As part of my commitment to selfimprovement I am devoting much of the year to study. I’m not talking about one of those anonymous online courses you dip into when you need a little intellectual nourishment. I’m talking about a three-dimensional teacher and, God forbid, real-life students.
The first time I set foot on a university campus was last century. Back then, even as a 22year-old, I was lumped into that much maligned category, “the mature-age student”.
I shudder to think which bracket I fall into two decades on.
I tried to chase away such thoughts as I diligently completed, scanned and emailed the enrolment form: there are bound to be some students of my vintage.
On my way to the campus, which I’m proud to say I found without a hitch, I read an article on generation Y on the off-chance I might encounter a few samples of this mysterious demographic alongside me in the classroom. And wouldn’t you know it, according to a report in Forbes magazine last month, this cohort, the millennial, usually defined as someone born between 1980 and the 2000s, is, just like me, obsessed with self-improvement.
“Just as I thought!” I muttered triumphantly. “This so-called generation gap is pure fiction, dreamt up by some amateur sociologist. Generation Y and I will get along like two cogs in a Swiss watch.”
Once in the campus cafeteria I discovered my future classmates, takeaway coffee in one hand, smartphone in the other, busy forging lifelong bonds. Scarcely one of them looked a day over 25 — a fact confirmed during that dreaded classroom ritual where you’re invited to “come up the front and tell us about yourself”.
Never one to shy away from life’s prickly turns, I used this enforced autobiography to tackle the age thing head-on. “And at 41 I’m also the oldest by a long stretch.” It was a pretty impressive start. So I thought.
While this approach may have garnered respect from the teacher, to one of my fellow pupils — a spindly 21-year-old with a healthy line in sarcasm — it was a veritable anthropological marvel that someone my age could consider studying again. “What’s it like to be the oldest?” he asked.
At this point, it occurred to me I’d rarely had much to do with millennials. I’d spent much of the past decade, at work that is, surrounded by curmudgeonly baby boomers. As such, I was largely unable to tell if he was being serious. My suspicions were again soon confirmed.
Indeed, this ageist raillery seemed to gather its own momentum. The idea of me receiving a student concession card, for instance, aroused great amusement. Didn’t I already have a seniors card? Indeed, had I undergone a workingwith-children check? Even my penchant for an afternoon cup of earl grey made me, in his young eyes, fit for the nursing home.
To be fair, the older students (by that I mean the 26-year-olds) were a little embarrassed by this cheeky tirade. But they were no less intrigued by the generation gap — a key feature of which is the use of language. And if there are two words that define the gen Y lexicon they are arguably “so” and “like”. If you must communicate with gen Y, use these words liberally.
“So, are you, like, on Tinder?” a classmate asked as he swiped through his potential conquests. “You could soooo get a 30-year-old.”
But while I might scoff at, like, gen Ys’, like, use of, like, language ’n’ stuff, they left me for dead when it came to mastering new technology. I’m no slouch when it comes to negotiating the odd bit of new software but I still planted myself in the front row for fear I might miss a crucial step.
The millennials, on the other hand, had scarcely any need for instruction. They use the internet in a way other generations are still refining. Have a question? Forget the teacher: ask the search engine. Better still, watch a YouTube tutorial. Faced with such autodidactic zeal I don’t know whether to be intimidated or inspired. I know what my classmates would say: Google it.