From Tab Dividers to Tablets: Back-To-School Changes

by Britt Klontz


It seems to come around more quickly every year, but once again, it’s time to go back to school. The banners are up in the department stores, and rows and rows of dazzling pencil cases, fabulous felt tips and novelty erasers sit eagerly awaiting their time to shine.

And what a decision that was, back in 1999. Which pencil case? Which ruler? I would spend hours (OK, maybe not hours) perusing the shelves trying to find ‘the one’. The ultimate pencil case, cooler than any other, the only case that could possibly accompany me through the academic year, to emerge defaced, covered with doodles and signatures, and ‘B.K. loves…’, with a series of crossed out initials depending on who had been the flavor of each passing month (although N.R. and B.M. still hold a significant place in my heart).  Oh wow, now I just sound sad.

All the displays, the ads insistently hailing the onset of the new term, make me wistful about days gone by. And when I catch a whiff of anything vaguely school related, the floodgates are opened and waves of nostalgia crash over me, transporting me back to the classroom and the perfect agony of simultaneous equations.

For me, it’s erasers and pencil sharpenings, chalk boards and cut grass. And apparently, I’m not alone.Staples study has found that almost 90% of Canadian adults find particular smells evoke strong memories of their school days.

From asphalt to textbooks, sweaty gyms to fresh pads of paper, these smells have the incredible power to transform me into a slightly chubby, nervous adolescent, complete with ‘train track’ braces and a ‘Rachel from Friends’ hairdo that never looked quite as good as I’d hoped (who am I kidding? It looked awful).

But I say that as though it’s a bad thing, it’s not! I love the unexpected flash backs, the startling reminder of how far I’ve come, even if I am still that awkward, freckled teen deep down inside.

But oh, how things have changed. Are there even schools that use chalkboards anymore? Isn’t it all interactive whiteboards and pre-prepared PowerPoint presentations that sing, dance and captivate even the most fidgety of children?

It’s amazing how much technology has affected what it’s like to go ‘back to school’. Now, when I get ready for a new college term, I still have a pen and a pencil, sure, but what I’m really concerned about is the battery life on my laptop, how heavy it is, and whether those keyboards that you clip onto a tablet are actually any good. If I can’t pick up a wireless signal, I am thoroughly peeved, and the fact that I didn’t figure out that I could rent a textbook on my Kindle before I spent an absolute fortune on ‘the real thing’ drives me to utter distraction.

Now, my folders are virtual, and having to actually stroll in to college to submit a paper essay seems arcane and a complete waste of time (and resources, of course, I’m not just concerned with spending an extra half an hour in bed).

I remember my first year in high school, when a teacher asked for a show of hands to see who had access to a computer at home, in order to decide whether word processing a piece of homework should be mandatory or not. Not many did, so we got to hand write it.

That makes me think, do kids handwrite anything anymore? Are we going to bring up a generation of young people with chicken scratch penmanship and beautifully uncalloused fingers, because they’ve never had to copy pages and pages from the chalkboard detailing every tiny detail on the day-to-day lives of European Settlers? Hmmm, not that I’m bitter…

The rise of technology in education has brought with it some fantastic things, from customized curricula to improved pupil engagement; fantastic communication between teachers, students and parents; as well as the production of highly skilled, technologically literate graduates bound for great success in the workplace. And that’s just the beginning. This fascinating infographic details just how pervasive technology has become, and how impressive its potential really is.

It doesn’t stop me missing the smell of Wite-Out, though, and the satisfaction I got from a complete pack of perfectly sharpened colored pencils (arranged in rainbow order, of course).

It’s funny, no matter how old I get, I still call it ‘school’, and still refer to all of my assignments as ‘homework’. I still get the Sunday night dread, still carefully choose and lay out my back-to-school outfit, and still get butterflies at the thought of seeing everyone after a long, lazy summer.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is the fact that all the stress of going back to school still gives me a particularly angry looking pimple right in the middle of my chin. And no super technology on earth has provided me with a solution for that.

Britt Klontz is an online PR enthusiast who is obsessed with to-do lists and organization apps like Evernote. She frequently studies the intersection between the Internet and job trends and the impact it has on career planning. 
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