(This is a slightly revised reposting of a Facebook post I made during a visit to UGA on 8/13/16)
Now that I have a Saturday off from work I am spending some of my day in Athens and at the University of Georgia, my old stomping grounds of twenty years ago. It is fun to walk around and remember my years here. I have visited the campus only a few times after graduation. My life certainly has changed since then, and things have changed here on campus as well.
If I were still a student in the early 90s, I might now be moving into my dorm room or unpacking. I might be comparing textbook prices at the campus bookstore and at the off-campus bookstores on Baxter St. I might be eating in the O’House dining hall with my large group of friends. I remember we could easily fill two large tables. I might go to Jittery Joe’s with my friends tonight, back when it was still downtown instead of at Five Points (I even saw a Jittery Joe’s sign at Tate). We had some great conversations there. One time my friend William and I sat next to the fish tank and enjoyed naming each of the fish based on their appearance. There was Vader, Cue Ball, Elton John, and probably some other names I do not remember. Those were fun times.
I see much that is familiar and much that is different. Even though I do not remember many of the street names on campus, I still know where the buildings are. But what has changed? I could probably fill many pages answering that, and so I will only include some of the items that stood out very quickly. I noticed that the computer lab halfway up the stairs in Tate is now a Student Affairs office, and a sizable portion of the campus bookstore is also devoted to iPads and laptops, rather than the small desk and limited number of shelves we had in the back corner. I suppose there is less need for computer labs on college campuses today. When I was a student no one had a laptop (although they did exist in a much more primitive form). Students either had a desktop computer or used one belonging to a friend or one in a computer lab. During my first year or two I wrote my papers on a bulky Brother word processor which was the size of a fully loaded student’s backpack and weighed about as much as a bag of bricks. Now I suspect most students have laptops, ones which could run circles around my old Packard Bell 486DX and leave it in the dust before it had a chance to load and access Compuserve with its dial-up modem. I also notice that many students are glued to, or should I say “entranced” or “captivated” by, their smart phones. At the risk of sounding old, when I was a student we did not have smart phones, or any cell phones. My parents had one bag car phone, at the size and weight of about twenty smart phones, which we had to plug into the car’s cigarette lighter. At any rate, while many of the students today are here physically, their minds are in that virtual world rather than noticing the real world around them.
I do not want to give the wrong impression. I like technology, and I appreciate having a cell phone and tablet. I would not want to go back to what we had twenty years ago, but technology can be a two-edged sword. By connecting us to so much data around the world, some people also seem more detached from the here and now.
Some value also remains for the older ways. When I am brainstorming a writing idea and organizing my thoughts I sometimes find it easier to use my pocket sized notebook and a pencil. It is not merely the distractions that are available when sitting in front of a keyboard and a screen with the internet within easy reach. Instead, for a reason I do not understand, my thoughts sometimes just seem to flow better with a notebook. Of course I eventually type my notes into my tablet so that I can begin the writing, but wherever I go now I have my notebook close at hand, never knowing when an idea will hit me. I carry it with me at work, at church, and sometimes I will even carry it into the grocery store.
What will this place be like in another twenty years. Only time will tell. No doubt there will be some good changes and some bad changes. Will my nephews sit here twenty years from now reflecting on what has changed? That is an interesting idea to consider.