Welcome to the Freshers of 2020

Each year, around about this time, I write a little article (like for 2019, 2018, and 2017) that points out the little disconnects in the generations between those of us working in HE, either in teaching and professional services, and the students who wander blinking into life as an undergraduate, as we did all those years ago. Except this time, it’s not quite like that. This year’s freshers will start their University career in a way that none of us in living memory has had to experience. The differences in their early times as students will be hugely influential on them in years to come, so we should cut them just a little slack right now.

The first thing to note is that they really are the children of the 21st century, and the first real crop of the post 9–11 world. They don’t know a world where the middle east hasn’t been in some kind of turmoil, whether that is about Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else. Neither will they have seen a USA without the glowering, paranoid presence of the Department of Homeland Security.

They will never have known a world with the Deutschmark, the Franc, the Drachma or the Peseta, amongst others; the Euro was introduced on 1 January 2002.

And they’ll never know a world that had either Spike Milligan or Chuck Jones in it, though their work still lives on.

Like almost all of us, they won’t know a UK where Elizabeth II hasn’t always been queen. In 2002, the year in which most of them were born, she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, as well as seeing both her mother and her sister die. So they won’t get the old Spitting Image joke about the Queen Mother sounding like Beryl Reid(1).The last throes of a truly free and global internet seemed to be upon the world in 2002, as the Chinese government began to block Google searches from within China. This year’s freshers are therefore from a group who’ve never known a world without the Great Firewall of China. 2002 also saw the launch of the Firefox web browser, as well as the Tor network. So, our freshers have never known a world without the anonymous web, or its use in the so-called Dark Web.

To them, Justin Timberlake has always been a solo artist (NSYNC disbanded in 2002). So too, Jarvis Cocker. Grunge too is just a distanct memory, given that Hole, Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains all disbanded in 2002 as well.

To our current freshers, Top Gear has never been a serious motoring magazine(2), James Bond and Albus Dumbledore from the “before” times both look a bit weird.

For them John Thaw, and Leo McKern have never existed anywhere except on videotape

Possibly worst of all, this years freshers will have no clue what an ITV Regional ident is is. LWT breathed its last in 2002, and pretty much all the regional idents were consigned to history. And for them, Freeview has always existed, and Have I Got News for You has always had guest presenters(3).

The last How We Used to Live was made, and the last Big Break(4). Girls Aloud have always been a thing, as has I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! And it mIght be the only way anyone remembers who Tony Blackburn is.

The poor buggers have a lot to contend with. 🙂

(1) Nor least because Beryl died in 1996

(2) Clarkson’s relaunch of the Top Gear brand happeneed in October 2002.

(3) 2002 was the year in which Angus Deayton was fired

(4) Thankfully, they won’t know the horror of Jon Virgo and Jim Davidson sharing a screen, other than the possibility of being radicalised via YouTube.

A man shouting at passers-by on teh Interwebz

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Darren Stephens

Darren Stephens

A northern man

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