Today’s college freshmen: “Ferris Bueller could be their father.”

Imagine what Ferris Bueller could have done with social media and text messaging. (AJC File)

Imagine what Ferris Bueller could have done with social media and text messaging. (AJC File)

Having two college students, I’ve come to realize that technology does not simply inform young people’s lives now; it defines their lives.

Today, when my teens and I search for a movie, I reach for the newspaper and they reach for their laptops. (In defense of my primitive ways, I often open to the movie listings and find a theater while their computers are still loading.)

I chatted with a young college professor a few days ago about the resistance of older faculty to technology, some of whom dismiss it as a distraction rather than a fact of life. We discussed how not incorporating technology into classrooms is akin to forcing students to write with a quill pen and ink or teaching classes by oil lamp rather than electric lights.

A story today in the AJC talks about this new reality of today’s college freshmen.

Here is part of the story:

Mention Amazon to the incoming class of college freshmen and they are more likely to think of shopping than the South American river. PC doesn’t stand for political correctness and breaking up on Facebook is more common than any more personal encounter.

These are among the 75 references on this year’s Beloit College Mindset List, a compilation intended to remind teachers that college freshmen born mostly in 1993 see the world in a much different way: They fancied pogs and Tickle Me Elmo toys as children, watched televisions that never had dials and their lives have always been like a box of chocolates.

Once upon a time, relatives of the current generation swore never to trust anyone over the age of 30. This group could argue: Never trust anyone older than the Net.

The college’s compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at the private school in southeastern Wisconsin. 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. Then there’s OJ Simpson. These students were still in diapers when the former NFL star began searching for the killers of 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,” Nief said.

Nief’s 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,” McBride said. “These generational gaps are getting smaller.”

Still not feeling old? Consider this: Andre the Giant, River Phoenix and Frank Zappa all died before these students were born. They don’t know what a Commodore 64 was, and they don’t understand why Boston barflies would ever shout, “Norm!”

Oh, and Ferris Bueller could be their father.

–Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

30 comments Add your comment


August 23rd, 2011
4:00 pm

My son is a junior in HS and hates email. I keep telling him he needs to use it to communicate with people he isn’t friends with on Facebook and doesn’t want to text. I’m guessing some professors will start creating FB groups for their classes if they haven’t already.


August 23rd, 2011
4:40 pm

There are already Facebook groups for college and grad students. My daughter started grad school this week and all summer long she has been in contact with her professors and other students who are in the same program. She thought it was pretty cool except for the fact that sometimes the kids in the group just want to talk about what to expect in certain classes and the professors will pop in to their conversation. I don’t know if this can be done in high school because of all of the constraints on teachers regarding the possibility of inappropriateness, but for the older students it appears the future is already here. I refuse to even start a Facebook account and I am quite proud of it. I do text and tweet. (To be honest, I have a Twitter account, but only follow a few news organizations. I don’t know how to send my own tweets because I don’t have any followers) Sad but true . . .


August 23rd, 2011
4:50 pm

Do your teens really load up their computers to check movie listings? Who does that anymore. Just whip out your iPhone and you can have them in seconds, complete with reviews and the trailer!!


August 23rd, 2011
4:52 pm

Side note: My 7 year old beat me on Words with Friends the other day, which he plays on his iPod touch, that he bought himself with his own savings! Kids these days are practically born with the technology in their hands!

From Good Mother

August 23rd, 2011
5:01 pm

We have to do both. We have to introduce kids and let them experience and appreciate thorough research, the kind that comes in hundreds of pages, not just several lines of text on hit on the Internet.

Both are valuable.

I was confused too!!!

August 23rd, 2011
5:11 pm

@lori- When i read that I didnt understand- I didnt know people actually checked movie times on computers anymore.It literally takes 10 seconds with your phone using google.


August 23rd, 2011
5:19 pm

I have a new nick-name for my 12 year old daughter…Tech Support! And I don’t have to call India.

Kids these days are just better equipped to learn new technologies that we were growing up.


August 23rd, 2011
5:24 pm

Good teachers are involved in the education and the lives of their students. Nothing there needs to be in appropriate or unprofessional, but it does demand that teachers exist in the two-dimensional world that consumes the students. Facebook affords teachers important and noteworthy teachable moments, elaborating on discussions, guiding the nature of debate, etc. that happen on social media sites (often that begin with classroom discussions). Social media is often useful in stopping bullying and harassment that plague the teenage world. Let the teachers be professionals and make adult decisions. Teachers, though many on this board consistently deny, are adults.


August 23rd, 2011
5:27 pm

sorry, wrong blog. ha.


August 23rd, 2011
5:55 pm

Maureen Downey

August 23rd, 2011
6:08 pm

@Bonnie, That’s a hoot. I will have to share that with my friends in IT.


August 23rd, 2011
6:10 pm

There is an English version, but I like this one best. I have had to adapt to all of the technology as an educator of 37 years, so this really is perfect!!


August 23rd, 2011
6:13 pm


If any teacher had any sense at all he/she would not communicate in any form or fashion with any student on facebook. Facebook has too many ways to put you out there when it is no ones business. I view facebook as another way to be noisey. Although, I have an account I am soooooooooo rearly on it. I have very little information about myself on there and only I two to three pictures on it. I would never allow any of my students to contact me in any way via facebook.

Facebook User

August 23rd, 2011
6:45 pm

@Angela, a Facebook group is not the same as having a personal Facebook page. This was discussed on Momania today. I don’t think “older” people understand that fact.

Ole Guy

August 23rd, 2011
7:01 pm

I’m guessing we’re supposed to be impressed with the fact that young lives are permeated with technology pretty much as youth, of an earlier era, knew all the stats of sports luminaries. Why not let’s “introduce” kids to “adult lounge etiquette” so that they will be able to “conduct” themselves in “big people” fashion…I don’t give a hoot in hell if the kid knows all about face book, e-mail, i-pad/i/pod, bs, horse s, etc…WHEN THAT VERY SAME KID DON’T KNOW CRAP ABOUT BASIC ACADEMICS, RECEIVES INFLATED GRADES ENABLING HIM TO QUALIFY FOR HOPE ONLY TO BE OBLIGED TO TAKE REMEDIALS AND, EVENTUALLY, WASH OUT OF U. Technology is a fine thing, but the WRONG DAMN ANSWER when educating youth. All technoloy does, at those early junctures of education, is allow the kid to NOT have to think…technology does all the “thinking”…all the kid has to do is push the right buttons.

The day when parents AND the educational elite…those self-annointed “experts”…withhold technology in the educational process UNTIL AFTER the kid has demonstrated basic mastery in ALL subject matters will be the day when education really means something.


August 23rd, 2011
7:14 pm

@Bonnie Great video. Shame there is no like thumb or +1 button on blog to tell you how much it is appreciated ;-)


August 23rd, 2011
7:19 pm

Another Oldie

August 23rd, 2011
7:57 pm

@ Ole Guy. “All technoloy does, at those early junctures of education, is allow the kid to NOT have to think…technology does all the “thinking”…all the kid has to do is push the right buttons.”

Sigh. You just don’t get it. The kid has to think to use the technology…and computers don’t have any buttons. Do YOU use computers for anything except typing in blog entries?

Ole Guy

August 24th, 2011
12:03 am

Oldie, many years ago, I was supervising a bunch of kids on a numbers manipulation exercise, adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc. The kids, much to my consternation, were allowed to use calculators for this exercise. While they feverishly punched the buttons, one kid frantically brought to my attention the fact that his percent key was stuck. Upon suggesting, to the kid, that he simply employ the decimal key, he produced the most-contorted “what the hell you talkin’ bout’” face. Taking this experience as a teachable moment, at the conclusion of the exercise, I posed the question to the class…”what actions could you take if your percent key were to become stuck”? Maybe one or two kids in the class had any conceptual knowledge of the relationship between percents and decimals.

Where these kids actually thinking as they punched the right keys on that piece of technology, the calculator?

You would not believe the extent to which I utilize technology. The Federal Aviation Administration still lets me fly, though not for compensation. Flight planning and enroute navigation are heavily reliant on technology…but you know what? Technology, as with any manmade device, is prone to failure. So while I do indeed use technology extensively, I continue to practice “aviation stuff” the ole fashioned way…pencil n’ paper planning, “follow the yellow brick road” navigation, and cross-reference a few stars at night to make sure the GPS isn’t BSing me and I’m pointed in the right direction.

And once in a while, I use computers to type in blog entries!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

August 24th, 2011
2:55 am

Many of us find problematic the differentiation of means and ends. The end of the classic liberal education is the development of the mind’s intellectual processes and its love for learning and virtue. The roads to that noble goal are many and varied.

Mom of 3

August 24th, 2011
3:44 am

I’m with you Ole Guy. And I am not old!

August 24th, 2011
7:40 am

@Dr. Spinks, you said it. Technology isn’t the end, it is just one of the means to it. We employ a thorough mix of both. I still buy pencils and pens, but everyone still has a wireless laptop and we communicate via Google+ hangouts on off days.

I do believe, though, that technology can be used as a crutch by students (”I can’t do anything; I don’t have computer access.”) and a cop-out by teachers (”We used PowerPoint! That’s incoporating technology!”).


August 24th, 2011
8:51 am

Agreed Ole Guy. Technology is great when COMBINED with knowledge, that way if the technology fails, the knowledge remains.

For example: Have you ever had a cashier with a failed register become paralyzed attempting to calculate your change? Or have you ever given a cashier let’s say a $20 dollar bill and a one dollar bill and a quarter when your total was $6.18? That causes head scratching with some cashiers even when their registers are functioning. I have had cashiers try to give me the one dollar bill and quarter back, but once they key it into the cash register, they then realize why I paid the way I did. I would assume these people have all passed at least 10th grade where I would think addition and subtraction were taught.

Btw- I am not disparaging cashiers. It is an honest living, and not all cashiers are poor in the area of math. I am just giving an example where reliance on technology instead of the skill can be to the detriment of the student.

Yankee Prof

August 24th, 2011
9:38 am

76. They all always have been and always will be above average.

Ole Guy

August 24th, 2011
7:17 pm

Mom, Cats…thanks for your kind words. One of my 2nd grade bud’s (several centuries ago) dad was a doctor (this, of course, was during a simpler period of time when the “well-to-do” lived in the same neighborhoods as “commoners”). One fine Saturday morning, my friend, Micky, and I were having “cookies and milk” in his Mom’s kitchen. I remarked, as only a 7 year old could, about Micky’s Mom’s electric can opener with which Micky’s Mom was opening a can of dog food for Micky’s dog, Taffy, with whome we “shared” a box of dog biscuits with our milk (kids do the damndest…and the stupidest things!). Well, anyway…Micky’s Mom said something about “labor-saving devices” (which meant absolutely zilch to me), so I replied, “What if the electric company shuts off the electricity”? Micky’s Mom”s reply…”Then we use the old fashioned can opener”!

Every time I lament the apparent over-reliance upon technology we seem to have cast upon a younger generation, I think of Micky’s Mom’s electric can opener. Unfortunately, I do not think too many kids know how to use that “old fashioned can opener”…technology has left younger generations unable to cope with the basics; that, in two simple words, is…TOO BAD.

Ole Guy

August 24th, 2011
7:26 pm

BTW, Oldie, you are absolutely right…computers have no buttons; neither do people, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from “pushing their buttons”, does it…try to read and write a little more critically. Next time someone suggests you “jump in the lake”, are you going to embark upon a search for the nearest body of inland water? I certainly hope not…

You good folks have a good day!

Ole Guy

August 25th, 2011
12:42 am

Cats, you have mentioned another issue regarding our over-reliance on technology. I realize your comments were not intended to disparage cashiers. After reading your many posts, it is quite clear that your comments are both honest and pure.

However, you have reminded me of yet another means by which we, the consuming public, encourages this overreliance on technology. Many, through the notion of convenience, choose to check out their purchases at the u-scan stations. This action, which, to me, seems nothing short of self-serving, has two rather unpleasant impacts upon our society. First of all, as I have indicated, it serves as a function which makes us yet more reliant on technology; on the (perceived) convenience of not having to (shudder) stand in line for a few moments of our lives. Secondly, that u-scan device serves as yet another reason for managements to shed another unit of labor, that cashier.

For these very reasons, I avoid any and all “urgings”, from front line personnel, to avail myself of this “convenience”. To those who choose to utilize these “conveniences”, I hold a degree of disdain for their apparent disregard for the long-term consequences to which they are completely oblivious.

Thanks, Cat, for reminding me.


August 25th, 2011
7:14 am

Considering how much time young people spend online, on computers, and using their cell phones, I am not all that concerned about increasing that time in the classroom. Technology can enhance instruction and learning, but students also need to learn how to listen and communicate with the spoken word. I know many of my students can run rings around me when it comes to using a computer, iPad, or cell phone. Their communication skills, however, are often extremely weak.


August 27th, 2011
2:11 pm

I agree with a lot of what the ‘ole guy says. We need to enjoy and use the technology available to us, but we need to be able to have the skills and knowledge to use the “old fashioned can opener.” I have been a high school and middle school math teacher for 23 years, and I am deeply concerned about the lack of basic skills (reading, writing, and math) in so many students who come to me in high school.

Ole Guy

August 28th, 2011
3:17 pm

Mark, thanks for your comments. I once got into trouble for banning calculators in class. My belief (then as now) was that it is far better to master a little bit than to THINK you have it all under control. Kids complained to parents complained to principal complained to “top teach” who, in turn, “cut me a new one”. Youda thought I’d swiped the Magna Carta from Jolly Ole…

I honestly do not think the younger generations have a chance in hell of success until 1) technology, beyond pencil and paper, is removed from the classroom UNTIL mastery of basic concepts and procedures, 2) parental meddling should be completely disregarded.

As a flight instructor, I didn’t allow a student pilot to solo until mastery of basic skills: preflight aircraft, work the radios, takeoff, cruise, basic maneuvers, approach to land, land, and taxi-tiedown. Also on the agenda…emergency procedures and all that went with that. ONLY when these basic skills were satisfactoraly demonstrated was the kid allowed to cheat gravity by himself.

WITHOUT THIS DEMONSTRATED BACKGROUND, CHANCES WERE (as Crocodile Dundee put it in the bar) BETTER THAN AVERAGE THAT THE KID’S DAY WOULD NOT END FAVORABLY. These kids, who “prance” through the high school experience without demonstrating the basic academic skills, face the exact same dangers as the student pilot who cannot master the aircraft. The difference? One leads to “quick death”; the other, most-certainly, leads to “slow death”…the death of wasted lives, perpetual failures, and, in the end, a further weakening of the principles for which this Country stands/stood.

When are we going to pull our heads out of our collective six, stop playing pc games, and get serious?