What time is it? Today's college students check their phones, not wrists

As young people head back to school, it's important for teachers - and all of us - to understand the cultural references that they will or will not understand.

As we scrambled around the house this morning to get the kids off to the second day of school, I asked my 12-year-old son for a time check. He patted his pockets and realized he wasn't carrying his cell phone.

Without it, how else would he know what time it is? He doesn't own a watch - and really doesn't need one.

It's a sign of the times and, with the beginning of the school year upon us, the administrators at Wisconsin's Beloit College have once again put together their annual list of cultural references that will help an older generation understand the mindset of the younger generation. Tapping your own wrist as a sign of asking someone for the time, for example, is completely lost on them. In their lives, cell phones have always been around to provide the correct time of day.

After all, incoming freshman in the Class of 2014 were born in 1992 - the same year that Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1 and Rodney King asked Angelenos to "get along" after the outbreak of riots in Los Angeles.

There's a whole list of items that will make guys like me feel old on the college's Mindset List, including an interesting line about e-mail. For this generation, e-mail is too slow for them and they rarely, if ever, use traditional "snail mail" for anything.

That's reassuring to a guy like me, who has been whining for some time now about how inefficient e-mail can be and how the world needs a more efficient communications tool. Maybe, someone in this incoming class of college freshmen will be the one to wipe out e-mail with a new communications tool we've never heard of.

And just think, in about 20 years from now, e-mail could be one of the things that incoming freshman won't know anything about. A man can dream, can't he?

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