Feeling Old AF: College Then & Now

College is frequently on my mind, as we live near a campus. There are actually a lot of colleges in St. Paul – St. Paul College, St. Kate’s, St. Thomas, Macalester, Hamline, Concordia, part of the U of MN campus . . .I know I’m missing more. A trio of college student DJ’s actually moved in next door and there’s a frat house behind us in the alley. We joke that all of the activity keeps us young.

A lot has changed since I was in college in the early 2000’s. Technology advanced and the world feels smaller. Here are some things that I would imagine would make college different today:

  • Smartphones and knowing how to find your friends

Smartphones make it easier to find your friends. Near the end of my college years, our phones could text (companies often charged by the text sent and received). Internet access was so slow and expensive, no one had it.

We hung whiteboards on our doors and wrote where we were headed – e.g. the cafeteria or library. It wasn’t unusual to call people’s actual dorm landlines. A lot of times you would simply wander over to your friend’s room or dorm without any notification.

In college student fashion, we flexed our abilities to articulate thoughts and make sense of the world. We constantly argued and debated. But, not online. In person. This was before Reddit and Facebook. Sometimes we debated issues for hours. If your friend made an outrageous claim, you couldn’t just fact check them on your smart phone. You had to wait until you got to a computer.

  • Ride-sharing apps

I went to college in a small town in Iowa. Not having a car really sucked. Trips to the grocery store were coordinated with friends, as were weekend trips to the mall.

This seemed to work well enough in a community where bus service was non-existent. But I can only imagine the convenience of having access to ride sharing apps.

  • Online shopping

Back in the day, we purposely sign up for fancy catalogues so we would get more mail. Now I try to remove myself from every mailing list in existence.

We didn’t purchase things online that often. Once in a while I’d buy a niche gift for someone on eBay. We were at the mercy of our weekend runs to Hy-Vee, Target, or Best Buy. No one talked about skincare. The pushy Mary Kay rep who lived next door during my freshman year did brisk business.

I can only imagine the volume of packages college mail rooms process now.

  • Binge-watching of TV shows

With no streaming services like Netflix, we couldn’t binge-watch a show unless someone bought the boxed set of a season.

  • Food delivery

Food delivery options in 2003 were limited to pizza places; Dominos for most occasions and Pizza Ranch when you were feeling fancy. Our cafeteria service opened a casual eatery with evening hours – right before I graduated, they added an online ordering option, but you still had to pick it up. Yup, that was it! No ramen or fancy burgers on our doorsteps.

  • Food Sensibilities

Applebee’s was a special night out. The Food Network did exist, but didn’t host a diversity of cuisine and travel shows. It did inspire me to cook at home. In my circle, dining out wasn’t the sought-after adventure it is now. We ate and drank whatever our friends did.

Without food blogs or smart phones to share all of our eating and drinking experiences, we had less to envy, I suppose. My friend brought me to her favorite Chinese restaurant in Waterloo and so that’s what we went back for. Another friend’s parents might take us out to Texas Roadhouse for a special occasion and so we’d talk about that.

We weren’t inundated with social media posts about the fantastic things other college students were enjoying and so we didn’t feel like we were missing out. Local restaurants did their thing, and, since the masses weren’t demanding things like bougie brunches or Aperol spritzes, they didn’t make them.

Taking pictures of our food wasn’t important. In fact, it never crossed my mind.

The world feels smaller. The college students we’ve found ourselves sitting near at restaurants order with sophistication and confidence. For us, Leinenkugel’s, Boulevard with a slice of lemon or Blue Moon with a slice of orange were fancy beers. My friend who studied in Europe ordered Guinness. That’s it. No craft beer.  No craft cocktails. No wine. To imagine that whole time we could have been sharing a  bottle of prosecco instead of Arbor Mist!

And then there’s school cafeterias. Near the end of my college days, locally sourced foods and farm-to-table became a focus. It seems so intuitive, you know, to eat what’s nearby and in season. Coming out of the 90’s, the tides have turned from low-fat, sugar-free foods to a desire for whole milk, full-fat cheeses, and options for food allergies and dietary preferences. I would imagine cafeterias serve fresher foods with at minimum, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, pork-free and vegan options.

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  1. katie

    I remember students begging the caf to get chobani instead of fruit on the bottom dannon. it felt like such a huge win to have greek yogurt!

    • Jeni

      What a walk down memory lane. I forgot about Greek Yogurt becoming popular!

  2. Michelle

    I have so many memories of taking a study break at 10pm to get the happy hour specials at Applebees in college. And I’m oh-so-glad social media wasn’t yet a thing when I was in college (mid-90s). 🙂

    • Jeni

      Half priced appetizers! I am so glad too! I can’t imagine what I would have posted during that stage of life. We had some room to make mistakes more privately

  3. S

    Ha, you think you feel old AF… I attended Hamline my freshman year in 1982. Smart phones, ride sharing, online shopping, binge tv, and computers did not exist. I used my first “computer” in 1985 to type papers. It was an Apple that essentially only functioned as a typewriter or word processer where you saved your information on a floppy disc-total game changer from a typewriter. Debates were only resolved by a trip to the library where you still had to use the card catalog to find a book. You could shop from a catalog, a store, or perhaps a traveling salesman. There were five or so television channels and you still had to get up to change the channel. Any food outside of the Sysco only supplied cafeteria was special. The cafeteria did have vegetarian food, but vegan, gluten free, dairy free, fat free, and pork free did not exist either. There was no pizza delivery yet. It is indeed a whole different world out there. A walk down memory lane indeed, but because I am getting old AF, the memory is starting to fade… 😉

  4. Katy F

    Love love love this! Probably more so because I “see” the same places and things as in your mind when talking about college! You nailed it!

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