Initially intended to help faculty at Beloit College in Wisconsin avoid “dated references” and to be aware of mindset of an incoming first-year undergraduate, the list has become an annual ritual both signaling the dawn of the academic year and to have someone remind you how youngsters presumably think. Almost immediately, the list garnered attention in the press and became fodder for your friends and colleagues to forward via email, years before things “went viral” as they do today.
I was largely unimpressed by this year’s list. Some of the items here are not what I would consider exclusive to the young. For example, the list reminds us that for an eighteen year-old, “Google has always been there” and that “Wi-Fi [is] an entitlement.” I’m old enough to remember the early days of the web when we browsed through directories—not search engines—and connected to computers using Ethernet (if we were lucky) and telephone modems (if we were home), but today, I can’t imagine life without search or spending a significant amount of time somewhere without broadband, even when airborne.
One reference did ring very true. Apparently, for these kids today, “Heaven’s Gate has always been more a trip to Comet Hale-Bopp and less a film flop.” However, that’s been true for a while. Whenever I’ve mentioned Michael Cimino’s maligned epic film, I always note that I am not referring to the California cult, which happen to have the same name. That’s been true both when teaching undergraduate classes and chit-chatting at a cocktail party. Most people really don’t remember that film.
But most of the remaining items appeared to only make a reader feel old as opposed to actually describe how an eighteen year-old American student would think. For example, would an incoming undergraduate student care that the “airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport?” Who on earth is Ronald Reagan? Or that “CNN has always been available en español?” Do kids today even have cable? Or that “Ellis Island has always been primarily in New Jersey?” My guess is that it’s not that many American, regardless of age, are even aware that most European immigrants entered the US through the Garden State.
However, the list always contains some interesting facts that even aging faculty (and your aging social peers) would find novel. For example, have we really been mass producing hybrid automobiles in the US that long? They seem newer than that. Do surgeons really use “super glue” in the operating room? And who knew that Amoco gas stations were even around as late as 1998?
Finally, I found one very notable item that reflects a deep social change, even more so than the ubiquity of Wi-Fi or the length of the Lion King’s run on Broadway. The list notes that “‘no means no’ has always been morphing, slowly, into ‘only yes means yes.'”. It’s a mindset that kids and old-timers should all share.