‘Found my old smartphone while I was digging around the back of my wardrobe last night.’ Charlie spun her seat around at that. ‘Did you?’ ‘Yeah. Couldn’t believe my luck.’ Tenille dug her heels into the industrial style carpet and pushed off from her desk to meet her colleague half way and handed it over. ‘This little beauty is going to come in very handy for my next lesson on the Third Industrial Revolution on Thursday. The students should be quite intrigued when they get their hands on such an old-fashioned device. I think it’d be safe to call it an artefact, don’t you? Charlie’s wrinkled her nose in thought as she turned the phone over in her hands. ‘Probably could, you know. If you want to but you’re not sure then it’s probably best not to run it past your HoD. You know what he’s like – bit of a stickler for correct labelling. Still, these are certainly not easy to find, positively ancient.’ Tenille threw a soft mock-punch at her and grabbed it back. ‘I know. I haven’t seen one around for at least ten years.’ She scratched at her chin. So hard to believe they were all anyone looked at twenty years ago. Like robots they all were, eyes glued to their hands, everywhere and all the time. The unassuming piece of technology would only enforce the kids’ belief she was officially ancient, especially when she explained about having to download apps and use Google maps. Oh! She better not forget to mention how social media used to work. They really wouldn’t get it. It was kind of funny thinking back on Instagram and Facebook, all those big-lipped selfies. Not to mention the devious genius that was Snapchat. What really freaked Tenille out, though, was that she wasn’t even that old. In fact, she’d only turned forty-two last week. Some of the flippant comments those sixteen-year-olds were sure to make were the kind that sometimes hurt her feelings. She could already imagine how the conversation was going to go. ‘What the f– is that Miss?’ ‘Don’t swear. It’s a smartphone.’ ‘I didn’t. How does it work?’ ‘You press it on there and then use your finger to swipe.’ ‘Gross, that’s so unhygienic’. ‘Imagine having to swipe your finger across a screen to get information?’ ‘How basic can you get?’ ‘People were obviously so dumb in the olden days.’ ‘Yep, I’m so ancient I was around before colour.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘No. Not seriously.’ She used to feel the same way about Pong and Pac Man. Her own high school teacher had had an old 1923 Remington typewriter sitting at the back of her history classroom. They’d all rush in – hyperactive on hot pies and Red Bull – to bags the desks closest to it. While Ms Williams had her back turned writing on the whiteboard they’d bash their names out on the round keys stuck on the end of long metal arms. Clack, clack, clack. She’d been a tolerant one, that old teacher. Or, they’d bash all the keys at the same time to get them all stuck in a bunch on the ribbon. That contraption was unbreakable. They still didn’t make things the way they used to back in the really, really old ‘good old days’. Ms Williams once showed the class a YouTube clip of all the budding secretaries sitting in a room able to type at 100 words a minute. Tenille used to wonder if the women had all ended up deaf. She’d been smug about all the options open to women of her own generation.
Back when she was at school, the talk was about the Americans – Kimyes and Queen Beys and crazy gun laws. It seemed the citizens of the U.S.of A couldn’t see the lunacy when even she and her classmates could. Kind of like that old story about a frog hopping into a pot of water with a fire going beneath it until the poor little bugger realises its boiling away in a Constitutional pot. The Yanks did see the craziness in their president though, and that stand off with North Korea, hey? Tenille shuddered to think what would have happened if San Francisco or LA had been blown up by nukes. There was certainly a lot of talk about war, especially from those with a bent for history. Everyone sitting around waiting for number three to break out. Thank god everything worked out okay in the end. Who would have thought powerful leaders with gigantic egos would actually be capable of seeing sense? No need to arm the millennials in the end. She would have been fuming, not to mention terrified. There wouldn’t have been any excuse not to be bundled off to the front lines with the boys. Girls wanted equality, right? She wasn’t that much older than her students were now. There had been tense times indeed. It was bizarre to think that Australia was the new Western powerhouse. Completely unapologetic about it, too. That’s what happened when the first female prime minister showed a bit of compassion and threw open the borders at last to let all the boat people through. What was she, like, the fourteenth P.M in ten years? Tenille was an expert on the timeline. Came with the territory. Speaking of which, the bell was due to go off in two minutes. She needed to pee and finish her coffee. It was hard to decide which was most urgent. There were so many migrants. By leaky boat, plane and cruise-ship they arrived. Bloody hell, the population had reached 112 million. Even Mount Isa had recently ticked over the million mark. She knew they had to put people somewhere – even if it was in a place stinking hot most months of the year – but Mount Isa? Tenille had fought her point with her partner, Richie, only the night before when an Indo-Korean-Aboriginal fusion had drifted through their window on the evening breeze. The aroma had made her salivate. ‘It worked thought, didn’t it?’ he’d said. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘We’re a shining example to the rest of the world of fully integrated multi-culturalism. A nation where everyone is different but everyone is also the same.’ ‘Not everyone thinks so.’ Sometimes Tenille thought Richie had to put the liberal argument across just to be difficult. ‘Did you forget about Manus Island and Nauru?’ ‘Come on! We let the asylum seekers in. There were always going to be the fuddy-duddy, Gen-X naysayers who didn’t think they’d ever see the day. Most people were smart enough to know we’re all one and the same.’ And there it was… He always wanted the last word; so full of wit and wisdom. She never let him forget she was smart, too.
She picked the smartphone up off her desk to take another squiz at it. Stroking the smartphone’s surface with her thumb, muscle memory kicked right back in. ‘Here, give me a look.’ Charlie reached out and snatched it. ‘Oi!’ ‘Wow! It’s a total miracle the glass hasn’t got a crack in it.’ Broken screens were almost the fashion at the time, certainly amongst the kids. There’d been a charger in the box when Tenille had dug the phone out. She’d brought that, too. Since Charlie was busy scrutinising the edges, she picked the three pronged cube with its detachable cord up to check everything was still intact. Small problem: no old sockets around to plug in the thing. No need anymore. Charlie seemed to read her thoughts. ‘You’ll have pay the engineering faculty a visit to see if anyone’s got a portable battery charger in the workshop that’ll work. Jayden Blackwell might. He’s the main techie down there.’ ‘That’s good advice.’ Tenille had enjoyed Jayden’s 4-D titanium printer presentation at the last staff meeting. ‘Thanks. You’re welcome.’ Charlie grinned and returned the dead smartphone. Tenille’d have to find the right moment to ask. Sometimes it was hard to know whether Jayden was operating in virtual reality or real time. She didn’t think their principal, Mrs Arnfield, knew either, let alone the students. Still, some classes really were more exciting than others and his was one of them. She found it so hard to compete, being a humanities teacher and all that. Could be worse: she could be flogging Shakespeare over in English. The old bard was never going to die out, was he? Anyway, back to the phone. There wouldn’t be much point showing the bloody thing to the class if they were only able to see a black slab of nothingness.
It was a good thing technology had moved on because - honestly - teaching these days. The job, with its million tasks, schedules, dates and obligations would crush her like a proverbial brick wall if it wasn’t for the latest Head-X 3000S, programmed to remind her exactly what needed to be done and when. It felt so natural; the thoughts popped into her mind as though she remembered them herself. To think it was all made possible because of a simple little device implanted directly into the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. Hardly hurt at all. Everyone was getting them; pricey though. Good thing the Department had decided to fund them. Everyone had simply lined up on the first January student-free-day back to get it inserted, kind of like when the flu jab had been a regular winter obligation. Just sign the authorisation form and bam! Done. The bell blasted, jolting Tenille back to reality. Charlie stared straight ahead for half a minute, eyes unseeing. She banged the side of her head with her fist and blinked at Tenille. ‘Bloody HeadX is stuffed. What the hell am I going to do? I haven’t got time to go down to I.T.’ Tenille shrugged. Her own HeadX-3000S worked its magic and the next lesson materialised in her mind. ‘I’ve just sent my lesson plan to the printer for you. Use what you can.’ Charlie hugged her. ‘Lifesaver!’ The second bell rang. There was no time to lose.