The various devices that make modern life so convenient for students. Photo credit: Connor Lalande

We often take for granted the incredible time we live in. Through oversaturation in our lives, we have become desensitized to the miracles of computing and the internet that largely define the modern age.

Rather than value these devices for their wonderous capabilities, we are often unappreciative — if not outright resentful — of the laptops and smartphones that accompany us through our day. We whinge about their ill effects without giving a thought to how our lives would differ without them.

And yet, if we were to do just that, we can gain important insight into how much we should be thankful for.

Imagine, if you will, being a student prior to the proliferation of computing and the internet. Think of all the ways in which these technologies permeate every aspect of student life, and how a lack of access to them would fundamentally change your approach to schoolwork.

Suppose you were assigned an essay. Consider what a student who did not have access to computers or the internet would have to go through to complete that same essay.

When you start your research stage, you likely begin by scrolling through articles on the internet until you acquire some basis of understanding on the topic. Enjoying the sum of humanity’s knowledge at your fingertips, your research approach has been trivialized by the convenience offered through the internet.

Contrast this with pre-internet learning, where you would have to venture down to the library and apply your knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System to scour endless shelves of books until you found something useful.

The former is obviously preferable.

With your research done, the writing process begins. For those of us with access to computers, this involves haphazardly typing sentences onto a Word document until their sum amalgamates into something resembling a definitive topic.

Bad at spelling and have an incomplete understanding of grammar? No worries, the machine you’re typing on corrects those things for you.

If we were to compare this with the writing process of a pre-computer student, the approach changes drastically. An earnest student would likely start by making a handwritten draft of the essay. This would ensure the essay was fully structured and would hopefully cut down on potential mistakes in the future.

Once the draft was completed, it’d be time to whip out the good old typewriter. After loading the typewriter ribbon, feeding paper into it and setting the machine’s margins, you could begin typing out the final copy of your essay. Be careful though. Any mistakes in spelling or grammar will require you to first notice, white them out and retype them in a process that sounds both tedious and comical.

For argument’s sake, let’s say you have a question about a requirement for the essay and need clarification from your instructor. With access to the internet and email, this can be done wearing pajamas in the comfort of one’s own home. Without email however, the process becomes vastly more difficult.

You must first get to the school where your instructor’s office is. If you have a car, you’d better have the route memorized or a paper map on standby, as readily available GPS is still but a pipe dream. Walking, riding a bike or taking a bus is always a good option — albeit one lacking the staples of podcasts and endless music access that characterize how we now travel. All this to meet an instructor in person, ugh.

With your question answered and your essay finally submitted, a celebration is in order.

An outing with friends, drinks and food is standard for college students of any era, and so you go to arrange a plan. With a smartphone in hand, organizing an outing is as simple as sending out a few texts and waiting for a reply. But in the bygone era of a pre-internet society, you best make plans early and stick to them, as once people have left the house, they are no longer contactable, and your plans are set in stone. Without the benefit of always having a portable cellphone moonlighting as a microcomputer within our pocket, spontaneous schedule changes are rendered near impossible.

None of this is to say that our technologically imbued age is without flaw, and therefore above reproach. Technologies are connected to mental health problems, the inherent privacy concerns related to its use and its application for spreading misinformation are real issues that should not be diminished.

Nevertheless, in exploring how these modern devices have made our lives as students vastly easier and more accessible, we yield an appreciation for the extent in which we should be thankful. After all, life without spellcheck sounds awful.