Welcome to the freshers of 2019

Every year sInce 1998, Beloit College in the US prepared The Mindset List, which lists the cultural influences and landmarks that distinguish those starting at Universities across America each year. Unfortunately, good as the Beloit version has been, it is rather US-centric (and why not, it’s a US college). Besides, this year, the list has moved from Beloit to a new home. So let’s think about what marks students starting their University life in Britain’s Universities this autumn.

This year’s freshers are (especially for the pedants who don’t count the year 2000) the first to be truly born in the Twenty-First Century.

The first thing to note is that a significant number of this year’s students didn’t exist in a world before the events of September 11 2001, and they certainly won’t remember how things were before then. Few events divide modern history in such stark “before/after” terms, but this one did, and this year’s freshers are very definitely on one side of that divide, and the resulting tensions it has spawned. They’ll also never have seen or remembered a Clinton in the White House, as George W Bush was sworn as the 43rd President of the USA in this year.

Obviously, Stanley Kubrick was a bit of a way off with space stations, moonbases and HAL9000, but students arriving this year will not know a world without Wikipedia, which launched on January 15 2001. They will certainly not be be able to comprehend how anyone managed to do assessments without it.

The other major cultural moment of the year came on October 23, when Steve Jobs showed the world the first iPod, and changed the music industry forever. That one product has helped to make Apple the juggernaut it has become today, and changed the way most people listen to, and purchase, music and other media.

Sadly, one of Apple’s greatest fans, and the man who bought the first Apple Macintosh in Europe wasn’t around to see that moment, as Douglas Adams died in May 2001. Though his work lives on, the man himself was lost to us. This year’s freshers will only know second-hand just how truly wonderful he was.

Barely a month after the iPod arrived, so too did the first XBox, on November 15. It’s fair to say the platform didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts, but Microsoft did persevere

This was also the year in which the first big effects of the increasing power of the Internet were felt in the media industry, with the merger of AOL and Time Warner. It would all end in tears barely two years, of course, but at the time it was a sign that the media arena was changing forever, and it was certainly a portent of the major changes that were to come.

The UK was also disrupted heavily by a Foot and Mouth epidemic, resulting in around ten million sheep and cattle being killed in an attempt to halt the disease. It didn’t stop Labour, under Tony Blair returning as the Government. The first episodes of both Phoenix Nights and The Office were shown in the UK, as was the infamous Brass Eye Paedogeddon Special.

People born this year will never have seen This Morning, with its original hosts, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.

Claude Shannon, the father of modern information theory, died. So did George Harrison, and Sir Nigel Hawthorne. Two other deaths of interest were those of Lord Longford, the penal reformaer and politician who had campaigned for parole for the Moors Murder Myra Hindley, and Mary Whitehouse, the moral campaigner who was the bane of many a TV producer in the 1970s and 80s.

As the events following 9/11 unfolded, the Taliban in Afghanistan grew bolder, and destroyed the historic Buddhas of Bamyan.

The Manic Street Preachers become first western band to play in Cuba in the Castro era. Delia Derbyshire, the composer responsible for the iconic arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, died. The first Gorillaz album, the first charting album by a virtual band was released (and no, the Wombles don’t count).

Popstars began on ITV, creating the band Hear’Say, and following the success of the first series of the original, Channel 4 ran the first Celebrity Big Brother, won by Jack Dee. The 5000th episode of Coronation Street was shown. Carlton and Granada merged to form itv.com, so anyone born this year will have no real memory of when ITV was a regionally-based system, and used PROPER idents like these:

The dominant social media in the UK was Friends Reunited, allowing people to find out what had happened to those they’d been at school with. It would be another three years before an American undergrad named Zuckerburg would start The Face Book in a Harvard dorm room.

The past is another country indeed.


A northern man