This must be one of those moments in time when Twitter is reminding me of events long gone. The buildings I worked in during my gap year & for the first summer break while at university was the first trip down memory lane. Now I am reminded about graduation by seeing all the photos of this year’s Kent graduates at Canterbury Cathedral.
For me, that trip was 22 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long, or at least it didn’t until I started thinking about what has changed since then. Graduating in a building with the history & grandeur of Canterbury Cathedral is quite an experience. Especially when the university itself is very young (established in 1965, so only a few years older than I am). That experience, I’m sure, hasn’t changed. Nor will the excitement of dressing up in robes and finally being admitted to the degree that has been the focus of a few years of their lives. (And, perhaps, some will have the opportunity to make unwitting tourists believe students wear the robes every day, or to have a swift pint with friends while dressed in them, like we did.) But plenty has changed.
State of the art mobile phones in 1993 were things like the Nokia 101, larger and more than twice the weight of an iPhone 6, yet not capable of much more than making phone calls. Few students had phones at all, though I was actually lucky enough to have one (not that “small” Nokia though – an old Philips brick phone, with failing batteries, that I bought second hand for very little & had on a very cheap plan).
Students graduating this week, I suspect, were asked to turn their (smart-)phones off before entering the Cathedral. And, while they can still make phone calls, that is just another app on the device we so quaintly still refer to as a phone.
Kent was always advanced in what it offered students in terms of in room access. In Rutherford during my first year, my room had a serial link (not a network connection) that allowed me to use my 8 bit personal computer, with its 32KB of memory, as a terminal to talk to the campus computers, slowly. In my final year, I had a modem link from our house in Park Wood over the internal phone system & a computer with 1MB of RAM and a small in data, large in physical size, hard disk that it booted from.
I’m sure by now the campus is fully covered by a Wi-Fi network, and students are toting lightweight laptops, and maybe even tablets, in addition to those smartphones. And even when living off campus, they’ll be able to stay connected and complete assignments using VPNs and web based services.
Yes, we kind of had the Internet. At least, we had email and Usenet. The three of my year that went to France for our third year got into trouble for sending too much email back to the UK though (seems it was expensive in France, which is why the local students didn’t have access to it). In Kent, everybody was using email though, even students from other faculties. However, there was no web, nor Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram etc. Nor were there home broadband services (and dial-up was rare, costly & connected only to bulletin boards). And remember that old mobile phone above? It didn’t even text messaging, let alone a data service.
Today’s graduates probably can’t imagine a world without high speed internet available 24/7 (I know I’d miss it), and real time messaging with photos, videos and whatever else they want to share. To almost anywhere in the world.
That smartphone also doubles as a camera, and a pretty good one at that. Not just for photos but also for videos. Digital cameras were still a few years away when I graduated, so graduation photos were taken using film. And we didn’t see how good, or bad, they were until several days later when the prints came back.
Contrast that to the photos of today’s graduates being posted live on social networks instantly. Shared with family around the world who maybe couldn’t make it to the Cathedral for the big day. Not to mention the thousands of pictures each graduate would have taken while studying at Kent that in 22 years they’ll be able to look back on.
Quite a Ride
It has been quite a journey since leaving Kent. I’ve worked on Royal Navy ships, moved a third of the way around the globe (to California) to work on the low level code for a real time operating system, lived through the .com crash (this year’s graduates probably don’t remember that one), and then been involved in the world of Wi-Fi from the early 802.11b devices that were rare, to today’s world of Wi-Fi almost everywhere.
Along the way I met the love of my life, and have two great kids and a house on the only populated island in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Leaving Kent, I knew I wanted to work on software, but I couldn’t have imagined becoming the CTO of a small company in California (I didn’t even know what a CTO was at that point), nor that I would be carrying a computer more powerful than the Sun workstations I used in my summer work in my pocket (and still be calling it a phone). Wonder what the world will look like when my two kids graduate, around 20 years from now?