Thursday, August 19, 2010

Latest "Mindset List" Seems Terribly Out of Touch

(Click image at left or here to see the full list compiled by Beloit College)

Yesterday, when I saw a news tidbit relaying that Beloit College has just released the newest edition of its annual Mindset List--this one covering tendencies and trends for the incoming Class of 2014--I was actually, relatively speaking, quite excited.

Although I haven't seen the college mindset list every year since Beloit's Ron Nief started it in 1998, at times that I have, I remember it having some shrewd insight about generational differences and societal changes over the years. Professionally as an advertising & marketing copywriter, I need to stay abreast about the interests, motivations, activities, aversions and lingo of people considerably younger than me, and maintain awareness that what might seem like a commonplace reference to me is ancient history, or completely unknown, to them.

Personally, although I don't have kids of my own and am not often around teenagers, I like to be aware of modern trends and demographic-fueled changes in music, movies and TV. I've also long been intrigued by the societal impact--both good and bad--of advanced technology and have been saddened by stories of schoolyard killings and teen suicides--combined with less overtly tragic effects of peer pressure, bullying and ostracism--to the point of wishing I had the means and background to conduct relevant high school presentations and counseling.

If nothing else, I figured the new Mindset List should provide good fodder for a blog post and perhaps some pithy Facebook updates. So even when the few list items cited in the news story I read didn't seem all that eye-opening, I still looked forward to going to the Beloit website and reading the entire list.

But when I found the time to do so, boy was I disappointed. The 2010 edition is just, as a teen might say, totally lame. It was a chore just to read through the entire list of 75, as many of the items seemed mundane and not particularly intriguing (and those were some of the better ones).

Perhaps open the full list in a separate tab and let's take a look at some of the fascinating, mindset-defining factoids are provided by the folks in Beloit:

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis. As Mac once famously exhorted, "You can't be serious!" First off, although he technically retired in 1992--the birth year for most of the incoming class of 2014--John stopped being an elite player around 1985. Secondly, is this something that is really shaping a teenager's mindset today? There are thousands of star athletes from before their lifespan; ironically McEnroe is one that remains semi-relevant today as he is a prominent tennis announcer. Plus his legendary stature is based as much on his temper as his victories; Borg, Connors and Lendl were all more accomplished contemporaries. Similarly, #29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown. references a great athlete very relevant to a generation born at least 20 years earlier, but likely much not at all to kids today. I understand that one's mindset is somewhat shaped by what you're oblivious to (as per my last point far below), but these are rather tenuous and chronologically-deficient reference points in trying to fairly portray a sphere of knowledge for incoming freshmen.

31. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum. I know of nobody who had an Apple-branded computer at home in 1992, or until at least 1998, when the iMac came out. In 1992, Bill Gates was already the richest man in the world due to the dominance of Windows. And even if factually correct, this wasn't enough of a watershed moment in evolution of computer technology to have affected anyone's mindset.

34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always offered an alternative to the hospital. Perhaps I haven't been around enough of today's teenagers to know that this is often a topic of schoolyard conversation.

40. There have always been HIV-positive athletes in the Olympics. I imagine this references Magic Johnson playing on the '92 Dream Team; I'm not personally aware of any more recent HIV-positive Olympic athletes, but not only is the inferred comparison to the way things were only relevant to one or two previous Olympic years, but in 1988, HIV-positive Greg Louganis won two gold medals. Hence, this one seems flawed in multiple ways.

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy. Gee, I can't tell you how my mindset was affected during those formative years when the "what bridge, where?" was still the original. (Information on the bridge)

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. I get it, Nirvana isn't current anymore, but I defy the listmakers to cite one oldies station that is playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Lithium" or "All Apologies" alongside "Tracks of My Tears" and "Hot Time Summer in the City." Even funnier, on last year's list they said "Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations." Sure, because she's always been a staple on The Loop in Chicago.

While I realize that the word "Mindset" is used universally rather than in trying to surmise the likely thoughts of any one individual, it still seems unlikely that this listing actually illustrates much in the way of worldview or  perspective of new college freshman. I do like the first item on the list, for it does provide some real insight to how things have changed:

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

But even that follows the statement that For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead. Bert Parks, really? I looked up celebrity deaths of 1992 and there really weren't many big ones, but don't Isaac Asimov and especially Robert Reed (Mr. Brady) have higher Q ratings?

Throughout the list, with a few worthwhile ones, all too many observations cite things that no one ever much cared about--let alone teens--and doesn't help me better know the Millennial generation. A few more lesser examples:

42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice presidential edict. A Dan Quayle reference completely lost on anyone born in 1992.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States. I offer my deepest admiration to anyone who can name her without looking it up. (Oops, I just did and found that Louise Bogan was the first female Poet Laureate, in 1945!!!!!)

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps. Hmm, truly a tectonic cultural shift. 

58. Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog. And Shakes a good one for a clown.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church. Sorry, but it's Copernicus who rocks my world.    

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis. I can honestly say I've never know about participating Indy car manufacturers and still don't care. There are myriad better ways to convey globalism.

Instead of "College Mindset," I think the terrible 2010 list should simply be titled "Some things that happened in 1992."

I realize that in attempting to keep each year's list novel, the people who compile it likely feel a certain compunction to tie most of items directly to 1992. To include nuggets referencing the preponderance of texting and ubiquity of Facebook would not only be obvious and trite, but could apply to last year's list, next year's list, etc.

Rather than simply an amalgamation of things that didn't exist before one's birth year, I tend to think "mindset"--whether individual or collective--is primarily culled from things that occur after we develop an awareness of the world around us. Though I have no kids, I'm apt to believe that most 18-year-olds don't acutely remember or have much affinity for the way things were before Y2K, plus or minus a year or two in regards to certain things.

Yet even when the list becomes inconsistent and moves beyond 1992 milestones, it seems faulty in the timeline or relevance of certain inclusions. Like #6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High. Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out as a movie in 1992, but is largely irrelevant to almost everyone, except for sparking the popular TV series. Which ran from 1997 to 2003, making it both too late to be factual and too early to be a cultural touchstone for kids of the assumed age (yes, I know it could be watched in reruns, on DVD, etc., but am doubtful a preponderance of 18-year-olds have done so).

Similarly, I'm stupefied by 13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation. B&B stopped running on MTV in 1997 and the movie came out in '96. Were pre-schoolers really watching, as part of a lost generation no less? Besides--and I'm elated that Beavis & Butt-head have been resurrected with new episodes planned for MTV--intelligent parents and teachers should have observed that B&B were brilliantly representing teenagers disenchanted by being spoon-fed a bunch of overcommercialized crap.

I'm also personally insulted by 10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet. I entered college in 1986 and was never afraid of immigration and didn't know any classmates who were either. Besides, isn't it only "illegal" immigration that's controversial? I would think going back a few generations, an even higher percentage of children had immigrant parents.

Finally, in terms of berating the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014, I'm truly stumped by this one:

56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

Using Wikipedia, Google, YouTube and, I barely found one reference to an obscure band named Black Monday with only one EP to their credit, and no notable songs. I guarantee that no parents were complaining about them.

Speaking of complaining, I really shouldn't bitch unless I can do any better. Actually that's not true. Beloit College is a private institution charging $33,000 a year for undergraduate tuition that can dedicate a full year of research to the annual Mindset list, which gets it far more publicity than anything else (as illustrated by 850 news articles accessible through Google). I'm just one unemployed guy who was up until 3 in the morning. So even if my list isn't all that sensational in its own right, at least it points out what a better list should constitute.

Rather than 75 items, here are 20 things that in all likelihood unify the new members of the Class of 2014:

1. They don't realize that before it became a search engine, the most famous Yahoo was Serious.

2. They have likely never used a physical phone book or map.

3. They have never worried about the cost of making a long-distance phone call.

4. Most have probably never seen a baseball box score in a newspaper.

5. Seinfeld has only been consciously seen in reruns or on DVD.

6. They will never speak to an actual travel agent.

7. They probably cannot name all the members of their favorite band, let alone the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or U2

8. OJ Simpson is famous primarily for having been an alleged criminal.

9. Auctions have never ended with "Going once, Going twice...Sold!" only an online countdown.

10. They can't conceive of not knowing who's calling before picking up the phone.

11. Guitar Hero is a video game not Jimi, Eric or Eddie.

12. An encyclopedia has never sat upon a shelf in multiple volumes.

13. Quentin Tarantino is, to them, the most legendary living movie director.

14. Entertainment advice comes from friends and strangers, not professional critics.

15. Saturday morning cartoons--if ever even watched--have never included Bugs Bunny or Road Runner.

16. Many have never had to spend money for music they can listen to by choice at any time. 

17. Most have never opened a car door with a key, and many have never seen their parents do it.

18. They can't recall a world without online shopping.

19. If they know why Monica Lewinsky is famous, they probably haven't discussed it with their parents.

20. Reality shows have almost always been a regular part of their television viewing.

OK, one last thing. My guess is that most new college freshmen would be hard pressed to recognize 5 of the following 30 names. If so, I wouldn't be aghast nor hold it against them. But I am certain that I knew who all these people were prior to entering college, despite all of them becoming famous well before my lifetime, without having the luxury of the internet and to my recollection, not having learned about any of them in school classes.

Joe Louis              Bela Lugosi           Amelia Earhart
Janis Joplin           Scott Joplin           Dizzy Dean
John Wayne         Mae West              WC Fields
Jackie Gleason      George Martin        Leonard Bernstein
Orson Welles        Richard Rogers      Ginger Rogers
Lauren Bacall        Benny Goodman    Wilma Rudolph
Cary Grant           Margaret Mitchell    Vivien Leigh
Edward Hopper     Ian Fleming            Johann Sebastian Bach
Louis Armstrong   Stan Laurel            Jonas Salk
Sam Snead           Jack Benny            Frank Capra


Unknown said...

Beloit College? That's where those lists come from? The lists are more famous than the college. Your list certainly hits home harder with me!

I'm fascinated by the item about immigration. Immigration, legal or otherwise, never played big in the issue politics when I was in college, perhaps because I was in New Jersey. But how much does immigration affect Beloit, Wisconsin?

Anonymous said...

heh heh heh heh heh, you said abreast.

ej2akind said...

I agree the list was horrible. Especially the assisted living/hospice one. What?? Not being able to write in cursive was about the only interesting one. I had actually read about that recently, but someone was pointing out that their nephew couldn't read cursive either. Yikes. I've got some bad handwriting, but at least I understand the concept and can read cursive.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's a pretty campus - enough said. "Youth is wasted on the young" and "Anyone under 35 is clueless." Here's my contribution: The very idea of riding a bus or an El train without either a RED EYE in their hand or an I-phone in their ears is sacrosanct. And I always forget about those f---ing energy drinks. Like, helloooooooo, as the younger generation says, is this a subsitute for speed or WHAT. Bobster

Unknown said...

I like your list a lot.

Great job!