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What we put on hold, and why l Chuck's World


Last updated 9/5/2018 at Noon

On Sept. 3, 2011, I stuck an envelope in a mailbox and made a note of the date. It felt like it might be significant.

I don’t know that it was, although it apparently felt significant enough to post about it on Facebook. Facebook decided it was significant enough to remind me, seven years later, and so here we are.

It was a red envelope, if that helps.

After 10 years of renting DVDs from Netflix, we’d reached a technological watershed that I’d been waiting for. The past few years had been stunning in terms of online video, with the introduction of YouTube in 2005 and the rapidly increasing availability of broadband speeds, and in 2007 Netflix introduced streaming movies.

By 2011, then, I figured the future had arrived. Just as videotapes had begun to look creaky and fragile compared to those thin disks that conveniently arrived in the mail, removable media started to feel primitive and outdated.

Patience suddenly became less of a virtue and more of an anachronism, something we practiced in the old days because we had to. We don’t have to wait for the mail anymore.

I just thought it was possible, seven years ago, that I’d rented my last DVD, and so far I’ve been right. For the record, it was “Barney’s Version,” starring Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman. I have no memory of this, so I assume it was just another good intention, paving the road to the hot place, and another remnant of a 20th-century mindset.

When was the last time you streamed a movie and didn’t watch it? Yeah.

“Mindset” is actually what I’m thinking about, and specifically the Mindset List.

This is the 20th anniversary of this list, which began as a jokey email chain at Beloit College (Wisconsin) in 1998 as a way to remind professors to watch their references. As each new group of incoming freshmen arrives on campus, the list is designed to teach other adults to update their allusions.

An 18-year-old isn’t likely to catch a reference to Archie Bunker or “ALF,” and probably shouldn’t.

It’s now kind of a famous list, with a website and Twitter account and trivia games, all apparently designed to make certain people feel old, which I think is kind of rude.

And it made me wonder if college freshmen in September 2018 have any memory of those red envelopes. They haven’t disappeared completely, but they’re not nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be.

Ask your mail carrier.

I checked with my 28-year-old son, and he sort of shrugged at the faint memory, so I’ll assume it’s an unwieldy reference, also assuming someone wants to wield it. It’s kind of a dumb thing to think about, although that’s never stopped me before.

I haven’t seen this year’s Mindset List, although I’ve certainly been alive for the past 18 years and can make my own.

This year’s freshmen almost certainly have little to no memory of an American president who wasn’t Barack Obama or Donald Trump, and Obama mostly in his second term. They’ve spent their entire lives in a world with personal computers, smartphones, text messaging and PlayStation.

They’ve grown up in a world without the Concorde, the Soviet Union or Charles Schultz. They don’t carry cash or, in many cases, a driver’s license. They’ve grown up with perpetual war in the Middle East, and virtually their entire lives have occurred after 9/11.

They’re probably clueless about all the fuss over Y2K, and I’d frankly be embarrassed to explain it to them.

But they know how to find all this history the older folks seem so obsessive about, so a list of what young people starting college know and don’t know is beginning to feel irrelevant. They carry the world in their pockets, and they can look up Archie Bunker faster than I can check the Urban Dictionary while reading Twitter.

I’m not worried about the past disappearing, in other words. I do worry a little about it getting postponed.

There are a million things wrong with the world today, and 18-year-olds have nothing to do with any of it. A lot of our problems were caused by my generation, in fact. I should have said something. I have no excuses.

It’s just that in order to fix mistakes made in the past, you have to understand the past. The only new thing in the world, Harry Truman once said, is the history you don’t know. This has always been the case. We just didn’t have Wikipedia before, history only a tap away, available when you need it.

I’m not saying young people are ignorant of history. How would I know? I just note my own behavior, the way I bookmark long articles to read later, the way I make queues and lists of things to watch or listen to or peruse.

The way I postpone new information now, because new information will always be waiting.

I don’t miss those red envelopes. I sort of miss anxiously waiting for a film to be released, instead of understanding it’ll be online soon, and then forever.

Turns out we don’t live forever.

I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” the other night, finally. I always meant to see it. It was OK. I don’t like mean Meryl Streep. That’s why God created Glenn Close, in my opinion, but then I should have watched it years ago.

Carpe diem, freshmen. Look it up.


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