When I went to college, Beverly Hills 90210 was all the rage, and we decorated our rooms with tapestries and Absolut Vodka ads. But things change. Now, Beloit College has released its “2019 Mindset List,” the college’s annual rundown on the cultural zeitgeist of the incoming freshman class, to let us know exactly how much today’s 18-year-olds differ from our own teenage selves.
Each year, a professor of English and an administrator at Beloit compile the list, noting what year the students were born and listing all the things they have no firsthand knowledge of. This year’s class, born in 1997, has never known a world with Princess Diana in it, for example.
The gulf between our culture and our teenagers’ culture can be a little surprising: My husband, who teaches freshmen in college, handed out blank envelopes to his students so he could mail home their final exams. No one in the class knew how to self-address the envelopes.
Here are a few things the Beloit list notes about the class of 2019: They don’t know a world without The Lion King. They think email is formal communication and texting is informal; they’ve never licked a postage stamp. They may not know what Amoco used to sell, that Hong Kong has not always been under Chinese rule, that newspapers used to be printed in black and white.
I’ve kept my own list of things that today’s young people don’t understand or won’t experience in college that I did:
1. Racing across campus to drop a paper in a box at the professor’s office by midnight on the due date
2. Checking-out out the reserved resources at the library
3. Worrying whether or not the midriff shirt was too high and the boot-cut jeans too low
4. Adjusting the TV antenna to get a better signal in the common room
5. Taking class notes by hand
6. Looking up the number of the pizza place in the yellow pages
7. Ordering pizza, on the phone, totally stoned
8. Using a card catalogue in the library
9. Driving to and from school using a paper map
10. Changing a typewriter ribbon
11. Using a phone card or making a collect call
12. Filling out a withdrawal slip at the bank to get your spending money
13. Communicating with a classmate by writing on the whiteboard on her dorm room door
Inevitably, the culture changes, and certain things are lost. We didn’t go to college in a world with chaperones at mixers, and our kids won’t write their papers on one of those boxy old Macintosh computers. But I can’t believe they won’t be watching 90210 with their freshman dorm mates and writing letters home, even in their wildest dreams.