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For New US College Freshmen--A Mouse Is Not a Rodent - 2001-08-24

It is often said that time waits for no man. A college professor in the Midwestern United States has compiled a list to show just how much the times have changed in the last generation. The annual Mindset List from Beloit College in Wisconsin shows how a young person's view of life can be very different from an older person's.

Remember the IBM Selectric typewriter? Millions of people over the age of 30 have probably used one at work or in school. But Beloit College English professor Tom McBride says today's 18-year-old college students have probably never seen one.

"When I spoke to my first-year students here at Beloit College about IBM Selectrics, they, to a person - this was a seminar of 18 students - to a person, they did not know what an IBM Selectric was."

Professor McBride is one of the authors of the annual Mindset List, created to give college faculty members some insight into their newest students each year. "What we do is try to measure significant cultural change that has occurred since the year that the particular freshman class was born," he said. "In this particular case, they were born in 1982, 1983."

On this year's list, the fact that 18-year-olds live in a world in which there have always been artificial hearts, and Sarajevo to them is better known as a war zone than as host of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Mr. McBride says the list also shows how language changes over time.

"A browser is not someone relaxing in a bookstore, a virus does not make humans sick and a mouse is not a rodent," he noted.

To a first-year college student, these are all computer terms. "I think it is a way of reminding ourselves of how much digital technology has really been something that they have never done without and is something that has always been with them," he said.

Mr. McBride gets his cultural references from almanacs, newspapers and a variety of other sources. A group of first-year students reviews what he found and picks about 50 items that do a good job of defining the younger generation.

For example, the hole in the ozone layer has always been present to this year's new college students, meaning they might be less worried by that fact than an older person who remembers when the hole was first discovered.

"You know the comparison I would make would have been, for our generation, the possibility of nuclear holocaust through the Cold War, if the Cold War had gotten hot," he said. "I think that as time went on, we became more habituated to that and it was just more and more part of our daily mental furniture."

Other items on this year's list: Boeing has never built a 727 passenger jet in their lifetimes, new college students have probably always used e-mail, the precise location of the Titanic has always been known, and many of them know someone who was born with the help of artificial insemination.

"I think it is a very dramatic and remarkable way of registering not only the rapidity of cultural change, but also how quickly how time passes when you are older and you would like for it to slow down," he said.

Mr. McBride says new college students themselves have changed during his 28 years at Beloit College. He says today's young people are much more goal-oriented and health-conscious, while students 20 years ago were far more rebellious and suspicious of authority.