This week, as Lowcountry students are sharpening their pencils and writing their names in their textbooks, and college students are moving into their new dorm rooms and trying to talk Mom and Dad into giving them a credit card for “emergencies,” I am reminded of how very, very old I am.
I don’t like to think about the fact that it’s been nearly 10 years since I graduated college, and the last time I slung a backpack over my shoulder was the one and only time I went hiking — if you can call exhaustedly staggering through the woods for 20 minutes then begging to go home hiking.
But I think it’s time to face facts: I am old. I can’t even call myself a 20-something anymore; I am a full-fledged adult. And I don’t like it — suddenly, I feel too old for fun, jokes and pencils with fun eraser toppers.
And as if I needed a reminder of exactly how little I have in common with the cool kids of today, Beloit College has released its Mindset List — an annual report on the cultural touchstones for today’s college freshmen meant to help professors avoid outdated pop culture references that their students won’t understand.
For example: For today’s college freshmen, who were born in 1994, Kurt Cobain and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis have always been dead. They’ve always had computers — and in their homes, not just at school, where the most exciting thing about computer class meant a chance to play “Oregon Trail.” I’m not sure this generation has ever even played “Oregon Trail,” nor do they know the frustration of killing a 250-pound buffalo but being capable of only carrying 40 pounds back to their starving families.
If that game is any indication, I should have died of dysentery a long time ago.
But according to the Mindset List, today’s college freshmen wouldn’t even know what dysentery is — experts say they are the first generation to have never used a physical encyclopedia. They’ve always had access to Wikipedia, YouTube and Google.
Kids, you are missing out. When I was younger, I LOVED encyclopedias. One book that contained everything in the entire world that started with the letter E? Amazing! In fact, for my seventh birthday I begged my parents to buy me the complete Encyclopedia Britannica Kids, and when bored I would pull one of the books and settle in for a nice, long afternoon of educational reading. I refuse to believe iPods and PlayStations are more fun than that.
Today’s college freshmen also have never seen an airplane “ticket” they’ve received from a travel agent, and they’ve never used cassette tapes or eaten tan M&M’s — and, for that matter, they’ve never opened a bag of M&M’s that didn’t include blue ones.
They didn’t see Bill Clinton play the sax with Arsenio Hall (they probably don’t even know who Arsenio Hall is, and they certainly don’t know he’s the original fist-pumper), and they’re more familiar with Hillary Rodham Clinton as a White House official than the former president himself.
They’ve never used a point-and-shoot camera nor had to wait for film to be developed. History always has had its own TV channel, and “The Real World” never has been polite and always has been real. Aleve always has been slang for aspirin, and Little Caesar always has offered “Pizza! Pizza!”
Happy first week of school, kids — and do yourself a favor: Pick up an encyclopedia, or at least hit the Internet for a video of Clinton’s sax serenade or download the “Oregon Trail” iPhone app. And have a little respect for your elders. We had to walk uphill to school both ways and read books — with actual pages and covers — to know anything about everything.