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MILWAUKEE — For students entering college this fall, e-mail is too slow, phones have never had cords and the computers they played with as kids are now in museums.
The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to "go ahead, make my day." Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.
These are among the 75 items on this year's Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.
The list is meant to remind teachers that cultural references familiar to them might draw blank stares from college freshmen born mostly in 1992.
Of course, it can also have the unintended consequence of making people feel old.
Remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news? These kids don't.
Ever worry about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.? During these students' lives, Russians and Americans have always been living together in outer space.
Being aware of the generation gap helps professors craft lesson plans that are more meaningful, said Ron Nief, a former public affairs director at Beloit College and one of the list's creators.
Nief and English professor Tom McBride have assembled the Mindset List for 13 years. They say it's given them an unusual perspective on cultural shifts.
For example, as item No. 13 on the list says, "Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation."
With far edgier content available today, such as "South Park" or online videos that push the envelope, there's something quaint about recalling the hand-wringing that the MTV cartoon prompted, Nief said.
"I think we do that with every generation – we look back and say, what were we getting so upset about?" he said. "A, kids outgrow it and B, in retrospect we realize it really wasn't that bad."
Another Mindset List item reflects a possible shift in Hollywood attitudes. Item No. 12 notes: "Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry."
A number of incoming freshmen said they partially agreed with the item, noting they were familiar with Eastwood's work as an actor even if they hadn't seen his films.
"I know he directed movies but I also know he's supposed to be sort of bad-ass," said Aaron Ziontz, 18, from Seattle.
Jessica Peck, a 17-year-old from Portland, Ore., disagreed with two items on the list – one that says few students know how to write in cursive, and another that suggests this generation seldom if ever uses snail mail.
"Snail mail's kind of fun. When I have time I like writing letters to friends and family," she said. "It's just a bit more personal. And yes, I write in cursive."
Peck did agree with the item pointing out that most teens have never used telephones with cords.
"Yes, I've used them but only at my grandparents' house," she said.
That's the sort of comment that can make a person feel old. McBride jokes that he's not immune from feeling ancient just because he compiles the items. But the 65-year-old said the lists can also reveal a larger truth about tolerance.
The "Beavis and Butt-head" item suggests that maybe parents shouldn't overreact every time a controversy arises, he noted. For example, maybe it's no big deal if college freshmen misspell words when they text, and maybe their attention spans will be just fine even though they grew up in the Internet age, he said.
"There's something about the resilience of human nature that renders these gloom-and-doom prophesies moot after a while," he said. "I can't say for sure, but it looks like the track record of these very anxious prophets has not been impressive over the years."
Most students entering college for the first time this fall - members of the Class of 2014 - were born in 1992. For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Burt Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.
1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
2. E-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
3. "Go west, young college grad," has always implied "and don't stop until you get to Asia and learn Chinese along the way."
4. Al Gore has always been animated.
5. Los Angelinos have always been trying to get along.
6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other bloodsuckers at Hemery High.
7. "Caramel macchiato" and "venti half-cafvanilla latte" have always been street corner lingo.
8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.
9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus's folks on Parents' Weekend.
10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.
11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.
12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.
14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.
15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.
16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.
17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.
18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.
21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.
22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.
23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.
24. "Cop Killer" by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.
25. Jay Leno and David Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.
26. Unless they found one in their grandparents' closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.
27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.
28. They've never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.
29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.
30. "Viewer Discretion" has always been an available warning on TV shows.
31. The first computer they probably touched was an Apple II; it is now in a museum.
32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.
33. Secondhand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
34. "Assisted Living" has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always been an alternative to hospitals.
35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.
36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.
37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an "AnnusHorribilis."
38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
39. Pizza jockeys from Domino's have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.
40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.
41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.
42. Potato has always ended in an "e" in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.
43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.
44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.
45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.
46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.
47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.
48. Someone has always gotten married in space.
49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.
50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.
51. Food has always been irradiated.
52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.
53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn't he?
54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.
55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.
56. They may have assumed that parents' complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.
57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife.
58. Beethoven has always been a dog.
59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola's new Tab Clear, it was gone.
60. Wal-Mart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.
61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies' withholding tax, or else.
62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.
63. Their parents' favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.
64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.
65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.
66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.
67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.
68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.
69. The Post Office has always been going broke.
70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.
71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.
72. One way or another, "It's the economy, stupid" and always has been.
73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.
74. They've always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi Channel.
75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.
Beloit College Mindset List: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.