What a difference three decades make…

The house is quieting again. 

Or maybe that should be: I am quieting again.
The drug-trauma took its toll on us all. 
Despite it all, I am proud of my boy and how he has recovered and rebuilt. 
Despite it all I am still a bit shaky.
The anxiety – inexplicable and unattached to any one specific thing – is lessening but is still there. It’ll go. I know it will.
In the interim I diving deep into the MSc. I now have ‘assignment 3’ behind me – and am looking forward to my Monday evenings at University. My grades have surprised me: they are good. The class is intimate, still a little stilted but promising. The building we meet in is painful ex-GPO (General Post Office) – and a blast from the 60s brutalist past. The lift I exit on the 7th floor is right beside a gents toilet – and the entire corridor reeks of piss and inadequate dettol.
So far, so much the same as the last few Uni-times around.
The difference? Ahhhh. The difference.
University in 2013 is profoundly different. And I am continually, overwhelmingly astonished and delighted and made to feel like some ancient relic by the changes.
It is entirely related to technology – but also to legal and societal change. In 1985 I hand wrote or typed (on an ancient ex-office 1960s cast iron monstrosity) my essays the topics of which I had ‘researched’ using the hard copy (there was no other type of ‘copy’) available (or not) in the library or reading rooms. ‘Research’ was slow, pain-staking work. The University electronic database of materials was in its infancy. It was slow. Often unreliable. Micro-fiche records were often the default. Or you’d ask one of the librarians for help. Physical Lecture attendance was advisable – or you’d simply miss too much. My name was always emblazoned on essay front covers. In 1989 I managed to buy an Amstrad word processor which made my written work tidier but required some MS-dos knowledge and a hammer for the printer.
By 1991 I had a Tiny computer. Slow whirring – really a sophisticated word processor. There was no www. Research was still slow. Access to articles or to books was on a first-come first-served basis. Things hadn’t much changed by 1995.
Now. Now! Ah. 
I login remotely to the University ‘MyPlace’. I access the Library. I login and have 24 hour electronic access to books; international articles; Journals; presentations; PhD theses and MSc dissertations. I search Google and return thousands of relevant high quality articles I can use. I can search specialist sites such as Westlaw or LexisNexis or IDS – and have every relevant bit of caselaw or legal article you could imagine. Lecturers – leaders in their fields – are beamed into my class from Geneva; from Harvard – from anywhere there is a computer link and webcam. I write on a neat powerful laptop in the comfort of my own home and submit work electronically, identified only by my matriculation number.
The younger students – they understandably take it all for granted. I sit wide-eyed and open-mouthed and am genuinely tickled by this brave new world – and they don’t bat an eyelid. 
I feel my age. I have known (intellectually) that the world had changed by virtue of technology. But I don’t think I had truly internalised the change in this stark and personal way. Our social interactions; the way in which we learn; the sheer ease of access to knowledge and information – it is all astonishing to me. And I love it.
Strathclyde University in 2013 is a good place to be.

20 thoughts on “What a difference three decades make…

  1. If you feel like an ancient relic, then I'm a dinosaur. 🙂 It's 48 years since I went to university and I didn't even have a typewriter. Everything I read was on paper and everything I wrote was in pen and ink. Three essays a fortnight and no Google…..

    I'm glad life is back on a more even keel. You won't forget what happened but it looks like it's basically in the past now for all of you, which is good. Enjoy your studies. It's great being a mature student, as I know from two lots of experience.

  2. Ha! Dinosaur! You and me both! But it's all good.
    The first time I was exposed to Microsoft 'Word' (or whatever incarnation it was in back then) was 1996 – I'm sure it was Word 1995 on Windows 3.0 (but I remember Windows 2.1x too). I was working. And the Civil Service I was part of was just beginning to embrace the electronic age and introduce computers and intranets (not internet for us then!).
    I wonder whether I'd rather be an under-grad now…
    In many ways (access to information and materials and the way in which technology makes it easy to write) the answer is absolutely Yes.
    But I think the world is also harder for them…
    Thanks for your kind words Perpetua. You are right – it is becoming part of the past…
    And yes – I will do all I can to enjoy being a student again! x

  3. I'm glad things are returning to normal for your family after the shock…it will recede eventually.

    I like all the new research tools you describe – I'm of the book-in-library age – and certainly a laptop would have been a godsend given my handwriting!
    I am not so sure I'd want to start out as a student all over again….the cost for one thing and the feeling that courses are more vocationally oriented…but – reassure me – physical libraries still exist and nothing beats the pleasure of a mooch along the shelves in search of distraction….

  4. I was a student in the 80s too and had to spend hours researching in the library instead of having the option of downloading stuff at home. The faculty secretary typed up our dissertations (poor thing) – two of them – and it was a nightmare if there were changes to make.

    When I went for my Masters in the early 90s, we learned to type, and had to use WordPerfect 5.1 on a blue screen which was totally user-unfriendly. Today it's so easy producing good-looking work. The only problem is sifting through the vast amount of information and picking out what you need.

  5. Thanks Helen. I'm actually at home today – I have had a rotten virus that I cannot shake at all and which seems to have settled for a long stay in my lungs… I speak to my doc later.
    I love the research tools now. Though – like you I also loved the mooch along the shelves of a library… Strathclyde has a wonderful huge library where I can do just that!
    Yes – the cost for today's students isn't good. I did an arts degree first and then the law degree and post-grad Diploma. Nowadays I'd be struggling to do both degrees. And baulking at the loans one degree would entail.
    This p/t Masters degree is expensive. But I'm working and can pay. My fellow students are f/t and loan-financed.
    My daughter's current degree is expensive – as is accommodation etc. She is working 22-28 hours per week to help support herself. I wonder if my eldest son hasn't got the right idea: learn on the job with an employer who will finance a p/t degree…
    My sadness? That everything is shifting to the vocational. That Arts degrees like my first degree are seen as an indulgence… how sad.

  6. Poor secretary – though I remember that happening for a friend who was doing her MSc when I was doing the LL.B.
    It's funny – we really did just have to teach ourselves how to type. We were in that frontier land – adopting the (often dodgy and completely user-unfriendly technology) but with zero training and on an ad hoc basis.
    I know what you mean about sifting info – though I've discovered that some search engines (academic specialist ones) have such an advanced search function that they can literally take you to a relevant paragraph!

  7. Ha. You youngsters just don't know how good you had it in the 80s and 90s. All my work (even my post-grad) was done with a fountain pen. I learned elementary programming in Fortran and Cobol (which was astonishing given that I had real difficulty with binary arithmetic – which was in turn astonishing to me because I was very good at decimal arithmetic) but the only computer I had ever seen occupied a whole floor of a building and another complete floor was occupied by the punch-card operators who input the data (all it did was the payroll for the 39,000 employees). Access to information was, however, probably pretty much the same for 100 years until the advent of the internet and all that it's made possible. 40 years ago when I came to the Western Isles I abandoned my MPhil because distance study even of that sort just wasn't practical. There was a time when I always said that I'd complete my law degree when I retired but when I did the idea of studying again became completely anathema. I may not understand your desire for yet more studying but I do admire it and wish you well but more than that I wish you enjoyment.

  8. It sounds wonderful Yvonne and your description of the access to books and journals and , even better, to recorded lectures by the masters makes it sound like an Alladin's Cave.
    So glad you are enjoying it so much.

  9. I'm surprised the University would use a portion of it's available resources to offer material from a questionable, second rate, institution like Harvard but…I reckon they have to make concessions somewhere.


    It sounds like a lot of fun…I'm certain you'll do well.

  10. So you have a full time job; five kids (if I recall correctly) and now you are doing an MSc? I am hugely impressed by your energy levels.

    So glad you have recovered from your trauma with your son. And that he is better too. My daughter is turning 14 next week and is becoming more independent every day. I love to see her so confident but I'm wary of her getting hurt out there. She's so trusting and sees the best in everyone. Probably a good way to be at 14 I suppose and I know I have to let her make her own mistakes.

  11. Gosh I remember (before I dropped out) the handwritten essays and hours in the library. The papers, using a TAPE RECORDER for French grammar and my history notes. Never understanding economics but falling in love with my economics prof who is now my best friend. Those freakn dot printers did my eyes in on my first novel. Argh! Our kids have no idea, no idea.
    Good on you girl for blazing away there! And so glad the trauma is behind you, but for the lurking fears. xxxcat

  12. What I can't understand is why kids don't learn to type properly in school. They spend ages learning to write, but in fact, learning to type in this day and age is infinitely more important! I tried to get my boys to learn, boy were they apathetic!

  13. Hahahaha. We better watch out or this will turn into that 'Four Yorkshiremen' Monty Python sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo 😀

    You're right of course. Technology made things (largely) easier for my generation – as it changes things again for this. I think it's the changes that it creates that fascinate me. Studying is different – actually more satisfying.

    And thanks for the good wishes Graham. It's an easy course to enjoy. 🙂

  14. Hahahaha! Yip. Harvard…that second rate institution. Sadly, ef, I aspire to attend just one tiny wee course on negotiation and mediation at their Law School. But I have no imagination and no discernment… 😉

    It's certainly good fun being back.

  15. I'm intrinsically lazy Doris – just exceptionally lucky that the kids are mostly up and independent and that my job gives me teacher's holidays on a lawyer's salary…
    Your daughter sounds perfect – and you sound like a loving caring but sensibly pragmatic parent… It certainly took me a long time to learn how to change my parenting style to accommodate the growing needs of teenagers for greater autonomy. But it's normal for us to fret and fear…and to be there when they make their mistakes and need picking up…

  16. Hahaha. I listen to Meg moaning about essays etc and bite my tongue. She's never going to have to wait around in the short loan collection of the uni library just to get a book for an hour. Or to handwrite bloody footnotes and bibliographies.
    Ach it's all good. Their experience is just different.
    I'm happy to be back at it Cat. Though it's taking up a lot of time. Yx

  17. I too am astonished and delighted by the technology we have to hand – and how it enhances our lives and learning. There is something to be said for acquiring knowledge the hard way – and in some fields that is still the best way – but for much of the information we need I'm all for speed and ease – there is no special merit in protestant effort for the sake of it

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