Erick Rommel

You can often judge a person’s age by learning about the toys he or she played with as a child. Some toys are timeless, such as Barbie. Others will always be associated with a certain moment in time. Children of the 1980s fondly remember the furor over Cabbage Patch Kids and Transformers. Those born a decade later know those toys, but their fanaticism went more toward interactive toys, including Furby and Tickle Me Elmo.

It’s not just toys that create our bond to childhood; it’s everyday things that we take for granted, except when we don’t.

A few weeks ago, two professors from Beloit College in Wisconsin released the annual Mindset List. The list began 14 years ago as a way to educate college professors about how their freshman students see the world.

You may have heard about this list on the news. Reporters were amazed that the college class of 2016 has never lived without the Internet in their lives or that they’ve never seen professional football played in Los Angeles but remember a team always being located in Jacksonville, Florida.

The list is full of many other interesting tidbits — when today’s college freshman are asked about Robert De Niro’s films, they mention “Meet the Parents,” not “The Godfather: Part II,” “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull.” This only tells half the story.

In four years, when these students graduate, they’ll find jobs. Some of their bosses will be those about whom the first Beloit College list was written in 1998: the class of 2002. As much as they have in common, they’ll also find they grew up in different worlds.

The class of 2002 grew up with an hour of music on a CD. The class of 2016 has weeks of music available on a variety of small devices. When the class of 2002 sees pictures of a floppy disc, a phone handset and an envelope on their smartphone to indicate save, make a call and send a message, they remember routinely using the items the icons represent; the class of 2016 does not.

When members of the class of 2002 think about the “Star Wars” movies, they can remember a time before the crappy prequels existed; 2016 cannot.

The class of 2016 and the class of 2002 will also share some memories. Both lived during a time when there were always blue M&M’s in the regular package but never tan, MTV rarely played music and the expression, “You sound like a broken record,” had little or no meaning.

It’s said that those in high school and college act as if they know everything. In many ways that’s true. A college student today doesn’t think twice about streaming a movie or downloading a book. To those who are older, I say embrace, not fear, the abilities of those younger than you. If you’re younger, have pity on those who don’t have skills you take for granted.

To the class of 2016, I leave you with this. You are the most advanced college freshman class in the history of the world. You have more opportunity available than any previous college freshman ever. You are at the pinnacle of knowledge — for now, at least.

In 12 short months, the class of 2017 will come along and before you realize it, the class of 2030 will take your spot. They will have just as much in common with you as you have with the class of 2002.

Keep that in mind, the next time you see a 4-year-old. They may not be in kindergarten yet, but when they graduate from college you’re going to be their boss and they’ll question how you grew up not knowing the things they take for granted.