Friday, September 26, 2008

Those Were the Days

I was visiting some of our campus chapters last week in the Midwest and while sitting in the University of Missouri student union with one of our student leaders, Evan, he asked me what things were like when I was in college (1991-1995). I told him that students were the same and professors were probably much the same, but the major difference was how technology rules the lives of students these days.

When I was a student in the early nineties, nobody had a cell phone (thus no text messaging), the Internet wasn't well-known (thus no Facebook, instant messaging or blogs) and if you wanted to listen to music on the way to class you had to carry around a bulky cassette tape player (since iPods were years away from being invented). If you wanted to write to friends back home you had to actually get out a pen and paper and "snail mail" the letter. Hardly anyone had a personal computer so you had to walk over to the computer lab whenever a paper was due. Or you might be able to do it on your typewriter if it was too snowy to walk to the lab.

We played Super Tecmo Bowl on our NES in our room or watched videos on MTV (when they actually played music videos). To register for classes each semester we had to dial in on the rotary phone in our dorm room and get put on hold for up to 30-45 minutes at a time hoping you could get into the classes you needed. Calls home to parents were pretty infrequent with no privacy at all as roommates sat there listening to your calls. If you needed to find information, you went to the library or looked in phone book.

So, yes technology has changed things a lot. One of my favorite columnists, Craig Wilson of USA Today, wrote about how cell phones have changed things for today's students. You can read the whole column here, but I particularly liked this portion:
"A friend confessed the other day that she talks to her son who is away at college five or six times a day. At least I think she said five or six times a day. I could hardly hear her over the roar of her helicopter.
Does she call to wake him up? Do they talk after every class? Does he call when he's heading to lunch? Does she call after lunch and ask what he had for lunch? Maybe he calls during lunch to ask what he should have for lunch. Who knows?
All I know is it's too much information.
What's the point of being away at college if your parents know everything that's going on? That used to be the whole point, didn't it? Your parents didn't have a clue what was happening on campus. I think even they liked it that way. The less known, the better."
Like I said, I think college students are actually no different than a generation ago or even a couple generations ago. They still dream, they hope, they get into trouble and they face a scary world. But a lot of those conversations that used to happen face-to-face now take place in t9 language or on a Facebook wall. And if that sentence doesn't make sense, maybe you can Skype a teenager next door to have them explain it.

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