THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Frequently Asked Questions Posed to the Authors,
Tom McBride and Ron Nief
Q: Why didn’t you just publish a book that included all your Mindset Lists since the beginning in 1998?
A: No one would buy such a book when they get all our Mindset Lists free online at www.beloit.edu/mindset or www.mindset.flywheelsites.com Besides, we wanted to do something larger: prove that our methods are an illuminating way to pursue historical truth, especially about American life over the past 150 years, from 1880-2030.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: We mean that an investigation of what’s normal for one generation, but abnormal for another, reveals how history is all about change. Historical change is usually slow, and it’s hard to measure or even notice unless you ask a particular generation what has always been “normal” for them. The way we use the words “always” and “never” in our Mindset List items is ironic: for history, unlike philosophy or math, is about shifting, not fixed, reality. We are always trying to dramatize that in light-hearted but mind-blowing ways.
Q: So your book is a record of social and technological change. Aren’t there any constants?
A: Sure there are. We begin the book with how, for late nineteenth century teens, patent medicine salesmen with wagons of so-called magic “elixirs” were normal. They’d supposedly cure everything from constipation to nerves. Everything’s changed, right? Not really: today’s teens find products like St. John’s Wort, never checked by the Food and Drug Administration, on sale everywhere. For that earlier generation, the cryptic telegraph was normal; for the current generation cryptic texting is normal. Texts are electronic telegraphs. For that earlier generation pocket watches were normal; no one wore a wristwatch. For the current generation smart phones are their watches. They don’t wear wristwatches any more either. Things move in cycles; the more things change, the more they don’t.
Q: What else doesn’t change?
A: Human nature. It’s hard to define exactly, but we all know what it is. If members of the college class of 1902 came back to the U.S. today they’d be bewildered at first with all the new technology, but then they’d realize that love, jealousy, envy, greed, war, and bravery haven’t really changed at all. Our new world would soon become recognizable.
Q: Yet surely your book is mostly a record of bewildering change, isn’t it? Look at your last chapter: a futuristic one about how much different everything will be by 2030.
A: That’s right. We predict newspapers will be delivered only three days a week, and then mostly in Braille. We predict that the new generation will never fold up a map or write a check. We predict a digital, paperless world—and that’s just the start of it. Again, however, change is slow; and, lived every day, it doesn’t seem all that dramatic. It’s when you tell the whole story of change in American life over a century and a half from the viewpoint of kids growing up—as we have—that the fun and wonder come into play. That’s why so many people, such as Brian Williams, have liked the book.
Q: Is there any ultimate reason you wrote this book?
A: Yes. We want generations to talk across the divide. If just one person reads our book and begins to interview and archive the memories of parents and grandparents for future generations (before it’s too late), we’re a couple of happy guys.