For them, Ralph Nader has always been running for president of the United States.
Hard liquor has always been advertised on TV.
“The Daily Show” with John Stewart is their preferred source of news.
Fox News and MSNBC has always been locked in a struggle for the hearts and minds of Americans.
Hong Kong has always been part of China.
Ads for prescription drugs, noting their jaw-dropping side effects, have always flooded the airwaves.
Thanks to digital technologies, they have never had to hide their dirty magazines under the bed.
“Good feedback” means getting a bunch of likes on their Facebook page.
Since Toys R Us created a toy registry for kids, a visit to Santa is a mere formality.
Say hello to this year’s incoming college freshman class, born in 1996, scheduled to graduate in 2018.
Or so say Ron Nief and Tom McBride of Beloit College in Wisconsin. They call it the Mindset List and have been busy compiling and publishing it since 2003.
And while it’s good for a few laughs, the authors claim it has a serious side as well.
“There are always some serious issues about the future of the class and their role in the future of the nation,” noted Nief and McBride. “The digital technology that affords them privacy from their parents robs them of their privacy amid the “big data” of the NSA and Google.
“How will the absence of instant online approval impact their performance in the classroom and work-place?”
“This generation is able to do what, once upon a time, only celebrities could do: advertise their self-designed personalities. Will that keep them from ever finding their authentic selves, or will they go through life with a ‘virtual’ identity?”
Navel-gazing material, indeed.
Not to be outdone, a survey on the BuzzFeed website gives a once-over-lightly look at kids who are entering high school this year. Its findings:
If you say, “You sound like a broken record,” chances are they won’t understand you.
Some of them were born the same year the first Apple stores opened.
They’ve always had GPS and have never had to look up directions and print them out.
“Roll down your window” has no meaning. Neither does “don’t touch that dial.”
They’ve never had to untangle a phone cord or straighten an antenna for TV reception.
Enough already. Despite the authors’ attempts to attach some gravitas to their work, what we have here is fluff, a kind of journalistic catnip which attracts frenzied media attention but tells us nothing.
Is a high school student without a GPS system doomed to wander lost for days on end?
Does a college student can’t remember when Hong Kong wasn’t a part of China remain ignorant of international politics?
Do kids who watch John Stewart become brainwashed into becoming unrepentant liberals?
We don’t know, of course, because there is no analysis attached to the factoids herein.
The real result of all this — intended or not — is to make older people (like me) feel like time is spinning out of control, that nostalgia is remembering what happened in the last week, not the last century.
Do we care? Sure we do. Because it puts artificial distance between our children and ourselves. That’s too bad, there is a lot to share.
For another, these surveys presume that the collective wisdom of young kids is confined to the time they have spent of the planet, that they have been untouched by history even though they were exposed to it every step of their educational way.
This, of course, is bunk. I never pushed a plow, fired a musket or made my own candles but, thanks to history, I know it was a fact of life in Colonial times.
I suspect these kids do, too. After all they’re going to college.
I have an old-fashioned solution to understanding the young and their life experiences: talk to them. I hear it’s extremely enlightening.