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Incoming college freshmen younger than the Web

- Associated Press - Monday, August 22, 2011

MILWAUKEE — Never trust anyone older than the Internet. That's not the official mantra for the incoming class of college freshmen, who according to an annual list collectively are the first to be younger than the World Wide Web, but it certainly could be.

For a generation born mostly in 1993, who fancied pogs and Tickle Me Elmo toys as children and whose televisions have never had dials, life has always been like a box of chocolates.

The Class of 2015 never thought of Amazon as just a river in South America. For them, PC doesn't stand for political correctness. And why break up in person when Facebook and text messaging can get the job done with far less mess?

These are among the 75 items on this year's Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at the private school in southeastern Wisconsin.

The list began in 1998 as a way to remind Beloit professors that cultural references familiar to them might draw blank stares from college freshmen mostly born in 1993. It also has evolved into a national phenomenon, a cultural touchstone that entertains even as it makes people wonder where the years have gone.

Remember when the initials LBJ referred to President Lyndon B. Johnson? Today, according to the list, they make teenagers think of NBA star LeBron James. And speaking of NBA legends, these kids didn't want to be like Mike. They fawned over Shaq and Kobe.

In their lifetimes, Major League Baseball always has had three divisions in each league plus wild-card playoff teams, and every state always has observed Martin Luther King Day. The "yadda, yadda, yadda" generation that has been quoting Seinfeld since they were old enough to talk also has always seen women serve as U.S. Supreme Court justices and command Navy ships.

Then there's O.J. Simpson. These students were still in diapers when the former NFL star began searching for the killers of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

"Hmm, I know there was some scandal about him," said Alex Keesey, 18, an incoming freshman from Beloit. "I think it was robbery or murder, maybe both."

Comments like that can be a little jarring to older folks who imagine that everyone knows about the Simpson murder trial and subsequent acquittal. But if the generation gap has you down, get used to it. The list's authors note that technology has only accelerated the pace of change and further compressed the generational divide.

Older Americans who read previous Mindset Lists felt that life was moving too quickly, list author Ron Nief said, and now even younger people share that sentiment.

"I talk to people in their early 30s and they're telling me they can't keep up with all the advances," Mr. Nief said.

His co-author, English professor Tom McBride, predicts the trend will only accelerate.

"If you look at the jump from email to texting, or from email to Facebook, it's been faster than the jump from typing to computers," he said. "These generational gaps are getting smaller."

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