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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lex Hall

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.

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