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An oldie but a goodie

This happens every year: Beloit College issues this heads-up to their staff, to try and remind them of the mind set of the incoming college year. Here's what the fresh graduates of 2013 know about the world ...

(Feeling old, now.)



I hope no professor uses this list, since the 2002 (my class) list stated: "They are too young to remember the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up." Which we watched live in school, and it was highly traumatic.

And also, "Star Wars looks very fake to them, and the special effects are pathetic." Was, and still, not true. But entertaining!


Since I've achieved dinosaurity, I no longer worry about such lists. (Hanging out with undergrads helps, too.)


Challenger was in 1986; you started college in 2002 and remember (and were in school for) something that happened in 1986? huh?


"Blue Jello" ?, that one is weird. I feel like an antique.


What's Jello, blue or otherwise?

(Yours from another land mass ...)


Challenger 1986

Columbia 2003


Jell-O is a fruit-flavoured gelatin dessert. The brand is also used for pudding and related products.

More here:

Also, that bit about CDs not being sold in cardboard packaging is false. I see quite a few low-end CDs packaged in cardboard these days. Plastic is still more common, though.


luis @ 3: Mr. Clock undoubtedly means that his class graduated in 2002, so that most of them would have been about 6 in 1986. (Just as the new Beloit list is for the incoming freshman of this year, who are the "class of 2013" ...)


So what we're to understand from this is that Beloit College is a remedial-education instution aimed at students with neurological defects that cause them to believe statements like "The European Union has always existed." Kind of like people who can't remember faces, or who disbelieve in the existence of people not currently in the room. One imagines Oliver Sacks writing a book about the interestingly-impaired student body of Beloit College.


After 5 minutes head scratching before I realised that the 'Class of 2013', means the kids that graduate in 2013 I don't feel too old at all, (I'd be class of 2003 I think, born 1980 anyway). Mind you, The first CDs I ever saw were in the standard jewel case, it's only either freebies or expensive CDs that come in cardboard. (dunno if it's just a uk thing, but the premium version of an album often comes in a cardboard or other non-standard sleeve).

(just read the list for people born in 1980, about half wrong for me.)


Patrick @9: Statements like "The European Union has always existed" have an implied "in their lifetime" context. They've never lived in a world where the European Union hasn't existed. It's a list for us oldies (well, I feel old after reading that list!) to see just how the world these kids grew up in was different to the world we grew up in.


I think something to the effect of "Super Mario has always been more popular Mickey Mouse." might fit. That one really hits home for me.


I wasn't aware that Elizabeth Taylor was into cheap cider. And I'm nearly a thousand years old.


Hmm, a rather shallow list I would say. Mostly focused on pop-culture TV and random celebrities. It really does not discuss the mindset in conceptual terms at all. What is a professor supposed to do with this, use it as talking points or fodder for bad jokes in class?

I think they need to write a list that is a lot scarier. Not in the sense that it says "bad" things about the class of 2013, but rather makes them a lot more alien. The next generations are going to be a lot more different than just variations in pop culture icons and the medium of our media. I was born in '87, and I can already see how differently I think than kids born just a few years later. I am far more comfortable being disconnected from the network (only temporarily please, I needs my networks!) for example.

One of the largest changes in mindset that I have noticed is a sharp increase in pessimism about the state of the world. So many college students now think that humanity is the most evil thing on the planet and that we are all going to be extinct soon (some say as soon as 2012, but that's ridiculous). Few take the time to see how much has improved in the last 2,000 years or more since they are constantly being reminded of what's happening RIGHT NOW. If there isn't anything bad happening in one place, they will know about something bad happening somewhere else. And if something good is happening, it isn't news!

Luckily this pessimism drives people to be more proactive about changing and improving the state of things, but I feel like the pessimism often creates inefficient efforts (the student body demands recyclable cups!) while optimism can create a longer view with grander goals and efforts (the student body designs a water treatment system that is cheap and easily manufactured).


Actually, I liked the list. Beloit's definitely not a remedial education institution, but rather one of the classic midwestern liberal arts colleges, born from the tradition that a good education is key to progress (it's in the state that gave rise to american progressivism, as well as McCartyhism).

However, the teachers always need remediation. The Ivory Tower is always a bit of a bubble, and lists like this help remind professors what they're students haven't been exposed to. It helps questions starting with "Do you remember how it felt when blah blah blah" connect with the students.

As an example not on the list, in the '90s, we started teaching cladistics to freshman biology students, along with PCR, and students struggled with the new concepts. By around 2001-2002, some of them started getting bored, because they had already had it in high school biology. Unfortunately, not everyone had seen the material in high school, so there was a generation gap not only between teachers and students, but between those students who had gone to good schools and those who had not.

I'm sure this isn't news to anyone who got a computer science degree, but it was interesting to see how biology is entering the speed warp too.


Mattan: okay, here goes:

  • The Apollo program ended before they were born.

  • The USSR collapsed before they were born.

  • The only presidents of the USA that they clearly remember are: Barack H. Obama and George W. Bush. They might remember some shouting about the Secretary of State's husband, but they were pre-teens at the time and their parents probably didn't tell them what it was all about. If British, the only government they remember is New Labour (the Tories were voted out before they turned 9).

  • They don't remember life before the world wide web (their parents probably got online when these kids were 2-5 years old, in 1993-97).

  • They don't remember vinyl records or cassette tapes.

  • They don't remember life before mobile phones. (My generation got their first wrist watches and pocket calculators, aged 8-13. These kids probably got their first cellphones and laptops at that age range. If not earlier.)

  • The Vietnam war (or, if British, the Falklands war) occupies the same cognitive niche with these kids that the Second World War occupies with my contemporaries, i.e. we were born 10-20 years after it ended and our parents generation keep droning on about it.

  • There have never been fewer than 8 channels of TV available, and TVs have always had wide screens and stereo sound.

  • They've always known that they'd never be able to afford to buy a house, or not able to afford a cheap laptop. (Compare with Agatha Christie: "I never imagined that I would be rich enough to own a motor car or so poor I could not afford a servant".)


So is Lime Jello still the canonical ingredient for filling swimming pools, or am I even older than I thought?


@ 5 and 7

We'd call it jelly in the UK - but I've never seen blue jelly.

I've seen frequent reference to Jell-O in US Science Fiction and the context always made it clear. Were you just winding them up, Charlie?


Just thinking about one of the weirdest things that hasn't made it onto the list:

--and increasing number have little or no memorization skill. They don't know a foreign language fluently, don't play music from memory, and they have little practice memorizing terms for a test.

--They've never lived in a surveillance free state. Being watched by a camera is normal to them.

--For the most part, they've never carried a knife, except in scouts (when camping, or in similar specialized activities including martial arts), or if they were in a gang. Many of them don't know how to use one for anything other than cooking. Nor do they know how to use matches, unless they smoke.

--For most, nature is a scary, off-limits place. They mostly have no experience hunting, fishing, or hiking, and when they've been in parks, they've followed the "stay on the path" rules.

I was just thinking about the state of US middle and high schools when I visited them. I had to make sure my multitool was in the car before I walked through the metal detector, and this in the Midwest. My mom gave me my first pocket knife when I was 10, and I've carried one ever since.

I also remember running around in the woods from about the same time on, unsupervised. More recently, I've never seen an unsupervised child younger than mid-teens on the trails. Mostly, I see them in soccer or baseball practice.

The sad one to me was the increasing number of students who hit college biology without ever having to memorize a list of terms. They suffered horribly, because the teachers were depending on them to have developed this skill. While we can debate the merits of having your memory online vs. in your skull, the underlying fact is that memory skills need to be trained and practiced, and they're getting much less attention than they used to.

These kids within a different set of walls than I did.


I see an interesting generation gap in both the phrasing and the responses to the "CDs in cardboard" statement. The younger generation is assuming it means the chic cleverly designed cardboard packages, but I don't think that's what the statement meant.

I think that what the authors intended is something more like "CDs have always been sold directly in jewel cases, not as jewel cases repackaged into bulky cardboard boxes". Remember when all jewel-cased CDs came in ridiculous tall boxes, apparently to discourage shoplifting?

(Costco actually still sells them that way. I don't know what their rationale is.)


P.S. One of my generation gap moments came when I put on Gorillaz' 'Clint Eastwood' and the teenager said "Oh, an oldie!"


Blue Jello - Used to be Psych 101 that people find blue food to be off putting because it's not a naturally occurring food color. In the novel of "2001", Clarke has the aliens supply Bowman with spongy, blue stuff in the fridge for this reason. I guess it's the power of marketing to change the psyches of young minds.

Having seen earlier versions of the list, I'm not sure they took much trouble updating it. Most of the names in the list are likely to be unknown to most kids born in 1991. I haven't heard a reference to Magic Johnson being HIV positive in nearly 10 years, now he's doing commercials for a rental company. Taylor's White Diamonds commercial is older than they are.

CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging. Maybe Clifton @20 has it right, I don't remember that, just the big plastic holders that the cashiers had to remove. I've seen more CDs in cardboard sleeves in the past few years than I ever saw in the 90s.


The CD thing is totally referring to the long box, the old tall cardboard boxes that CDs used to come in.


apropos heteromeles@19: they can't do simple addition or multiplication in their heads, either. Or at least the undergrads in Australia would stare at me blankly then reach for their calculators when I asked what something "times ten" was.

Charlie and Mattan: Germany has always been one country. Yugoslavia has always been more than one. Their grandparents didn't serve in WW2 but might have been in Korea or Vietnam. Chernobyl has always been radioactive. Climate change has always been in the news. There have always been wars over oil. They grew up knowing about computer viruses and malware. They've always recycled??? (recycling bins in major cities here since the mid nineties, dunno how general this is)

...I'll think of some more.



--For most, nature is a scary, off-limits place.
I saw an article last year, which mentioned that, for the first time in history, more than half the population is urban. I.e. it lives in cities, not in small towns, village or country. Not just the US (it's probably been that way for more than a year), but worldwide.


One imagines Oliver Sacks writing a book about the interestingly-impaired student body of Beloit College.

Someone on ML mentioned Harlan Ellison being disturbed recently that a group of college students he was addressing weren't familiar with the expression "the Emperor's new clothes". One wonders what else was beyond them, getoffmylawn etc.


Chris@24: Yes, thank you for reminding me of that. I'd forgotten how many of them are crippled without a calculator.


Re: blue food. There is a colour defined as "non-food blue". It's used to make safety equipment and things like band-aids (ObUK: Elastoplast) for people working around food-processing plant so that if the item gets dropped into a vat or mixing bowl it can be spotted easily.


Nicholas @23; Oh, right! I had forgotten about those. I think those thin, long boxes were replaced with the reusable plastic fairly quickly. Back then I was still buying vinyl, and didn't have a CD player, so didn't pay much attention to them.


The cardboard box around CDs thing is a peculiarly American perversion -- we didn't get it in the UK; they went straight to jewel cases.


Heck, I don't remember cardboard CD cases, other than cheap sleeves for promotional items, and I was born in 1978....


I remember that in the last transitional years LPs were issued with CD-sized documentation -- the CD was the main run, and it wasn't worth it to print traditional large-scale pages, so you got a small book in a very large package. (IIRC, this was the B Minor Mass on a DMM LP).


From what I recall, the cardboard long boxes were used to get retailers to stock CDs in the same bins that they had been using for LPs. The long box was the same height as an LP, and about half the width, you see. They only lasted a few years in most cases

I wonder if "these kids today" are really incapable of remembering things from when they were 5-8 years old. I have distinct memories of the 1976 election, the American Bicentennial, and disco (shudder) among other current event/pop culture things that happened when I was younger than 9 (born in 1970).


Charlie @30 etc. CDs were in jewel cases, which in turn were put into the cardboard boxes that bluthandwerk describes.


Also, the cardboard boxes were then shrink wrapped. People complained about the wastefulness, and they eventually stopped doing it.


Jell-o (US) = Jelly (GB) and just to confuse Jelly (US) = Jam (GB)

I can remember as a child in Scotland reading about "peanut butter and jelly" sandwiches in Peanuts cartoon strips and really not getting why anyone would eat such a disgusting-sounding concoction. I mean, wouldn't the top slice of bread wobble around when you're trying to eat it, for starters?

Looks to me like a lot of the list is based on going back to news reports from 1990-93 and picking up all the celebrity/famous person stories. I mean, Madonna and the sex book/tour/whatever was 1992 IIRC - I'd be surprised by anyone born 1983-onward being able to remember it, frankly, never mind someone who was 2 years old at the time. And that's aside from the whole question of why you'd want to remember it...


-Flying was always affordable -It was always possible to travel to/from the UK by train


The no blue food meme seems odd to me as a Finn. We like our blueberries in many traditional and new foods. But maybe there is a southern limit for blueberries that I'm unaware of. And maybe people actually consider blueberries purple.


We had bramble jelly in scotland, although I havn't seen any for years.


Jell-o (US) = Jelly (GB) and just to confuse Jelly (US) = Jam (GB)

I (in the U.S.) use "jam" and "jelly" to distinguish two related products in roughly the same way that wikipedia does: Jam is made from whole fruit cooked down, and jelly is made from juice with additional pectin added.

Jelly is more gelatinous than jam. Jam is often home-made.

Do UKers use the same word for the two different products, or does jelly (US) = jam (UK) and jam (US) = jam (UK)? Confusing.


Teemu @38:

In the U.S., blueberries are grown as far south as northern Florida, but the species involved are different than the ones growing in Finland. That said, I have never encountered blue food that was naturally colored with blueberries. Blue food invariably seems to be artificial.

I do recall reading a rather breathless article about blueberries in a UK newspaper a few years back. They were being touted as the hot new item. I thought, new?


Teemu @38: The blue that we're talking about (or, I was at least) is a lighter, vivid artificial coloring, used mostly in kids snackfoods, and some 'sports' drinks. Think day-glo colors.

That said, I have never encountered blue food that was naturally colored with blueberries.

Well, I suppose that's because blueberries (especially cooked blueberries) tend to have purple juices, so it would be easier to have purple than blue food.


As JamesPadraic noted, I think the blue food thing goes back to the 60s. I've seen pictures of meals dyed blue that looked, well, scary, and I suspect that's the origin of the blue jell-o idea. Isn't it unnatural? Ditto with the other artificial blue foods.

As truth-is-life noted, blue foods tend to cook purple, and blueberries aside, there are very few things that are blue that aren't poisonous. To people who were aware of the natural world, unidentifiable blue food isn't a good thing, whereas in today's artificial media, blue is the hot new food color.

One place of unfortunate convergence is that pesticide sprayers in the US and elsewhere tend to use a day-glo blue stain as an additive to pesticides, both to help them see where their spray has gone, and as a warning to help people avoid sprayed areas (and ideally, they post signs too). One of the unintended consequences of the blue food movement might be some poisonings, if kids get the idea that day-glo blue means it's good to eat. Oy.


In the US, an ice cream franchise, Coldstone, is selling ice cream mixed with Jell-O for the summer. Ick.


Charlie and Chris L:

Hah, it's a bit unfair since many of these apply to me!

However I do remember when my family first started using the web and first got cellphones. My memory is very closely connected to what I was doing on computers at the time. Started with an Apple from '84 and My parents bought the computer for approx. $1500 and the hard drive as another separate $1500 beige box!

I'm only in my 20s and I already feel ancient.



A few years back (1994 I think) the GPO issued a set of anniversary stamps for D-Day, including one of the incomparable HMS Warspite. The little girl (not fanciable, DOM though I am) asked me if I remembered it (born 1946 actually!) ... I replied: "No, I wasn't born then, but I do remember Inchon" To be followed by a COMPLETELY BLANK expression ......

So it goes, as KV once said.


You need to be over 50 to have lived without the EU.

Actually, the headsup is piss poor - rap music has always been mainstream? this is new? Dan Rostenkowski? Who he? McDonalds in faraway places stories? Corny. BCCI? Madonna? Hoary. Have any of the class of 2013 at all heard Natalie Cole sing? I haven't, although I do know what the reference is, and I'm 2003. Two Koreas? You what? Hell, why not use the word "Chicom", granddad?

Oh yes: China has always been rich. India has always been smart. Brazil has always been sexy (and smart, for the geeks - linux and Embraer and generic pharma).

Russia has always been authoritarian, crooked, and passive aggressive. Funny how some things don't change.

America has always been part of the problem (climate, idiot preznit, oil, silly cars, torture, anti-healthcare mobs &c).

Germany, however, has never been part of the problem and neither has Japan.


Nick @ 41 My fault for the confusion, I think. In the UK, Jelly = Jello and the type of jam you describe, but it would be more commonly be associated with the former, increasingly so in the past few decades, based on my unscientific analysis of memories of shopping in that period.

It was just the image of American children eating in a sandwich with peanut butter a foodstuff that I'd eat with ice-cream that I found a little bizarre...

One thing that should probably be on the 2013 list that isn't - floppy disks in any form. You might have seen them, but it's not likely you've used them.


Alex @ 48 The EU was formed by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. Before that, it was the EEC.


Alex @48: I've visited Germany. I'm pretty sure I'm the first member of my (immediate) family to do so in living memory. The occasional weird jitters were calmed by reminding myself that anyone under 78 was pretty much innocent by definition (having been aged 12 or under in 1945), and once I get past the residual angst they're civilized, friendly people -- more civilized and friendly than the British.

(Reason for angst: a large chunk of my family tree vanished into Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. That tends to colour your upbringing somewhat.)


I can remember seeing a Saturn V taking off (on the telly), but the first proper news story is the death of Elvis. . . (this is FAO bluthandwerk @ 33 above, btw)


I fix time with music. I watched Inside Deep Throat this week and they suggested that disco was what happened when porn was legislated away. They showed a clip of "how do you like it, how do you like it, more more more?..." and I knew exactly where I was when I first heard that.

Two of my four rehydration fluids are blue and the other two are orange. They make a pink, too, but it's much sweeter than the others which are sweeter than I like to start with. These are meant for firefighters, so I'm not sure why the bright colors.


Jelly is more gelatinous than jam.
It Must Be Jelly (’Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That) - the Glenn Miller Orchestra.


For those of us who remember being entrusted, as a small child, with placing the card in the front window, so the ice-man, when passing-by that day, would stop, and put a large block of ice into the top chamber of the icebox, these Beloit Lists have always been equally incomprehensible & indistinguishable from year to year.


Well in the former British North America, now also known as Canada, the Social Studies texts and the curriculum's have changed so many times since 1991 that the Cold War is barely even mentioned or covered. It is like the end of WWII, then a bunch of stuff happens, then 9/11 takes place and history restarts. The students born after 1991 are not entirely to blame for such a gap in their 20th century knowledge. The primary reason is that the average 30 year old teacher gets "Gladiator" as real (or at least close enough) history but "The Hunt For Red October" has no valuable comment on history at all. If there is no substantial movie in order to form a teaching unit around it, that period of history will suffer.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 19, 2009 12:26 PM.

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