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May 16, 2011

College: Now and Then

I completed my first year (well Fall and Spring semesters anyway) of graduate school last week and I thought it would be interesting to compare college now to college when I was an undergraduate. It’s amazing how different college life is now when compared to just ten years ago. I’ve broken out my thoughts into the six examples, but this list is not even close to being comprehensive.

The Internet

Nothing sums up the difference in experience more than realizing that as an undergraduate I did not use the internet. Dorm rooms were just beginning to have internet connections. Google did not exist. Yahoo! did not exist. No Wikipedia. No scholarly journals were online. You did not register online, check grades, pay bills, surf porn, or anything else online. I had to read books, as in from the library. And I’m not even that old! How can EVERYTHING be so different!?

Cell/Smart Phones

Almost on par with internet in terms of magnitude of change in experience is the cell phone. I did not know anyone in college with a cell phone, even by the time I was a senior. Now I don’t know anyone without a cell phone and people without smart phones get made fun of. I am never without the ability to check email, receive and make calls, texts, take photos, surf the web, look at maps, or play games. There were no such multiple device gadgets. I carried around a scientific (not graphing) calculator and that was all it did! If you wanted to meet me somewhere, you had to plan in advance. I couldn’t search for directions to a club or restaurant, I had to know where it was, or get verbal directions. Now I consider all that tiresome. No one should have to give directions ever again, the location name is enough or simply the address. I use my smart phone from the moment I get up (indeed it’s my alarm clock) to the time I go to bed at night, but as an undergrad, nobody had even the most basic of cell phones. This example also kind of covers digital cameras, since nobody had those either and now everybody has them.


For all that’s good in the universe, I remain certain that Facebook proves we are all in Hell. Why is this thing so addictive? It brings out all the shallow, banal traits of people. I don’t care that you ate at Taco Bell for the third time this week, and neither should anyone else. Facebook does excel at connectivity. Exchanging numbers is no longer important, all you need is someone’s name to find them on the Facebook and Friend them. Once you’re Facebook friends, you’ve got open access to many forms of contact. Dating basically does not occur without beginning on Facebook as a Friendship these days, and when I was an undergrad, it didn’t exist. I realize that this is a subset of the internet, but Facebook is fundamental to how we interact with one another nowadays. I could not have a social life without it anymore and the undergrads of today can’t imagine how we did things in the old days. Used to be getting the digits meant something, in part because they were tied to a personal home address, but now getting the digits is easy and nearly useless.

Humans vs Zombies

Age of the Geek is fully obvious and indisputable when you see hundreds of people playing the live action game Humans versus Zombies. Students (and keep in mind these are adults) run around carrying Nerf guns if they are humans and wearing green bandanas if they are zombies. It goes on all day every day for weeks. You play in class, in the student union, in the dorms, everywhere on campus. No one is safe, not even the bystanders, since zombies frequently turn neutral, non-players into human shields. I don’t know all the rules, but for a couple weeks in the Spring, it’s impossible not to notice everyone playing this game. Girls play too, not just the guys. I wouldn’t have been caught dead playing a game like this (and sort of still wouldn’t although I think it’s cool they play it). I chose this as a representative of the larger topi:, acceptance of geekiness; it’s totally OK to be a little bit geeky/nerdy nowadays.


Harry Potter is a HUGE influence on the undergraduate student body of today. I was an adult already by the time I read the first novel, but these students grew up with the stories, waiting in lines when the next in the series came out. I read them to keep up with my sister and cousin so thankfully I know what people are talking about all the time. It’s rare to find an undergrad that has not read the books and seen the movies. So it should be no surprise that they have started Quidditch leagues at most Universities (muggle Quidditch of course). What is surprising to me is that it’s not a nerdy, laid back, let’s-not-keep-score kind of game. It’s a cutthroat, take-it-way-too-seriously competitive sport. We had ultimate frisbee in my day and that was great. I don’t think I would ever play Quidditch; maybe once they realize that the brooms are unnecessary hazards that spoil the game.

Body Image

I had been reading articles over the last decade about increased anxiety in males as a result of marketing and popular media placing importance upon male fitness, but really I had no idea things were this bad. I know women have always had unrealistic pressure to look a certain way, but male icons were typically in the realistic range. Now males have things as bad as females. Everyone is running around feeling self-conscious about his or her appearance. This means that most people look better now than they did a few years ago because of the increased focus on appearance, but people that are slightly overweight don’t go to the pool, and even the attractive people are rarely satisfied. It’s kind of dangerous and gets in the way of creating meaningful relationships because people have unrealistic expectations for their significant others, while simultaneously feeling insecure about their own bodies. It would be difficult to get a good match of underwear soccer going these days so I have to say this is a negative change overall.


I love the internet and cell phones. I hate Facebook, but tolerate it to communicate in the medium of the day. Quidditch and other such pop-culture changes are welcome so long as I can still have fun playing silly sports and making Star Wars references. The body image thing makes for more complex social interactions and my own mind is not immune to both higher expectation and lower sense of self worth so that’s a sure negative. I’d like to see increased awareness of diet and danger of processed foods, factory farmed meat and dairy, high fructose corn syrup, low-fat foods, and bleached flour come out of the body image disaster, but I don’t think anyone is looking at the situation rationally.

On the whole, this is a great time to be in school, better than when I was an undergrad. The opportunity for learning and stimulation is enhanced through technology and people are much more accepting of nerdiness (as long as you have a hard body).

Song of the Month

My music collection new additions this month include Ghostland Obsevatory “Codename: Rondo”, a bunch of Thievery Corp (courtesy of Emily, Thanks!), the new Shooter Jennings/Hierophant, Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion’s new one, Ke$ha remixes (oh yes, mind candy), Decemberists “King is Dead”, and probably five or six other lesser known albums.

I’m kind of in love with Ghostland Observatory although I don’t think everything they do is good, I will putting it on a few more times before I pass final judgment. The Hierophant album is without continuity. It’s nothing like any Shooter album, and in my opinion there really isn’t a good song on the album. I love Shooter Jennings, but this album is a fast way to a headache.

It would be quite simple to put up some summertime celebratory “lyrics” from Ke$ha, along the lines of “Lookin like pimps in my gold Trans Am, gotta water bottle full of whisky in my hand bag, got my drunk text on, I’ll regret it in the morn, but tonight I don’t give a …“, but I decided it’s criminal that I have never posted one of my all-time favorite songs, quite possibly my number 1.

As a climate scientist, music lover, and cocky SOB, the Clash sums up my whole desperate, pissed off, hopeless, but resigned-to-my-fate emotional state perfectly in “London Calling”. If you don’t own this own album, get it now! Skip a meal, donate blood, rob a liquor store; do whatever it takes to get this album.

Did you ever feel the apocalypse was coming, you knew about it, but there was nothing that you could do to prevent it? You scream at the top of your lungs, but everyone ignores you like “zombies of death”. All you can do is hope that you are among the first to die so you don’t have to witness the suffering to its horrifying end? It’s morbid and self-destructive and exactly what Rock-and-Roll should be.

"London Calling" The Clash
     The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
     Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
     A nuclear error, but I have no fear
     London is drowning-and I live by the river

With the music playing, it’s much easier to tell that living by the river is a good thing. It means the drowning is inevitable, but also it’s better because he’ll be among the first to go. “London Calling to the faraway towns…Quit holding out….You know what they said? Well some of it was true.”

While this was a warning about nuclear war, a much more immanent and certain apocalypse, London Calling embodies how I feel about the coming era of anthropogenically altered climate.