With 9/11, Beloit College Mindset List takes a dark turn

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Anna Marie Lux
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BELOIT—Ron Nief and Tom McBride are known for their entertaining insights into college freshmen.

As authors of the Beloit College Mindset List, they help people understand the experiences that have shaped the worldviews of 18-year-olds.

“We try to keep it as light and witty as we can,” McBride said. “But it's hard to talk about college students these days without raising questions about larger issues.”

Readers of the annual list released Tuesday might find themselves both smiling and thinking hard about the future.

Among other things, the Class of 2018 mostly was born in 1996 and began school in September 2001.

During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they saw repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.

As adults, they face concerns about digital privacy, prescription medicine and self-identity.

Back in the day, young people hid their dirty magazines under the bed, McBride said.

Today's youth easily hide things on their electronic devices.

“They get tremendous privacy from their parents,” McBride said. “But their information is being scooped up by Google and the National Security Agency, which are mining the data.”

Youth are most affected because they are constantly online.

“They are vigilant about security matters because they don't want anyone to hack into their accounts,” McBride said. “At the same time, they know the NSA takes their data as part of a larger war against terrorism.”

This year's freshmen are also juggling prescription medicines to treat attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression and forms of mental illness, the men said.

“The old excuses for papers being late have changed,” Nief said. “Today's student is more likely to say, 'I've changed my meds, and I am having trouble focusing.'”

He has talked with educational groups around the country, who confirm that many students deal with medication issues.

The new Mindset List also raises concerns about social media.

“Is Facebook creating a narcissistic generation?” McBride asks. “Once upon a time, only celebrities and politicians could promote their images. Now on Facebook, we can be our own publicists and invent our own personalities and images. We also can manage them in a way to get instant approval.”

He wonders if young people will ever find their authentic selves or go through life with virtual identities.

“The jury is still out,” McBride said.

Nief and McBride have published the list every August since 1998. Initially, they created the list as a reminder to faculty to be wary of dated references, which students cannot understand.

Creating the list involves much research and fact checking.

“The process takes about three months,” Nief said. “We come up with 300 ideas and then whittle them down. We decide what will be most interesting to multiple generations.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


A second book by Ron Nief and Tom McBride is due out Tuesday, Sept. 2.

“The Mindset List of the Obscure: 74 Famously Forgotten Icons from A to Z” is an entertaining walk through pop culture.

The book explains why such things as slide rules, mimeograph machines and “Dragnet” are largely forgotten and what today's young people might think of them.

“Some of those wonderful icons of the mid-20th century should not be forgotten,” Nief said. “We build our lives and society on what we once were. If anyone remembers the 'Arthur Murray Party,' they know that 'Dancing with the Stars' is not new.”

Studies show that nostalgia is more than fun.

“They show that nostalgia is good for people,” Nief said. “It's good to stop and think about what once brought us joy and what once brought us together.”

The authors of the annual Beloit College Mindset List also wrote “The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think is Normal.” John Wiley and Sons published the book in 2011.

Sourcebooks published the latest book.

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