My husband is a high school English teacher and he is big into integrating technology into his classroom. It is astounding the things that schools can offer today—not only online research or sharing documents wirelessly over an intranet, but interactive textbooks and virtual author visits. And this led me to think about my high school.
We were pretty advanced for our time. We had computers, for example. Yet, when I worked on the school newspaper, we were working in the old-timey, blue-screen Word Perfect. If I wanted to watch a movie for my European History paper on propaganda films made during World War II, I had to actually find that bad boy on a VHS tape in a rental store. If I wanted to find a list of said films, well, I’d better start poking through the books. And the catalogue for the library? Actual cards.
So, wow. I was a teenager in a totally different era, right? How can I possibly write about a teenager living today?
Well, first of all, I am alive today. I’m hip. I’m with it. I have an iPhone and a Netflix account. I rock this techno-temporary culture.
But more importantly, I’m not sure that the real stuff of high school, of being a teenager has changed. Sure, now you can be bullied on Facebook and have surreptitious videos of your worst moment ever posted on YouTube, but this is just a change in format. There were always bullies and cliques. Your worst moment, if viewed by anyone else, became rumor, even if not a viral video.
At seventeen, I knew longing, I knew heartbreak, I knew exhilaration. I drove with the window open and the A/C blasting just because I could. I sang loud to the radio and danced in the driver’s seat. I crammed for tests and blew off class to have lunch with a cute guy I was in love with but who only saw me as a friend. My girlfriends and I spent weekends tooling around in the dark listening to mix tapes. We theater people gathered to eat cheese fries and swill hot chocolate at the diner.
So while technology has made my high school days seem like the veritable dark ages (what in god’s name did we do without Wikipedia?), the really meaningful stuff has stayed the same. And that’s what I’m writing about, anyway. Not the latest hot blog or gadget or fad, but longing, heartbreak, exhilaration. Unrequited love, and love requited. Bonding over bad fries and cold cocoa at the diner. Maybe the music on the mix tape is different, but that’s why someone invented Pandora, right?