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John Eggers column: Who are today’s young people?

Do you ever wonder where today’s young people come from? Could this be my son, my daughter, my grandson, and my granddaughter? I don’t think so.

They must be from another planet. They talk differently, they listen to weird programs, and they play weird games. They’re constantly moving their fingers around some gadget in their hands. “What’s this world coming to?”

In order to answer these questions, it helps if we stop and think about where they have come from in terms of time. For example, this year’s incoming college freshman have only been around for about 18 years. What they know and what they do is really based on these past 18 years.

With this notion in mind, every year since 1998 Beloit College has compiled a list of observations to give to their faculty that would help them better understand who their college freshman are and what is going on in their mind.

Here is a shortened version of the list for this year: the Mindset List for the Class of 2016.

1. 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.

2. They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.

3. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”

4. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

5. Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedy’s, constitutes “American Royalty.”

6. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.

7. Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.

8. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.

9. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.

10. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

11. 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.

12. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.

13. While still fans of music on radio, they often listen to it on their laptops or replace it with music downloaded onto their MP3s and iPods.

14. Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.

15. Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.

16. The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap.

17. Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.

18. A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.

19. Women have always piloted warplanes and space shuttles.

20. White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.

21. They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.

22. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.

23. Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.

24. They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

25. There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.

26. Along with online view books, parents have always been able to check the crime stats for the colleges their kids have selected.

27. Billy Graham is as familiar to them as Otto Graham was to their parents.

28. Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

29. The folks have always been able to grab an Aleve when the kids started giving them a migraine.

30. Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.

31. They grew up, somehow, without the benefits of Romper Room.

32. L.L. Bean hunting shoes have always been known as just plain Bean Boots.

33. Ice skating competitions have always been jumping matches.

34. They have always enjoyed school and summer camp memories with a digital yearbook.

35. Herr Schindler has always had a List; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.

36. Selena’s fans have always been in mourning.

37. They know many established film stars by their voices on computer-animated blockbusters.

38. History has always had its own channel.

39. Thousands have always been gathering for “million-man” demonstrations in Washington, D.C.

40. Television and film dramas have always risked being pulled because the story line was too close to the headlines from which they were “ripped.”

41. The Twilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.

42. Robert Osborne has always been introducing Hollywood history on TCM.

43. Little Caesar has always been proclaiming “Pizza Pizza.”

44. They watch television everywhere but on a television.

45. Pulp Fiction’s meal of a “Royale with Cheese” and an “Amos and Andy milkshake” has little or no resonance with them.

46. Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

47. Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.

48. Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.

49. Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.

50. Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.

51. The Sistine Chapel ceiling has always been brighter and cleaner.

Although the mindset of today’s young people does seem foreign to us older folks, they are no different than how we appeared to the older folks around us in our earlier days. What do you suppose they called us? I bet many of them doubted that we would ever make anything of ourselves.

Remember the controversy surrounding rock and roll in the 50’s and 60’s? Remember “duck tails” and Vaseline hair tonic, which probably could have been a good substitute for gasoline. And, girls with their tight sweaters and tight skirts. “What is this world coming to?”

In spite of how different young people seem, I have to admit that they are a smart bunch. They really have to be to solve our very complex problems. It’s hard to believe but some of them will see the 22nd century. What will they say about young people in the year 2100?

I have a feeling it will be something like “What’s this world coming to?”


JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.