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Mindset List

September 12, 2012

I received many comments about last week’s topic: cell phones. None were in favor of the ubiquitous habit of private half-conversations held in public. However, I know the practice is not universally abhorred.

First, it happens a lot. Second, there is the argument that we are all connected at the hip, so get used to it.

The true realization that we are all connected in ways we can’t fathom would be marvelous for the earth if it suffused the population. We might have less public rudeness plus a host of other benefits.

There are several facets to the cell phone “problem,” and one of them is simply change. A fun window on this change is the Mindset List for each year’s entering freshman class, compiled each year since 1998 by two professors at Beloit College.

You can find the lists online, and last year the professors also published a book, “The Mindset lists of American history : from typewriters to text messages, what ten generations of Americans think is normal.”

Some of the change seems obvious, except that many things fly beneath our radars, and we don’t consider them. The components of our respective worlds are in continual flux. Consider this for the Class of 2016:

“For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon, and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.”

The pop-cultural touchstones are different: “Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.”

Some of these touchstones reveal interesting cultural change: “On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.”

Related to that: “For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.” And “Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.”

Some of the mindset points have to do with technology. For the Class of 2016, “they have never seen an airplane ‘ticket’.” The word “ticket” is essentially anachronism. And yet many passengers are still a bit uncomfortable heading to the airport without a sturdy ticket in hand, as disconcerting as forgetting your travelers checks.

Related to that: “They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.” OK, some of these mindset points exaggerate a bit, but really, wheels are so obvious that one wonders what took so long. One feels a kind of reverse exasperation about change, a retrospective impatience.

Here’s an interesting one: “A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.” Perhaps this is one reason our world is creeping louder and louder. More people can’t hear well.

It’s not just old Baby Boomer rockers, World War II vets, and machine operators. This hearing loss in younger generations warrants more study, but an obvious place to start is the practice of living life with earbuds delivering one’s personal theme music at high volume.

I know the volume is high, because I can often hear the music ten feet away. And my own hearing is not especially acute. We regularly ask young people to turn down their “headphones” in the library. I can’t imagine life between those earbuds.

The list of 75 points is fun, and the changes are instructive. But in the end, time is really an illusion. There is really only now, from which we take our next step. Stepping becomes a skill.


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