"Ctrl + Alt + Del" Is as Basic as "ABC"

They're baaack. The summer was quiet but too short on campuses around the country. Last week in Ann Arbor the silence was broken and the traffic got unbearable as our students returned, bringing with them the Class of 2007. Luckily--knock on wood if you can find any in your office--even though they still think they can drive and park everywhere, they're back without a repeat of last year's Blaster-, Welchia-, and Nachi-related disasters.

This is the freshman class that has "never gotten excited over a telegram, a long distance call, or a fax." Each of them has "always had a PIN number." And, "'Ctrl + Alt + Del' is as basic as 'ABC.'" As Beloit College humanities professor Tom McBride puts it: "It is a generation which believes in technological innovations and solutions and where digital devices, PIN numbers, and calling cards are an integral part of their lives."

They are different from you and me, and the annual Beloit College Mindset List is here to remind us of that. The Mindset List was begun initially as a way to prepare Beloit College faculty and staff to be more accepting and understanding of freshmen, they say, but I wonder each year if it isn't in fact more a matter of preparing faculty and staff for yet another year of culture shock. After all, who if not us has to handle each year the difficult cultural assimilation of freshly-named adults living away from home for the first time?

Stores have always had scanners at the checkout.

Really. And d'esn't it seem just like yesterday, although in truth it was 16 years ago, and that is a long time ago when you are only 18-years-old, that one of the biggest flurries of negative campaigning in the 1988 election campaign was when it was revealed that the first president Bush was startled to learn that there were automatic scanners at grocery store checkouts. Now, of course, we are about to learn if we can handle implementation of RFIDs and checkouts so automated that they'll seem like magic--except to the class of 2020.

Adam and PC Junior computers had vanished from the market before this generation went online.

Surely that can't be. It seems like just yesterday.

They have always been able to make photocopies at home.

And you can bet they expect that you or your colleagues will be able to help them when the printer-copier-fax machine in their luxury dorm room won't turn on.

Computers have always fit in their backpacks.

And their backpacks have always weighed more than you or I would want to carry around. I'll never understand why the same college student who's carrying a 40-pound bag of books finds it unthinkable to add the "burden" of a bicycle helmet.

And my personal favorite is:

There have never been dress codes in restaurants.

When I decided, more than thirty years ago now, to settle down in Ann Arbor, and vowed never again to live anywhere but a college town, this was one of my primary motivations--to avoid dress codes of all kinds. At some point in the intervening years, dress codes have disappeared from almost every public place and I believe the world is a better place for it!

They are not familiar with the source of that "Giant Sucking Sound."

They're leaving the computer science fields in droves, with fewer of the freshmen this year likely to choose that area of matriculation than in recent memory. But as the Mindset List emphasizes, unless they really paid attention in a good history class, none of them remember Ross Perot and the predictions he made about outsourcing. (I have to wonder if even Perot foresaw that Indian companies would already be outsourcing their own work to the Philippines and Malaysia?)

They have been "dissing" and "burning" things all their lives.

For the next four years they'll be dissing the RIAA and the MPAA for efforts to stop the Class of 2007's efforts to create a reality within which music and movies are free. And if you find effective ways to stop illegal downloading and file sharing, they'll be dissing you.

They have always had a PIN number.

Unfortunately, it's probably the same one for everything they do--the ATM machine, the frequent flyer section of their favorite airline's Web site, their online bank, your campus facebook, and maybe their Windows log-on. It's a good thing we rarely let them choose their user name for the campus network anymore.

Which is why, even though so many of the Mindset List this year is technology-related, we shouldn't get excited and think that our technical support issues are over. It's a little early to be sure the latest worms and viruses won't still wreak havoc. And it's almost certain that the ease with which your staff has handled their IT issues so far is due to your preparation and implementation of lessons-learned--not necessarily to the level of sophistication and attention your newest users pay to IT security issues.

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