Despite only being 30, the students at the school at which I work often make me feel old. They love nothing more than testing my knowledge of their Gen-Z slang: no, I don’t know what you mean when you say Romeo is a ‘simp’ or whether Macbeth’s behaviour is ‘sus’. My average 12-year-old student is far better at IT than I am and yet they’ve never seen an iPod before. The other day, a student asked me where txt speak came from, because they didn’t realise that SMS messages had a character limit. And despite their love of Y2K music and fashion, most of my students have never heard of the millennial rite of passage that was MSN Messenger.
My now constantly-connected students will never know the heady, halcyon experience of running home from school to a clunky, chunky family computer and a dodgy, screeching dial-up connection. They will never know the joy of wiling away the evenings chatting to people you have already just spent the whole day with, creating your own emoji and emoticon shortcuts or spamming each other with ‘winks’. They will never know the angst of signing in and out to attract the attention of your crush; the patience of waiting for a single LimeWire song to transfer to a friend; the annoyance of receiving a ‘nudge’ which made your whole screen shake. They will never know the thought that went into updating your status (normally with moody song lyrics or cryptic heartbreak clues) or deciding your first email address, which was often just downright strange, like ‘email@example.com’. They will never know the anger of having to log off because your mum needed to use the phone or the risqué rush of someone asking if you could turn on your webcam.