Annual list highlights cultural chasm between scholars and students

They are the internet generation that only remember the presidency of one George Bush and consider dial-up internet “sooooooo last century”.

August 24, 2011

To help academics tune in to the cultural references of students entering higher education at the age of 18 this year, Beloit College in the US has published its annual Mindset List.

The list was created in 1998 by Ron Nief, then director of public affairs, and Tom McBride, Keefer professor of the humanities, to remind faculty not to use dated references that will go over the heads of their youthful students.

Since then, the pair have released an updated list every August revealing an insight into the minds of incoming students.

The internet looms large on this year’s list, and Mr Nief and Professor McBride note that this is the first generation to “take the word ‘online’ for granted.”

“Everything from parents analyzing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the internet,” they write.

This year’s list reminds academics that for these students, most of whom will have been born in 1992 or 1993, “Amazon has never been just a river in South America” and music “has always been available via free downloads”.

It also states that incoming students are more likely to associate the term “PC” with the idea of a personal computer, rather than the term “political correctness”.

In sports, Mr Nief and Professor McBride use the example of basketball to show how times have changed: “They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe,” they say, “Michael Who?” For those in the UK for whom this is a cultural reference too far, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are basketball stars who replaced Michael Jordan as the top names in the game.

The list adds that today’s students are more likely to associate “LBJ” with Miami Heat basketballer LeBron James than US president Lyndon B. Johnson.

Incoming students could very well be the children of Ferris Bueller, star of the 1986 ‘slacker’ film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, say the authors, and have always lived in a world where wrestler and actor Andre the Giant, teen film star River Phoenix and rock star Frank Zappa have been dead.

And although the internet may have caused some to fret about young people’s “alleged deficits of empathy and concentration”, the Mindset List says that on a more positive note, quoting from the film Forrest Gump, for the class of 2015, “life has always been like a box of chocolates”.

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