Inside The Minds Of This Year's College Freshmen

They grew up with screens and USB ports, and never knew a world without GPS. Beloit College publishes its annual list of the cultural wisdom of today's college freshmen.

The freshly minted high school graduates entering college this fall were born the same year as Windows '95. They have never known a world without GPS, JavaScript, or the "news crawl" at the bottom of a TV screen. And as their parents purchased ever-larger plasma TVs, they prefer to watch ever-shorter videos (think 6 seconds) on ever-smaller screens.

The following observations, calculated to make you and me feel old, come from the Beloit Mindset List, an annual compilation of cultural markers and signifiers from Beloit College, a well-regarded liberal arts school in Wisconsin. Originally the list was intended to help faculty update their cultural references in lectures for the benefit of freshmen who had never heard of the Brat Pack, let alone the Rat Pack. The list has become a runaway success, spawning a book and this year, a backlash, with a blog by disgruntled anonymous professors calling it "a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors."

That may be, but it's also pretty fun to read, and a record of the inexorable forward march of technology. Consider the following:

  • Today's freshmen didn't dream of getting their drivers' licenses--driving is down around 15% among teens. Instead they coveted their own cell phones, which they're getting at younger and younger ages--85% of those aged 14 to 17, 69% of 11-14-year-olds, and even 31% of kids aged 8-10 already have their own phone.
  • They never knew a world without wikis (conceived in 1994), eBay (founded in 1995), PayPal (founded in 1998), or chat rooms (AOL's chat rooms dominated the nation by the late '90s).
  • They've grown up in a state with more security than privacy; courts have been ordering network wiretaps their whole lives.
  • They've always had Sony PlayStations and USB ports.
  • And in their lifetime, Times Square has always been Disneyfied, and AIDS has been something depicted in the musical Rent.

[Image: Flickr user Victor1558]

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