Generation X: The Last Link to the Past
Recently, I went with my oldest child to his High School Orientation Night. I’m not sure how I became old enough to have a son entering high school, but I find myself obsessed with the thought that in less than 5 years, he will be going off to college. This thought brings me to the brink of tears and hyperventilation, so I try to shift my focus and conjure up my own college memories….
When my generation is old and gray, we’ll sit in nursing homes trying to explain to our great-grandchildren what it was like going to college when the internet was still a fetus. We will be the last generation to have ever come of age without cell phones and Google. When the last of us Gen Xers die, so too will the human tie to a non-digital past. I suspect future generations will view us as decrepit relics who lived an incomprehensible existence.
Most Generation Xers will agree that the internet would have been great for research projects, Googling our cute crush from Geology class, or emailing friends on other campuses. Cell phones would have come in handy for texting details about bar crawls or breaking the ice with that crush from Geology class. They also would have saved a lot of roommates countless arguments over whose turn it was to use the phone to call their long-distance boyfriend/girlfriend.
Despite the convenience these technologies would have brought to my college experience, I can’t help but be nostalgic when I think back to what was most certainly a simpler time. They say Gen Xers are the forgotten generation. We’re sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials, both who carry infinitely more notoriety. True as this may be, I’m proud of my generation and look forward to telling my descendants all about my Googleless college memories.
TOP 10 TIDBITS I HOPE TO SHARE WITH MY GRANDKIDS
- I did all my research at an actual brick and mortar library. I checked out books, made copies (with my copy card) of articles that were stored in huge plastic binders, and typed my papers on a, wait for it, word processor.
- I wrote actual letters to my friends who were away at college on different campuses and I couldn’t wait to open real live mail I received from them.
- My freshman year roommate/best friend brought her stereo from home that had a record player and tape deck (it was her 8th grade graduation present). I brought my tiny little television (rabbit-ear antennas and all). My TV was given to me as a gift when I was in 5th grade. It had a dial with no remote control. We actually had to stand up and physically change the channel (gasp!). It didn’t occur to us that our electronics were outdated because not much had improved since they had been purchased.
- When my friends and I hit the bars, we had to make arrangements before we left. That meant actually having face-to-face, or phone call conversations about where we wanted to go for the night.
- I talked to my mom once a week on Sundays. Long-distance calls cost a small fortune, so we kept our conversations to about 5 minutes.
- I drove several hours between my campus and hometown in a rickety old station wagon with no cell phone. I wasn’t allowed to drive alone, since I suppose if my car broke down and I got stranded on a cold frigid interstate, it would be better to die with a friend.
- My friends were the people I knew and trusted. I had about seven close friends in college. They knew everything about me and vice versa. If someone went on vacation, they would snap photos on a real camera, wait for the film to be developed, and show us their pictures when we saw them next.
- When I did something stupid and embarrassing, there was no footage, or electronic proof of it anywhere in cyber space.
- I registered for classes with a pencil and paper. If I wanted to switch or drop a class, I had to join thousands of my closest friends at an enormous building (to my fellow U-of-I friends,do you remember doing this at the Armory?) with no ventilation. There, we all stood in lines that wound around in maze-like fashion just to find out if the desired class we wanted was still available.
- My friend from high school called me freshman year and told me about this crazy new thing called “email.” She said if I got an email account, all I had to do was walk to my campus computer lab and I could send her letters through a computer. These ‘letters’ would magically land in her computer. I thought she was nuts.
I realize I sound like an old fart bragging about how I walked 10 miles uphill in the snow every day to get to school. Even though I’m 42, not 92, I feel as though my own children’s college experiences will be so different from mine. I can only hope that at the essence of their college years, will still be friendships and memories that last them a lifetime.