Probably the biggest difference between life on campus in the ‘00s and today is the role new technology plays in everyday life, particularly when it comes to the internet and mobile connected devices. In the classroom, this would have been apparent by the fact that most students still took notes the old fashioned way, using pens, pencils, notebooks, and three-ring binders. Whatever laptops were present in lecture halls would have been bricks by today’s standards. What ‘00s classrooms lacked in connectivity, however, they made up for in attention. Without the distraction of social media, bored students would have been forced to daydream, pass paper notes or—in the worst case scenario—pay attention to the lecture.
The internet was still in its early stages in the 2000s, with only about 360 million internet users online at the decade’s onset. As a result, spending time in the library studying or doing research often meant reading actual books printed on paper and taking handwritten written notes.
Streaming was a long way off in the 2000s, so entertainment was pretty different. Students would gather in their dorm’s common room to catch latest episodes or crowd around laptops to watch DVDs. Video stores were still very much a thing, and the only (legal) way to see a new release once it left the movie theatres was to get your hands on a physical copy of the DVD or VHS tape. The same was true for CDs. The 2000s was also the golden era of file sharing, where companies enabled students to pirate their favourite music instead of trekking to the mall to buy it.
Video games were a big source of dorm-room entertainment in the aughts, but online gaming was still very much in its infancy. While universities now have their own eSports teams in international competitions, gaming in the early ‘00s was mostly still console-based.
Trucker hats, low-rise flared jeans and tube tops were common sights at university bars throughout the aughts, as were striped “going out” shirts and the occasional jaunty fedora. Ironically (and perhaps inevitably) two decades after the turn of the millennium, post-1990s fashion is starting to filter its way back into popular culture. If you’ve been hanging onto your baggy hoodies and velour tracksuits, you may have another chance to wear them in the near future.
Compared to life in the 2020s, the aughts can seem like a much simpler time, especially where campus culture is concerned. Mobile phones were common, but by no means as ubiquitous as today, and most people still had landlines in their dorm rooms and house-shares. How did we ever manage to make plans and invite our friends to parties? No one knows, but somehow it worked. Voicemail was definitely part of the solution.
Campus parties weren’t much different except that there was a lot more smoking (indoor smoking bans weren’t enacted in most places in Canada until the mid-2000s). Aside from the haze of cigarette smoke, without widespread camera phones and social media, students were mostly spared the risk of embarrassing photos ending up online. That said, there was always that one friend who brought her digital camera with her to every party, so those photos may still be out there somewhere.
The 2000s were a turbulent era for global politics, beginning with the 9/11 attacks in September of 2001. Protests against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan followed, the largest of which drew more than 100,000 people on one particular chilly day in Montreal in 2003. A few years later Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and in 2008, a global financial crisis threatened wreaked havoc on the global economy. While many students in Canada wouldn’t be directly effected by these events, their impact would have certainly been felt in the classroom, where discussions of global politics, war and inequality were coloured by examples from the headlines.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.