Beloit Mindset Painfully Wrong On Radio

I wish the Beloit Mindset List would go away, with it’s oh-so-cute trivialization of cultural disconnect. I don’t particularly care about the differences in students pop-cultural past, or whether they’ll get the Pulp Fiction references that the list apparently assumes I’m throwing out in class like rice at a wedding (Oh, they don’t throw rice any more? There goes my Intro to Phonology syllabus!)

But be that as it may, I find one item on the list really telling:

15. Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.

Um, this is wrong. REALLY WRONG. They are absolutely addicted to the radio, at least as far as 8th grade (I have an eighth grader).  What they listen to is entirely determined by what is on the radio, and when I’m driving Katie and her friends in the car, they don’t want me to play their iPods or MP3 CDs. They want me to turn on the local Keene-based radio station. That’s their primary communal music experience.

But don’t take my word for it — do what any self-respecting mindset list should do — look at the data. According to a just published Nielsen report, more teens listen to music on the radio than through iTunes, and it is YouTube, not iTunes that tops the delivery mechanism list:

  • 64% of teens listen to music through YouTube
  • 56% of teens listen to music on the radio
  • 53% of teens listen to music through iTunes
  • 50% of teens listen to music on CD

Note also this — almost as many teens listen to CDs as iTunes. CDs.

I think there’s a weird logic to this — for teens music is communal — it’s about sharing. It’s about knowing the songs others know, singing along in the car to a song your boyfriend is hearing at the same time across town, posting the newest most amazing song ever written (via YouTube) on your best friend’s Facebook wall. Years after they were created, MP3s are still a lousy way to share, with a ton of barriers; CDs, radio, and embeddable YouTube videos, on the other hand, seem built with sharing in mind. You could convince your friends to all sign up for Spotify and share playlists — or you could just build your playlist in YouTube and embed it in your Facebook stream. Or, heck, just listen to the radio, which is basically Keene’s playlist anyway. Broader taste isn’t seen as a virtue in middle school.

But weird logic aside, I think the danger of the Beloit list is it does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin (On the tin? What does he meeeaaannn?). Rather than compel us to explain the fascinating uniqueness and stunning diversity of current youth culture, it invites us to see the students as a monolithic alien force coming into college trying to puzzle out why we are so backward technologically. And that view has been proved wrong so many times, it’s not worth even going into it anymore.

The most fascinating question about music a professor could ask herself is why the heck her students are still listening to the radio. I’m serious, if you could dig deep into that question, you’d get to a profound place; but our desire to distort our students into digital native caricatures prevents us from even noticing that as a reality. We prefer to bend reality to our chosen stereotypes of iTunes obsessed youth.

Too serious maybe? For a lighthearted list? OK, so let me finish off with this, then — a video made by entirely by my thirteen year old in a two hour editing binge; a video of a day at the pool (a physical pool!?!) with her friend and sister, cut to a song they first heard on the radio (!!!), put together on a Windows laptop using Movie Maker, shot not through an iPod, but through the point and shoot cameras Beloit thinks they don’t know about, and uploaded to YouTube.

Real life is messy, and not list-friendly. But it’s a lot more interesting, and ten times as wonderful.


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