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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some Days I Feel Really Old

The students in my biochemistry course are also taking a course called Molecular Cell Biology. They use the textbook Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts et al.

I was showing several students my copy of the older 3rd edition. It has this picture (below) on the back cover so I asked them to name the street they were crossing. None of them had a clue.

The street is only two blocks from the house in St. John's Wood where the authors meet to work on the book. I've been there and I crossed the street at that very crosswalk. For people my age the street and the crosswalk (and the white building in the background) are holy places. For students born after 1988 they aren't. I feel really old.


  1. I know what street it is, and I'm less than a decade older than the students in your course. Aside from that, I know many people younger than them would would have no problem identifying the street, so it's not an age thing.

    I was there this summer, and I crossed, but nobody took my picture because I was there alone. There were a lot of other tourists as well, but it didn't seem like a good idea to give a stranger my camera and then cross to the other side of the street...

  2. My wife teaches Rhet/Comp at the university level. A newspaper article they were analyzing for a discussion mentioned the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. They had never heard of it. Even after she explained, they still gave blank looks.

  3. There's an interesting game/mental exercise you can do related to incidents like this.

    Pick an event in the past, such as the Abbey Road photo - 1969. That's 38 years ago. Now see if you can come up with a similar event 38 years before that.

    Personally I find it kind of eye-opening to realize that we're as far from Abbey Road as that album was from "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

  4. Did everyone notice that Martin Raff isn't wearing shoes? Is he dead?

  5. There's an interesting game/mental exercise you can do related to incidents like this.
    Pick an event in the past...

    Here's one that happened to me:
    We were watching a Monty Python video ("The World's Funniest Joke"), in which appears a brief shot of Neville Chamberlain making his "Peace in our time" speech. I realized that the interval between now and the making of the Python series (c. 1970) was just slightly longer than the interval between Python and the Chamberlain speech.

    What really brought it home was that we happened to be watching the video with our nearly-adult kids. To us, Python is youthful memory while Chamberlain is history. To them, both are history. (And to my parents, Chamberlain and the whole of WWII was youthful memory).

  6. One of the incidents that suggested to me that I'd been professing too long was when I was talking to a class of undergraduates about the decision-making process that led up to the Cuban Blockade. They'd never heard of the blockade, and I was on it in a ship of the U.S. Navy.

  7. I asked my sister (born in 1986, and very up to date on the CURRENT music scene) if she knew which street it was, or if otherwise she could see what it was a parody of (she MUST have seen the original picture).
    This is what she said (rough translation)

    "Maybe I've heard of the street, but I just can't tell from this picture. The people that are photo-shopped in don't make it any easier! It must be in England (...) because the cars are driving on the left side. The only famous street I know in England is Penny Lane. Is it Penny Lane?"

    Photo-shopped in???!!
    She added that she had only heard of Penny Lane to begin with because I named my cat after it, but I originally explained my cat's name by also adding that if I had TWO cats the other one would have been called Abbey. Guess that went over her head...

    But I do know some 19 year old Beatles fans, so all is not lost.

  8. Today, I ran into a Principles of Biochemistry 2nd edition, in what appeared to be a donation box of textbooks.

  9. I was developing my taste for big band swing at the time that the Beatles and the Stones were becoming famous is I've always felt out of step with my generation - musically at least.

    So while I'm well aware of the Beatles album, for me the Abbey Road studios are famous because that was where Glenn Miller's Army Air Force orchestra recorded a lot of their shows in 1944 during WWII.

  10. Have you seen the 4th edition of MBOC? The authors are photographed in a pastiche of the Sergeant Pepper album cover. What on earth would your students make of that?


    What do you think about this article?

  12. tony jackson asks,

    Have you seen the 4th edition of MBOC? The authors are photographed in a pastiche of the Sergeant Pepper album cover. What on earth would your students make of that?

    They haven't a clue. As a matter of fact, it was that picture that prompted me to show them the back cover of the 3rd edition. I though the "crosswalk" picture would give them a clue about the Sgt. Pepper take-off. It didn't.

    Bruce Alberts was a Beatles fan and so was I. Back in the olden days when I was his graduate student, we were the only ones in the lab who wanted to hear radio stations playing Beatles music. Everyone else wanted to hear the Stones. Isn't that strange?

    Bruce has gotten his revenge by paying homage to the Beatles on his textbook. There's no mention of that other group.

  13. Hello... none of you know me.

    I was born in 1987 and I have had a similar experience: I was teaching a class of 15 year olds, mentioned the American TV show Friends, and was greeted with blank expressions (even though Friends is still repeated endlessly on e4). So everyone is old from someone's point of view.

    I'd also like to say that today before I found this blog I had already listened to 2 Beatles albums.