Ever hear of Beloit College? It’s a small liberal arts college with roughly 1400 undergrads just North of the Illinois/Wisconsin border above Rockford. Among other notable facts, it’s the oldest continuously operated college in Wisconsin, counts among its alumni the jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris and Gunsmoke’s James Arness, and for the past thirteen years, it has released an annual Mindset List: a compilation of the realities shaping the lives of incoming freshmen.
If you consider the notion of a Generation Gap to be overblown, it might be worth reviewing some of the latest findings of what has “always” or “never” been true for this year’s batch of eighteen year olds. Your awareness reset will start by realizing that this generation, born mostly in 1992, thinks of Clint Eastwood as a director of sensitive films more than Dirty Harry Callaghan. They’ve also always been hip to the dangers of second hand smoke, and expected toothpaste tubes to stand on their caps.
Among things they never experienced? Corded phones. Cursive handwriting. Czechoslovakia. On the upside, they’ve never worried about a Russian military strike on the United States. On the downside for those slow to embrace the digital world, they consider e-mail to be way too slow. Not that they know that by checking their watches–they rarely bother with those since their cellphones display the time.
All of which drives home, with the clarity of that steel-driving man John Henry (a reference they will not get), that culture never stops. Societies never tread water, never stay put, never pause in a state of suspended animation. Like a shark, our world moves forward 24/7/365, constantly changing and evolving as Madonna bows to Brittany who cedes to Lady Gaga who will inevitably cave to a player to be named later. Sure, we all subscribe to ‘our time’–those halcyon 18-21 college years–as a sort of cultural roadmark. I believe my personal experience is somehow more relevant, more transcendent, due to my first person perspective. But then I remember things like this and this and this, and that POV crumbles.
It’s not easy to stay current. As we get more jaded by the marketing forces that create today’s pop sensations or the general cheesiness of what constitutes modern culture, it’s easy to dismiss the current and the vogue. And to fall into unquestioning old habits and routines.
But in a business that eats its young, that’s incredibly dangerous. We can’t afford to write off what’s current, even if it is only a rehash of what’s come before. We do that, and we risk losing relevance.
So…who wants to listen to the latest Katy Perry single?
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79