Most teens starting college this fall have never used a card catalog, and they’ve always been able to read books on an electronic screen. Text has always been hyperlinked, and they’ve never had to wait for the evening news to find out that evening’s news.
These are some of the 75 cultural landmarks on the Beloit College Mindset List. The 12th annual compilation, which offers a glimpse of the world through the eyes of each incoming college class, was released Aug. 18 by the private school of 1,350 in southern Wisconsin.
The purpose of the list is to remind professors that references familiar to them might not be well known to their students–and to help see the world through their students’ eyes.
For example, people age 30 and older knew Magic Johnson as a Los Angeles Lakers star before he went public with news that he was HIV-positive in 1991–the year most incoming freshmen were born.
"I knew Magic was HIV-positive before I even knew he was a basketball player for the Lakers," said Anthony Cornell, 18, an incoming Beloit freshman from Dallas. "In fact, I heard that even before I knew what AIDS was."
It’s among the reminders that different generations can hear the same reference and think two completely different things, said Tom McBride, an English professor at Beloit who helps compile the collection.
"This is not scientific research we’re doing here, and some of the most important research you get here is the blank stare," said Ron Nief, emeritus public affairs director and one of the creators of the list. "My favorite one [is] when you say ‘Here’s Johnny,’ and they didn’t know who Johnny Carson was."
Many incoming freshmen also aren’t familiar with the term RSVP, in part because of the generation’s adoption of informality, Nief said: "When you say, ‘make sure there’s an RSVP on that,’ there’s that blank stare."
The Class of 2013 also has never known a world without the internet, flat-screen TVs, or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, according to the list.
The European Union has always been around, Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister, the United Nations has had two Koreas, and the KGB never officially existed.
Mike Collis, starting his freshman year at Beloit this fall, was struck by No. 53: "Someone has always been asking: ‘Was Iraq worth a war?’" He was born the same year Desert Storm began.
"It makes us realize how long we’ve been in Iraq," said Collis, 18, from Chicago. "We never think about Bush [No.] 1, but Desert Storm was well into our preschool years."
Among other examples to make earlier generations feel old: actor Michael Landon, author Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Queen singer Freddie Mercury, and "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry all died before most members of the Class of ’13 were born.
McBride said some people criticize the Mindset list because it makes them feel ancient. They shouldn’t be concerned.
"It’s not that they’re getting old, it’s that the culture changes very fast," said McBride, who is 64. "People feel out of it before they need to."