6 Misconceptions About the 1990s

Jon Mayer
Not pictured: A tool of espionage.
Not pictured: A tool of espionage. / Getty Images/Handout/Hulton Archive

Designers David Hampton and Caleb Chung conceived of a Tamagotchi-type toy that you could pet. That eventually became the Furby, one of the hot gifts of the late 1990s. In January 1999, naturally, the National Security Agency banned Furbies from its Maryland headquarters. 

According to NSA’s memo, or “Furby Alert,” as the media dubbed it, “Personally owned photographic, video and audio recording equipment are prohibited items. This includes toys, such as Furbys, with built-in recorders that repeat the audio with synthesized sound to mimic the original signal.”

Tiger Electronics president Roger Shiffman did his best to set the record straight, saying, “Although Furby is a clever toy, it does not record or mimic voices. The NSA did not do their homework. Furby is not a spy!”

Forbidding Furbies in government offices was the result of an odd misconception that arose at the time. Many people believed the furry toys could record conversations, despite the fact that they possessed no such recording technology. In the latest episode of Misconceptions, host Justin Dodd debunks myths from the last decade of the 20th century, from fraudulent Furby fears to some misinformation around the era’s most famous trial.

Countdown to avoid the ‘Millennium Bug.‘
Countdown to avoid the ‘Millennium Bug.‘ / Avalon/GettyImages

Another common misconception to arise from the decade relates to the “Y2K bug.” In the spirit of conserving digital storage space, developers set a lot of early software to use dates with two-digit years, rather than the full four. For example,1975 was just 75, 1989 was 89, and so on. As the ’90s progressed, people began to wonder what would happen in the year 2000. Any program that involved calendar dates would surely interpret the year as 1900, leading to problems.

When January 2000 came and went more or less without incident, many concluded that the whole thing had been much ado about nothing. That’s not quite right, though, as we cover in the episode. Check out the full video to learn more about things you might get wrong about the ’90s.

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