'The sharing generation': 2017 Beloit College Mindset List released

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Anna Marie Lux
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

BELOIT--Want to borrow something?

Ask a member of this year's college freshman class. The students don't mind sharing books, notes or computers.

Want to know about them?

No problem. They are happy to talk about themselves, maybe more than you want to hear.

In fact, the just-released Mindset List of Beloit College calls the class of 2017 “the sharing generation” because they share everything from personal possessions to personal information.

“It wouldn't surprise me if they call this generation 'the sharers,'” said Tom McBride, Beloit College English professor and one of the creators of the annual list.

Every August since 1998, the college has released the popular summary to offer insight into new freshman students.

One thing is certain: They know each other, even though they have never met.

“They share an enormous amount of information about themselves on Facebook,” McBride said. “They will share everything and anything. In previous generations, the idea of sharing too much about yourself was considered taboo. You kept your innermost feelings and secrets to yourself.”

Not these students.

They love to chat, even though it seldom involves talking.

“It is easy to say things on email that we wouldn't say face to face,” McBride said. “I think they are a more informal generation. They care less about privacy than many of us who are older … They have grown up with a different norm. They share the smallest details of their lives.”

McBride and Beloit's former public affairs director Ron Nief spent all year gathering information to come up with the revealing list.

Nief read every kind of media--from Rolling Stone to the Wall Street Journal published in 1995--to learn about the year most of the freshmen students were born. McBride studied trends and interpreted information.

Together, they came up with 300 to 350 items, which they think identify the generation.

“I estimate a third of this year's list has something to do with technology,” Nief said. “Technology affects every aspect of this generation's life.”

The young people are digital experts whose rites of passage have more to do with having their own cellphones and Skype accounts than with getting driver's licenses and cars. Their favorite feature films always have been largely, if not totally, computer generated. In addition, they have always been able to plug into USB ports.

“A lot of time in the classroom is spent on how to deal with the tremendous amount of information available and how to convert it into knowledge,” Nief said. “This generation really believes in technology. If they find answers online, they will believe them. The challenge is to get them to question them occasionally.”

Members of the freshman class slept peacefully in their cribs as the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber did their deadly deeds. They have never attended a concert in a smoke-filled arena. In addition, they think that GM means food that has been genetically modified.

McBride and Nief believe the mindset list is a way to start conversations.

“This is a great opportunity to share ideas around the breakfast or dinner table so we can understand each other, especially as more generations are living together,” Nief said.

Both men have been involved with the list since it began. Nief is retired, and McBride is nearing retirement after more than 40 years at the college. The cultural timekeepers have no plans to give up compiling the list anytime soon.

“We will do it as long as we can,” McBride said. “We are very busy with it and have a second book coming out, with more in the wings.”

“The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think is Normal” looks at 10 generations to examine the worldview of 18-year-olds since about 1880. Wiley and Son published the book in 2011.

“We also are very busy with speaking engagements,” McBride said.

Each year, they talk across the country to educational, library and professional groups. Scientists at NASA were among their audiences last year.

“Working with the project has gotten me thinking about the future and has helped me come to terms with my own increasing irrelevance,” McBride said. “I'm bullish on this new generation. They are smart. They are technologically adept. And they believe in themselves. So why shouldn't I?”


For freshman college students born in 1995, Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.

Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents' weekend.

They are the sharing generation, having shown tendencies to share everything, including possessions, no matter how personal.

GM means food that is genetically modified.

As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.

“Dude” has never had a negative tone.

As their parents held them as infants, they may have wondered whether it was the baby or Windows 95 that had them more excited.

As kids, they might well have seen “Chicken Run” but probably never got chicken pox.

Having a chat has seldom involved talking.

Gaga has never been baby talk.

They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.

They have known only two presidents.

Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents' screens grow ever larger.

PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend online.

Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cellphone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver's license and car.

The U.S. has always been trying to figure out which side to back in Middle East conflicts.

A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.

Threatening to shut down the government during federal budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic.

Growing up with the family dog, one of them has worn an electronic collar, while the other has toted an electronic lifeline.

Plasma has never been just a bodily fluid.

The Pentagon and Congress have always been shocked, absolutely shocked, by reports of sexual harassment and assault in the military.

Spray paint has never been legally sold in Chicago.

Captain Janeway has always taken the USS Voyager where no woman or man has ever gone before.

While they've grown up with a World Trade Organization, they have never known an Interstate Commerce Commission.

Courts have always been ordering computer network wiretaps.

Planes have never landed at Stapleton Airport in Denver.

Jurassic Park has always had rides and snack bars, not free-range triceratops and velociraptors.

Thanks to Megan's Law and Amber Alerts, parents have always had community support in keeping children safe.

With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address.

Java has never been just a cup of coffee.

Americans and Russians have always cooperated better in orbit than on Earth.

Olympic fever has always erupted every two years.

Their parents have always bemoaned the passing of precocious little Calvin and sarcastic stuffy Hobbes.

In their first 18 years, they have watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriquez.

Yahoo has always been looking over its shoulder for the rise of “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.”

Congress has always been burdened by the requirement that they comply with the anti-discrimination and safety laws they passed for everybody else to follow.

The U.S. has always imposed economic sanctions against Iran.

“The Celestine Prophecy” has always been bringing forth a new age of spiritual insights.”

Smokers in California have always been searching for their special areas, which have been harder to find each year.

They aren't surprised to learn that the position of Top Spook at the CIA is an equal opportunity post.

They have never attended a concert in a smoke-filled arena.

As they slept safely in their cribs, the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber were doing their deadly work.

There has never been a national maximum speed on U.S. highways.

Don Shula has always been a fine steak house.

Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated.

They have never really needed to go to their friend's house so they could study together.

They have never seen the Bruins at Boston Garden, the Trailblazers at Memorial Coliseum, the Supersonics in Key Arena or the Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum.

Dayton, Ohio, has always been critical to international peace accords.

Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic universe.

They may have been introduced to video games with a new Sony PlayStation left in their cribs by their moms.

A Wiki has always been a cooperative web application rather than a shuttle bus in Hawaii.

The Canadian Football League Stallions have always sung “Alouette” in Montreal after bidding adieu to Baltimore.

They have always been able to plug into USB ports.

Olestra has always had consumers worried about side effects.

Washington, D.C., tour buses have never been able to drive in front of the White House.

Being selected by Oprah's Book Club has always read “success.”

There has never been a Barings Bank in England.

Their parents' car CD player is sooooo ancient and embarrassing.

New York's Times Square has always had a splash of the Magic Kingdom in it.

Bill Mayer has always been politically incorrect.

They have always known that there are “five hundred and twenty five thousands, six hundred minutes in a year.”

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.

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