Day 2: Purple Haze, salad days and choice: life for today's tech-savvy student
Monday, August 7, 2000
The new lost generation drives a beat-up Mazda van down the Trans-Canada Highway, to weekend tennis tournaments and summer dreams. There's work, of course, to pay for tuition fees and an uncomfortably certain future, but if Nick is right, to be a university student in the summer of 2000 is above all else to be adrift.
Nick picked me up on the side of Highway 2 in southern New Brunswick, I guess to break the boredom on the road to Moncton. The 19-year-old, in a baggy T-shirt and khaki shorts, his tennis uniform, turned down the radio a notch and started to talk about his job, teaching tennis, and how it beats last summer's job, planting trees in British Columbia. He had to quit that job, it was so hard, but he stayed in B.C., panhandling with a guitar outside a liquor store until he had earned $800.
Nick's experience may help explain why New Brunswick's blueberry harvesters are in such a tizzy over the lack of pickers this year. In Atlantic Canada's new high-tide economy, where young college grads no longer have to flee west or south, the new generation has nothing but choice. Nick can afford to fall short of his $5,000 tuition fee, laptop computer included. His parents, an accountant and school teacher, are also on cruise control. Going into third year without a major, he doesn't have to worry much about job prospects, either, so eager are companies to find anyone who can hack like him and his friends.
As we float over the bucolic hills and through the gentle forests of Kings County, the Fundy fog has given way to sun, and soon the van is stifling. The windows won't budge.
For Nick, this 21st-century future seems strangely removed, like the cows grazing in the distance, like the old songs he plays for a loonie. Back at Acadia University, he knows September's reunions will consist of chat rooms, and e-mails sent to friends down the hall. Few bother to leave their rooms any more to talk, not when they talk about the new economy -- oddly, not their new economy -- with its jobs, jobs and more desk jobs. "Eighty per cent of the jobs now are in front of a computer screen," Nick says. "I don't think I can avoid it."
Another generation's Internet. Another generation's music.
Sweat beads roll down Nick's cheek from his baseball cap. Purple Haze comes on the local radio station. He plays the steering wheel with his fingers, and does what he always does with Hendrix.
He cranks it up, and drives on.
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.