Poor ’90s tweens! They never used Facebook Messenger. They couldn’t text people from their iPhones, they couldn’t add GIFs to their WhatsApp messages, and they were far too young for any Twitter DMs.
Somehow, they survived. And a lucky few of them even had access to one of the most sophisticated pieces of messaging technology to come out of the mid-’90s: The Casio Secret Sender JD-6000.
This tiny purple toy, marketed to tween girls, is the messaging app’s true digital ancestor.
If you’re an Xennial like me, you might remember Casio My Magic Diary, an “electronic organizer” that premiered in 1993. At the time of its release, the Magic Diary was the height of technology. It had software that could store phone numbers and addresses, report local times from across the world, function as a calculator, record friends’ birthdays, log diary entries, give users their horoscopes, and even allow them to “design” digital faces — ideally of their crushes <3 <3 <3.
Here’s how the Washington Post described the gadget at the time: “Once girls even sent each other notes on scraps of paper, and were then sent off to the principal’s office for doing it. No more … Childhood has gone digital.”
We’ve seen ledes like this dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. But there was actual truth to it back in the early ’90s. This was long before Blackberry became so popular. A wicked cool teen girl who owned a Casio My Magic Diary probably had access to more sophisticated technology than her parents did.
Just one year later, Casio introduced the Casio Secret Sender JD-6000, shaking up the whole electronic diary world. Using Infrared technology, Secret Sender gave users the opportunity to send each other text messages from across the room. The messages couldn’t travel farther than 25 feet and couldn’t be longer than four lines, each 16 characters long.
Users could choose from either a pre-written message “Meet you at [ ]” one read, or they could compose an original message.
You could even turn the television on and off by using the same infrared technology.
The Casio Secret Sender JD-6000 was the vanguard of the digital diary community. You could tell how advanced it was by its string of futuristic numbers (six thousand!) and the random letters in its brand name. Remember, this is the pre-Live Journal era. Kaybee Casio products were all my generation had.
“Kid communication has come a long way from two cans and a string,” New York Magazinewrote at the time.
The Sender and its subsequent iteration, the Super Magic Diary, also had its competitors, though they’re long since forgotten. There was Zender from Electronic Arts, which retailed for $47 and had a similar messaging function with an even wider range of 500 feet. Tiger Electronics had a product called Super Data Blasters, which had similar messaging technology and a uniquely horrific name (who but total nerds would think the term “Data Blasters” was cool?”).
Even though Casio Secret Sender initially retailed for $119, it had what its competitors lacked: excellent branding. It had the word “secret” in the title! It had a modern (i.e., not entirely pink) palette, which catered well to the feminist-lite delia*s demographic.
And let’s be honest: The Casio Secret Sender never reached a saturation in which multiple people could text. That $119.95 went way beyond what most Xennial tweens held in their smiley-face coin purses. If you had one, you were lucky; if you met someone else who also did — and who wanted to text you back — you were the exception. This was pen pal culture taken to the max.
How many tweens at the time even had friends?
What made the Secret Sender powerful was its promise: an entire digital universe, contained privately in your sweaty, hormonal hands. When you’re a teen girl, privacy matters more than anything (I can’t tell you the number of times tween me shouted at my parents to “Leave me alone!” even though I was just … isolated in my room, eating Cheez-Its and watching Cheers reruns). Everything feels so exposed at that age: your gross, pubescent body, your secret crushes, your dumbest, most vulnerable feelings.
The idea that you could message anyone you wanted, whenever you wanted to, without anyone looking, was revolutionary. There was no paper trail. The Casio Secret Sender belonged to you and you alone.
Alas, the Sender slowly petered out, never quite getting the respect it deserved. Cell phones and PDAs picked up the credit for messaging technology. The poor JD-6000 was left to the dustbin of history and Reddit nostalgia pages.
Apparently, people wanted to text people from more than 25 feet away. Nerds.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Casio Secret Sender has been forgotten. Look at Snapchat. Technology created for teens never quite gets the credit it’s owed until it’s discovered and claimed by adults. Lil’ ol’ Secret Sender just couldn’t compete when it came to the older demographic.
But let’s all pay the Casio Secret Sender JD-6000 some respect for incorporating personal messaging technology before most of us knew what that was.