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Youth researchers have been dealing with the “issue” of memory forever…It’s almost impossible to conduct research with an age group that you remember being, without bringing some bias to bear. It’s not always that we assume that the world is the way we remember it, but certainly what strikes us as an interesting outlier might be quite commonplace for the group that we’re observing. And what seems like a new world order to us is the way it’s always been to them…

This reality provides a significant challenge when we’re trying to truly understand the college audience. Like it or not, we’re often engaged in this research from the perspective of people who have been out of school for a bit – and who may not even have used email while on campus, let alone used Facebook to manage their social lives online. And even if we’re closer to that experience, with each generation of new students, technology that has novelty value for today’s students feels almost passé to the next round of freshmen or “first-years.”

But how much have things really changed? Remember, just a generation ago, most college students were literally cranking out essays on typewriters. And most of today’s college students wouldn’t see the wipeboard-on-the-dorm-room-door as having quite the same broadcast power as twitter does. And perhaps some of the other “trends” – at least on some campuses – might elude many of us. How about digital drugs for one? This latest way for college students to get their fix shows just how addicting technology can be!

At Duke, freshmen receive something as part of their “welcome” kit that we probably couldn’t have imagine getting back when some of us were in college: an iPod. You can get your class schedules and maps to campus without having to press print!

But has college really changed? As today’s emerging adults pack up their cars or get on a plane, they will endure the same rites of passage as the countless generations before them. And they’ll wonder if they can handle the intense expectations placed on them. They’ll imagine who they’ll meet. And they’ll anticipate what this experience really has in store for them – and what it might mean, or not mean, to the course that the rest of their lives will take.

But just likewise, they’ll have to experience it for themselves.

And the memories they build will probably be similar, in some ways, to our own. But the way they remember keeping in touch with parents or friends back home, or even asking someone out on a date might look a little different than the way it looks in our own rearview mirrors. Can we know what it’s like to stand in their shoes today? Probably not. But can we ask them about it? Of course!