Youth of today

One consequence of being an evolutionary dead-end is that I do not get exposed to new cultural touchstones through watching crap children’s telly with offspring I haven’t produced. As an alternative, monitoring the dwindling intersection of history I share with my incoming undergraduates serves the same salutary purpose of reminding me how out-of-touch I am.

The Beloit Mindset is the definitive tool for rubbing the noses of American faculty into time’s unyielding ripsaw, but 2013 is particularly special. This time it’s personal. My incoming first-years were mostly born in 1995 or thereabouts, so – as well as post-dating one of the worst premises for a film by almost a decade – they have also been alive for almost exactly as long as I have been installed at $PLACE_OF_WORK.

I have been at university for as long as my incoming undergrads have been alive. The horror.

None of my experiences as a child directly overlap with theirs. They never had the Cold War; they have never not had the World Wide Web. Diana was dead before they had control of their bowels. They’ll never have used a shilling as a 5p piece: in fact, they will never have used a shilling-sized 5p piece, as those were withdrawn in 1993. The new Dr. Who series is the only one they’ll ever have known, and their very conception could have be due to someone leaving an important part of their brain somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire.

Eighteen years before I was born, The Beatles were still The Quarrymen; the Apollo program was a twinkle in JFK’s eye; and being a sexual degenerate would still be illegal in the UK for another decade.

My new students will not remember the issue of New Scientist that carried the Voyager 2 pictures from Neptune on its front cover:

Neptune [public domain, NASA]

Neptune from Voyager 2 (1989) [public domain, NASA]

But having seen those images in 1989, I could not feel quite the same awe at the Cassini images from Saturn that were the talk of the ARPANET when my incoming students had just arrived at their secondary schools:

Saturn [public domain, NASA]

Saturn from Cassini (2006) [public domain, NASA]

And for me, the Blue Marble was already a cliché by the time I was old enough to understand what it was a picture of, no matter how much it had wowed my parents:

Earth [public domain, NASA]

Earth from Apollo 17 (1972) [public domain, NASA]

…Now, that was an obvious set-up for an effortless glide into life-affirming platitude, but frankly, melancholy and curmudgeonliness are far more my style, and I’m not going to give you the satisfaction. So either take heart that the details that separate us are far less than the humanity that unites us across the generations; or just gawp at the pretty pictures until cataract and senility crush mindful sight from you.

You’re all going to die down here.

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