Having just graduated from Hofstra University in May, I would wager that, due in large part to the influence of the CE industry, the gap between the collegiate experiences of this generation and the one immediately preceding us is probably wider than any other in the history of higher education.
Granted, my memories of 1986 are a bit hazy because it was the year I turned two, but based on Doug's story (see p.12), college life has certainly changed in twenty years. (At least as far as the technology part goes — the crooning American Pie in a bar at 3 a.m. is an eerily familiar scenario.)
In contrast to Doug, my freshman year was spent in a dorm suite with three other girls, containing two bedrooms, a bathroom and a lounge. Our list of combined CE products was decidedly higher than Doug's. All told we had four personal computers of various makes and models, each connected to high-speed Internet and equipped with accessories like speakers, Web cams, printers and more. We also had three cable-connected televisions scattered around, each accompanied by a DVD or VCR component (mine had both). There were also four AM/FM radio alarm clocks and a variety of other accoutrements. More recently, I've added an iPod and a digital camera or two to my collection.
In the beginning, we also had a multiple CD changer stereo in every room, but they were rarely used since this (2002) was at a point where we were all a bit addicted to the too-good-to-be-true P2P file-sharing services rampant at the time, and we had much more extensive music collections available on our computer screens than in our CD bins. (I learned my lesson the hard way when my computer contracted a virus during finals week sophomore year. It crashed and I lost everything I had written during my first two years of college — a drawback to this burgeoning paperless society, I suppose. Perhaps needless to say, but I'm a firm believer in iTunes these days.)
As students, Doug and I had entirely different experiences due to the intervention of consumer electronics. Most obviously, my in-room computer played such a crucial role that I can count on one hand the amount of times in four years where it was necessary for me to trek over to our 10-floor library in order to complete an assignment. Thanks to Google, Lexis-Nexis and a variety of other search engines and electronic reserve services, all of the research I needed for a paper could be completed with a few clicks and keystrokes.
In addition to my own supply of homework tools, my campus also featured Wi-Fi hot spots and a few computer labs scattered across campus — one stayed open 24 hours — each containing roughly 100 or more computers.
I also had my fair share of classes in rooms where students worked at their own computers, and my professors had a variety of technological teaching aides available to them as well. In many classrooms they had access to Internet-connected computers, CD/DVD and VHS players and more, all of which could be projected for the class from a ceiling-mounted video projector.
As for communication, Doug may have been relegated to sharing a pay telephone with 50 of his closest dorm mates, but I had a rarely used personal landline phone (so passé!), a cellular phone, e-mail and instant messaging (the bread and butter of collegiate communication), and Web networks like the Facebook and MySpace all at my fingertips.
Despite the numerous technical advances that have taken place in 20 years, it's nice to know that some things remain the same. For instance, in two decades I have a feeling my memories of 2006 will be just as fond as Doug's are of '86. Wow, and just imagine the gadget-related stories the Class of 2026 will have after they get their diplomas!