Teens don't have to work very hard to be entertained anymore. Rather than trekking to the record store, they can buy their favorite music with a few clicks — and maybe try out something new while they're at it. Reality TV, the preferred genre of many, is always on the air. They don't even have to get up from their chairs to share photographs and gossip with friends.
American society has been assigning all-encompassing labels to generations of young people for a long time. The tendency to pigeonhole a diverse group of individuals is, in some respects, dishonest — not every Flower Child spent the '60s tiptoeing through tulips, and many members of Generation X surely thought flannel best confined to the realm of the lumberjack.
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Likewise, not every member of this generation is enamored with technology. But no one would argue that the way America's teens live and play now isn't vastly different from how their parents spent their misspent youths.
Crystal, 15, listens to Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson and Young Joc. She doesn't buy CDs anymore: "I don't need to," she told CBSNews.com. "I have iTunes [Apple's popular online music download store]."
To get his fix of Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, Mitch, 16, might sift through his parents' old album collection. Instead, he downloads songs and also accesses his favorite classic rock artists the new old-fashioned way: He buys their CDs.
This generation of teenagers is no different than any other in that it has diverse musical interests. But it's easier than ever for them to access different kinds of music and satisfy all those tastes.
"I can now not only find people who are interested in the same bands I like," Michael Alex of Digital MTV News told CBSNews.com, "but I can also literally share my music with them."
The music industry has complained for years about declining sales due to the proliferation of illegal file-sharing services, but many teens have moved away from what once was an engrained culture of musical theft. According to the Horatio Alger Association's State of our Nation's Youth 2005 report, the percentage of Internet-using teens that downloaded music for free dropped from 44 percent to 40 percent between 2004 and 2005, while the percentage that paid to download rose from 17 percent to 24 percent in the same time period.
Most of the teenagers from a random sampling in New York's Times Square professed to buying music rather than stealing it, though their reasons for doing so may be more practical than moral.
"I used to download," Peter, 18, told CBSNews.com. "But it started giving viruses to my computer, so I stopped."
According to the Internet and Multimedia 2006survey conducted by Arbitron Inc., MP3 players like the iPod are quickly becoming the preferred music-playing devices for America's teens. In 2005, only 27 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds owned an MP3 player. But just one year later, 42 percent did. That won't be surprising to anyone who's recently passed by a school bus filled with kids sitting quietly with the ubiquitous, white iPod buds planted in their ears.
Anastasia Goodstein, publisher of Ypulse.com, is writing a book on what teens are doing online and with other forms of technology. She says MP3 players contribute to what she calls the "mash up" culture. She defines this as taking bits and piece of elements of popular culture and then remixing them. It is, in a sense, a way to create one's own subculture.
"The MP3 player in general has contributed to aspects of the 'mash up' culture because teens can listen to a variety of music," Goodstein told CBSNews.com. "Their breadth of music is greater."
There are plenty of signs of the generational penchant for musical diversity in a survey teens filled out for CBSNews.com, in which they were asked to recount the last 10 songs that they downloaded. Ashley, 16, listed tracks by artists as diverse as Christian-rockers Relient K, legendary country crooner Patsy Cline and arena-rock icons Journey. Allie, 17, ventures across genres just as much, with rap, alternative rock and country tunes on her play list.
It used to be that teens were heavily defined by their favorite music. Punks listened to punk rock, metal fiends listened to heavy metal and Deadheads listed to the Grateful Dead. Of course, teens still have their favorite artists and genres, but now that they can so easily and inexpensively access songs, they seem more willing to experiment, and it is easier for them to create their own multidimensional identity.