world, and of course one more sound of adventure with it – that of the dial-up modem .
The only Internet infrastructure that existed in the early days when the Internet was becoming widely adopted by the public, was the phone line. Unfortunately, this meant that to use the Internet, you had to plug your computer into a phone line – meaning no one could make any calls while you were on the computer – and dial that computer into a local dial-up service, which linked you to the larger Internet.
That sound of dialing in – several long beeps followed by a chaotic, wonderful static sound – fast became a sound that preceded hours of Internet surfing, communicating with friends and family, and so much more. The anticipation of a fun night of online exploration was always predicated by those three beeps and wonderful static. To this day, it’ll bring the exhilarating feeling of anticipation.
3. You’ve Got Mail!
There is probably no other technology sound so famous as that of AOL’s email voice notification of “You’ve got mail!”
It was such a popular sound recognized by such a wide user-base, that there was even a 1998 movie with the phrase as it’s title starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The upbeat male voice announcing “You’ve got mail!” immediately after you logged into the AOL online service became the iconic sound of a generation of new email users, logging into their accounts every day with anticipation of hearing from friends, family, and of course the occasional love interest.
If you’ve experienced the era of AOL and especially if you were a member of the popular online service, then you know just how famous these three words became, and just how excited it made you whenever you heard them.
4. Dot Matrix Printout
These days, with fast-printing inkjet and laserjet printers, most people have forgotten all about the loud and obnoxious old days of dot matrix technology. Office workers from the 1980s surely remember the loud, screeching sound of the dot-matrix printer screaming through a document printing. These printers emitted a high-pitched, almost ear-piercing sound with each line printed.
As annoying as the sound was, it fast became a sound that identified a busy office or work environment. Even in the movies, frantic police offices and busy newsrooms were portrayed with people dashing around holding documents, and dot-matrix printers screaming out new printouts constantly.
Those frustratingly slow, headache-inducing devices became iconic. A symbol of an era when mechanical technologies and digital technologies had merged into one, as society made its slow evolution into a digital age.
5. Windows 95 Shutdown
It was a very odd sound to place just before a computer was about to turn off – that iconic “TAA-DAA” sound that marked the initiation of your Windows 95 shutdown. However, just like most other sounds of the decade, this shutdown sound entered into the public consciousness as marking the end of the workday, the completion of your study-session at school, or simply – time to go to bed.
There were many generations of modern-day computer users who were brought up on this operating system – originally available on either floppy disk (13 disks) or CD-ROM, and introduced those users go memorable games like Descent, Need for Speed, and Full Tilt Pinball 2! And who could ever forget that Weezer Buddy Holly video that came on the CD?
Windows 95 died on December 31, 2002, when Microsoft ended all support for it – issuing the final “Ta-Daa” shutdown sound for an operating system that will forever remain in the memories of its users.
Bonus: The ICQ “Uh-Oh!”
One major evolution of Internet communications that many of today’s younger computer users know nothing about was one of the first generations of instant messaging known as ICQ. ICQ was originally developed by an Israeli company before AOL acquired it. It was first released in 1996. It was not really the “first” system used for instant communications – IRC holds that record – but ICQ became the first instant messaging application generally adopted by the larger public, and used on PC systems through AOL’s online community.
What did ICQ bring to the table as far as “nostalgic sounds” go? Well, anyone who used the system knows – that famous little “Uh-Oh!” sound that occurred every time an incoming message arrived.
Just like most other computer sounds that enter into the general public consciousness, this was another one of those that triggered a small rush of excitement – with the knowledge that someone out there just sent you a instant message from anywhere in the entire world, and you’ve just received it instantly. This was at a time when such a thing was still quite the novelty, and first adopters felt like they were part of something pretty amazing.
All of these sounds are just a small look into the evolution of computers and the Internet. There were so many others through the decades. For older computer users, these sounds bring us back to a time when being a computer user or being on the Internet was much more exciting and new that it is today. Sure, the technologies were very limited and slow – but users felt that they were involved in a new and exciting world. It was a virtual world that was sure to change the real world in ways that most people could only imagine – and sure enough, it has – in ways that few could have ever imagined.
Do you have any vintage computer or Internet sounds that take you back to those early computer days? Share your own nostalgia in the comments section below!
Image credit: Old Retro Computer Disc by Mega Pixel at Shutterstock, Dial-up Modem by Alexey D. Vedernikov at Shutterstock, dot-matrix printer via burnel1 at Shutterstock, Windows 95 Screenshot Via Wikipedia – Used with permission from Microsoft