Backtalk: An Occasional Column About College Life

If you’re a college student today, it’s assumed that you both a) have your own computer and b) posses intricate knowledge of its inner workings. This is only half the problem.

Today’s college student is also supposed to be able to fix their own computer, every single damn time it makes a weird noise, starts smoking, begins speaking to you or just plain ol’ breaks down.

Everyone (that is, people over 40) seems to think that my generation is highly skilled technologically. And why shouldn’t we be? We grew up with VCRs, Pac-Man, AOL, and graphing calculators.

All this technology is fine. I’m not saying I have a problem with it. But when you have more dates with the boy from Tech. Services instead of that cute soccer player down the hall, you’ve got a problem.

So, no, I’m not really “into” computers. If I had to be “into” anything it would be bikinis and designer jeans. To me, this is what computers are supposed to do: save the 20-page English paper you were working on until 3:15 in the morning and then flawlessly print out said paper ten minutes before class.

Sometimes my computer does that. When it feels like it.

Everybody knows the PC horror stories circulating campus.

My roommate was flying high after the school gave her a huge, pricey new Dell, complete with a printer, a CD-Rom drive, speakers and everything. Things started to get weird when the computer began editing her papers aloud. After two months of listening to a mechanical voice rip her essays apart, Stephanie now uses my computer for semi-stress-free typing. She still flinches every time spell check comes up.

My other friend thought he was pretty cool when he attempted to install his printer himself. He followed the directions on the 81-page manual to the tee and was pretty proud of himself. I was too, until his papers all started printing out in Spanish. He tried to fix it and they started printing out in Russian. Bueno.

And then there’s always the kid who shows up half an hour late to class, looking as if he’s about to burst into tears at any minute. And even though nobody says anything, we all know what’s happened and a sympathetic murmur goes around the room: the computer ate his paper right before it was due.

I guess all this just proves my most recent theory. As of late, I think my college generation is getting surpassed in terms of technical know-how. The other day my grandfather sent me an instant message. Or I was home recently and I had trouble saving a photo from the Internet. My mom helped me out but not before asking, “Didn’t you know that this was a .pdf file?” and giving me this very odd look like I was a Neanderthal or something. Hello! Didn’t this used to be my domain? What happened to the days when my dad needed me to turn on the VCR for him?

Isn’t it enough that I get good grades and don’t do drugs and don’t wreck the car (as much)? Do I have to be a computer whiz as well? It just seems like every college kid lately is forced to be more like a mini-Bill Gates rather than a mini-Jerry Garcia. And this is sad.

I mean, give us a break! I bought a cell phone the other day and now I have to pay $10 more a month because it features an Internet option. “Don’t you have a cheaper model?” I asked the salesman. “Don’t you think it’s very cool that your phone is also a computer?” he replied. Like my mom, he squinted at me like I was Jane of the Jungle and I wanted to beat my chest and run away, screaming.

I want to tell college kids everywhere to be strong. We may be controlled by our parents, our professors, and our libidos, but we will not be controlled by our computers. One day, we will love our laptops.

But until then, have that number for Tech. Services handy.