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I love lists. Not because they always are exceptionally meaningful, but they often are entertaining and can provide a yardstick against which to measure ourselves and our own preconceptions and misconceptions.

So it was interesting this week to read the annual Mindset Report from Beloit College in which it “provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.” While the college notes that the list was “originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references,” it has evolved into “a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation.”

Here’s how Beloit introduces its list of cultural touchstones:

“The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since ‘digital’ has always been in the cultural DNA, they've never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch ... The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

“Nonetheless, they plan to enjoy college. The males among them are likely to be a minority. They will be armed with iPhones and BlackBerries, on which making a phone call will be only one of many, many functions they will perform. They will now be awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge. So it will be up to their professors to help them.  A generation accustomed to instant access will need to acquire the patience of scholarship. They will discover how to research information in books and journals and not just on-line. Their professors, who might be tempted to think that they are hip enough and therefore ready and relevant to teach the new generation, might remember that Kurt Cobain is now on the classic oldies station. The college class of 2014 reminds us, once again, that a generation comes and goes in the blink of our eyes, which are, like the rest of us, getting older and older.”

Here’s another observation to make you feel old: Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1992. For them, Sam Walton has always been dead.

Beloit actually offers 75 different specific observations about the class of 2014. Here are some of the ones that I found most interesting:

Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

Czechoslovakia has never existed.

Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

“Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

Interesting stuff. It certainly gives people of a certain age - which is to say, people of my advanced years - pause to realize how much of the change that we’ve seen take place during our lives has always existed in their lives. I can remember, for example, when the fax machine was this unbelievably cool new technology. Now, I have one in my office...but it rarely gets used, a symbol of expedient obsolescence if ever I’ve seen one.

Of course, sometimes the lists get a little crazy, a fact illustrated by the Daily Beast this week in a piece that analyzed a number of different lists, surveys and studies put together by a variety of organizations. It is funny what a little cross-referencing will do.

Depending on who you read or pay attention to, you would find out that:

Republicans are 15 percent happier than Democrats.

Older people are 18 percent happier than young people.

Residents of Hawaii are 8.5 percent happier than residents of West Virginia.

If you're a stay-at-home mom, there's a 36 percent chance that you're very happy. And if you're a working mom, your chance of being very happy is exactly the same: 36 percent. And both types of moms share a 14 percent chance of being unhappy.

Married people are 19 percent happier than unmarried people.

Members of the clergy are 509 percent happier than gas-station attendants.

Americans are 200 percent happier than Cameroonians.

Rich people are 27 percent happier than poor people.

Grateful people are 25 percent happier than ingrates.

African-Americans are 8 percent happier than Caucasians.

If you're an Evangelical Christian, there's a 99 percent chance you're very happy.

Starbuck's fans are 2 percent happier than McDonald's fans.

In other words, if you are an old, African-American married member of the clergy who lives in Hawaii, is an American citizen (better have a birth certificate, because we all know how dubious those Hawaiian births are), have some money, vote Republican, go to Church regularly and like to indulge in a latte every once in a while, you pretty much have it made.

Of course, I’m one of the happier people I know, and I only fit a few of these criteria (I’ll let you guess which ones). So I guess that all surveys, studies and reports...have their limitations.

Sometimes they tell us stuff that is the fact that for the next generation of customers, email is too slow for their needs and one quarter of them have been born to immigrants. Such information should be factored into how we go to market, and how we try to communicate with this generation.

But other information is just that. Information. Often without context, without meaning, without reward. We should never forget that while marketing is a science, and information is important, it also is an art, requiring creativity, innovation, and an ability to ignore the numbers to do what just seems to make sense.

Do it right, and you end up being happy. Or at least happier than young, single, atheist, West Virginian gas station attendants.

For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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