Everything Was New Once

December 2, 2013, 9:04 pm

A random tweet

led to a snarky response on my part:

I decided to go back and look at the Beloit mindset list from its early days. For those who don’t know, Beloit College published a “College Mindset List” for its entering class. They explain it this way:

What started as a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues “beware of hardening of the references,” has turned into a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness. It is requested by thousands of readers, reprinted in hundreds of print and electronic publications, and used for a wide variety of purposes. It has caught the imagination of the public and has drawn responses from around the world, including more than a million visitors to the website annually.

From the 2017 list:

1. Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.
2. They are the sharing generation, having shown tendencies to share everything, including possessions, no matter how personal.
3. GM means food that is Genetically Modified.
4. As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
5. “Dude” has never had a negative tone.

This is normally when middle-aged (and older) people realize that they are, in fact, middle-aged (and older), and send grumpy messages to their middle-aged (and older) friends and family about how this current generation is so terribly young and out-of-touch.

But I thought it would be interested to go in reverse and see what the first list looked like. Published in 1998, it was for the Beloit class of 2002. Fifteen years ago, the up-to-dateness already looks distinctly ancient. Some selected excerpts:

“3. They were prepubescent when the Persian Gulf War was waged.”

“4. Black Monday 1987 is as significant to them as the Great Depression.”

“9. Their lifetime has always included AIDS.”

“19. The compact disc was introduced when they were one year old.”

“21. They have always had an answering machine.”

“23. They have always had cable.”

“26. They were born the year Walkmen were introduced by Sony.”

“43. There has always been MTV, and it has always included non-musical shows”

Just as we have visions of the present now so too did the past have views of the present then, ones may seem somewhat, but were just as present for our past selves as what we think. In fact, given that most folks don’t constantly adjust to the new wave of modernity rushing through their lives, our “present” is a curious amalgam of things past and up-to-date. We use smartphones to listen to “80s favorites” (or 70s or 60s etc). The 1960s is long in the past, perceptually, but most of the passenger airliners we fly were designed then. We pick things up as we go along, and they remain part of the present for us for much longer than they do the rest of the world. The personal present is the accreted collection of past collective presents, acquired along the way – consciously and not – from childhood to grave. That mosaic, writ over millions of peoples into a collective perception, suggests that events and items don’t truly stop being the “present” and become “history” until the generations that experienced them directly passes from the scene. A war, to take one example, remains an active part of culture until long after its end date. The examples are too obvious: Vietnam and World War II are still ongoing presences in American cultural discourse and will be for some time.

It may be AD 2013, but for most people, I think, it is many other years as well.

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