Remember when suitcases had to be carried instead of rolled? Or when an airline ticket was a booklet of pages separated by carbon paper? Maybe you remember when Lou Gehrig held the Major League record for consecutive baseball games played.
This year’s college freshmen don’t.
They never lived in a world where Kurt Cobain was alive or an NFL team played its home games in Los Angeles. The Class of 2016 has no need for radios, watches television everywhere except on actual TV sets and is addicted to “electronic narcotics.”
These are among the 75 references on this year’s Beloit College Mindset List, a nonscientific compilation is meant to remind teachers that college freshmen, born mostly in 1994, see the world in a much different way.
The students are also accustomed to seeing women in position of leadership. They came of age at a time when Madeleine Albright was serving as the first female U.S. secretary of state, and women have held the position for most of their lives.
And the old Hollywood stereotype of ditzy blonde women has given way to one of “dumb and dumber males,” according to the list.
“In general, there was always the complaint that it was too slow for women to get to positions of responsibility,” said Ron Nief, one of the two Beloit College officials who compiles the list. “Now the question is, ‘What took so long?'”
The compilation, released Tuesday, has been assembled every year since 1998 by Nief and Tom McBride, from the private school in southeastern Wisconsin. Over the years it has evolved into a national phenomenon, a cultural touchstone that entertains even as it makes people wonder where the years have gone.
The lists have begun attracting attention from government agencies, athletic organizations and other groups that want to know how the younger generation thinks. Nief and McBride will be sharing their insights with employees of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in October.
The new generation gets a lot of its news from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” But if they miss an episode, they can always get instant news from YouTube (No. 5 on the list).
Here are some other items to make you feel old: These teens weren’t born when “Pulp Fiction” came out. Instead of asking who shot J.R., they wanted to know who shot Montgomery Burns. And to them, “Twilight Zone” is about vampires, not Rod Serling.
Thorin Blitz, 18, disagreed with that last item. He said it’s 13-year-old girls who watch “Twilight.”
“I’ve seen quite a few ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes,” said the incoming freshman from Charleston, Ill. “Most of us know what that is.”
Blitz’s comment reflects a common criticism of previous lists. Some teens were insulted by the insinuation that they had no knowledge of events that happened before they were born, as if they had never studied history. So Nief and McBride have softened the tone, replacing “They don’t know about…” with “They never experienced…”
The theme of last year’s list was how wired the incoming class was. This year’s class includes students who might be bitter at the previous generation, Nief said. While their elders went to college in good times and had jobs waiting for them, these students grew up watching their parents worry about unemployment and foreclosures.
That sentiment was captured in item No. 16, which notes unemployment has risen 2 percentage points in their lifetimes.
But they also live in an era of potential. Gene therapy has always been available, and they don’t waste time with outdated technologies like radios and point-and-shoot cameras.
They’re also less likely to identify with a specific religion. As item No. 3 notes, biblical terms such as “forbidden fruit,” ”the writing on the wall” and “good Samaritan” are unknown to most of them.
“When I teach Shakespeare or Milton there are a lot of biblical allusions,” said McBride, an English professor, “and I have to explain them all.”