The Mindset List is a guide published annually by Beloit College that attempts to illuminate the inner workings and outward behaviors of young people. It has become the tool of choice for professors across the country as they prepare to greet, understand, and educate each new crop of college freshmen. The Mindset List takes a mostly humorous approach to its observations of youth culture. This yea’s list, for instance, states that if the class of 2016 “miss(es) The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube,” and that for this generation “there have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.”
But the list also points to more important differences between the generations. The list reminds us that this generation has “always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics,” and that’s due, perhaps, to the ubiquity of headphones, freshmen are not ignoring their professors, but instead are “center(ing) college already displaying some hearing loss.”
When I first read the list, I chuckled dismissively. It was a mostly tongue-in-cheek catalog of amusing cultural differences between the class of 2016 and their parents, professors, and employers. But a second look reminded me that these funny little gaps, together, make up the big one that has always existed between the incumbent generation of adults and their would-be successors. The kind of gap that leaves us wondering “what’s the matter with kids today?” Kids who send an average of 80 text messages per person per day? Kids who have never used an encyclopedia and don’t know how to use a map? Surely they will suffer, fail, go to hell in a hand basket?
And as we shake our heads at them, they shake their heads at us.
As I reviewed the list a second time, though, I began to understand why it’s become such a popular tool for professors, parents, and employers. It’s a reminder that what happens to the current generation won’t likely be much different from what happened to ours. There will be obstacles, hazards, tragedies, new ways of getting into trouble. There will be innovations, victories, and celebrations. There will be mutual misunderstanding and head shaking.
But in the end, the list reminds us, things will mostly balance out, as they have for time immemorial. In the end, the list reminds us, the kids will be alright.