I’m five years old, a young creature, in a daze while watching reality TV on a chunky cathode-ray tube in the living room with my family, when a sudden knock frees us from Jeff Probst’s thrall. Our neighbor bears a frustrated grin as she looms in our doorway, accompanied by her angsty son. She offers us an overflowing bag of wires while the son is frozen in horror, like he’s caught in a bad spell of sleep paralysis and we’re his demons.
“Nick is done with video games,” she says while handing me a semi-transparent rectangular device. My small hands slot perfectly into the shoulder grooves as I turn it on and observe its casing — a mist of periwinkle, pale grays, and soft opal swirl inside the cloudy console. My pupils dilate. In this moment, while holding a Game Boy Advance Glacier edition and witnessing these complex systems working in tandem, I fell in love with the stupid and beautiful world of video games.
Absurdly, I can see past the fog, into this machine’s mechanical guts. Peering at the patterned placement of those green, gold-trimmed power chips, I look at the carefully threaded wires weaving over and under asymmetrical knobs. Pokemon Emerald‘s trumpet-filled symphonies reverberating out the miniature speaker mesmerizes me. What hooks me with transparent technology is the intensity of the design: the creative confidence to show everything on the inside and add just a pinch of color. It’s a bold and perfect aesthetic formula — one I rarely get to see now.
Fast forward to 2022. I’m in my room surrounded by safe and boringly designed electronics that either come in the monochromatic illusionary choice of black or white. And I hope this isn’t out of the blue, but I miss you, transparent technology… I really do. I’m writing this piece for you, as well as to figure out the answer to the question: Why did you leave us?
The Y2K era of the late 90s and early 2000s was unquestionably anti-opaque. Chiefly inspired by Ivory soap, Crystal Pepsi, and the era of clear, “artificial-free” food and drink, technological designers were obsessed with crafting vivid translucent and transparent devices in all forms. This trend of transparent technology quickly became known as the “clear craze.”
In 1996 Bandai Namco’s Tamagotchi digital pet line captured the nation’s youth with iridescent, glitter-infused cases. Apple’s bulky iMac G3 made a visual splash in the 1998/1999 computer scene with its striking collection of translucent strawberry, lime, tangerine, grape, and blueberry colors. The year 2000 gifted gamers with futuristic, see-through Nintendo 64s, sheer Hello Kitty Dreamcasts, and crystalline PlayStation 2s. Even today, as I dig through galleries of discontinued products like a Y2K archeologist, there is still an almost indescribable allure to this clear craze.
In Persuasive Imagery: a Consumer Response Perspective, Eva M. Hyatt and Lawrence L. Garber Jr. write that “color is a powerful and salient persuasive communications tool, it is as well, a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, poorly understood yet difficult to examine, making individual response to color exposure notoriously hard to explain or predict.” The era of transparent technology fizzled out before the 2010s, when designers started favoring sleek blacks and whites for products, but it shouldn’t have.
The transparent style’s forced conformation into a safe, sanitized, and standardized look is a somber reminder of the myriad ways in which the world pressures us to dampen our own quirks and succumb to the status quo. The clear craze is infinitely cooler, more playful, and more expressive than passive monochromatic hues. Luckily, these gadgets are preserved on Y2K blogs as glistening reminders of what unfiltered expression looks like: being weird, being open, and being you.