Every Generation Got Its Own Moniker: Music in the iGeneration
|“Aural Fixation” is a music-themed column I wrote for PopMatters.com from 2011-2013. They are no longer online there, but I have reformatted them here at the DMDB blog with additional videos, photos, and links, such as where to buy referenced albums. I have also used the title “Aural Fixation” for any essays I have written outside of PopMatters.com as well. To see the essays, check out the Dave’s Music Database Aural Fixation page. You can also purchase the essays in book format here.|
Music geeks from my era might recall the song, “Every Generation Got Its Own Disease,” by Fury in the Slaughterhouse. It was a minor rock hit in 1994 – obscure enough, in fact, to make the granting of “one-hit wonder” status an iffy proposition.
When I first heard the tune, I had limited choices for accessing it again. I could plop down ten bucks or so for the entire album at a music store – if they had it in stock. I could watch endless hours of MTV or listen incessantly to my local alternative radio station and keep my fingers crossed that it might get played.
Today’s music fan can rip the song illegally, stream it, watch it on YouTube, hear it on a subscription music service, find it on satellite radio, or download it for 99 cents through from iTunes, Amazon, or any of a myriad of online stores. Oh, and they might stumble across some article or blog which has posted the song – you know, like here.
If nay-sayers are to be believed, the expectation that anything can be accessed anytime anywhere is at the heart of the disease plaguing the iGeneration. Blanche Clark and Catherine Lambert note that today’s tech-obsessed youth are ripped for their short attention spans, illiterate texting, and ignorance of privacy on social media. This is a group of young people who “choose YouTube over newspapers” and “smartphones over telephones” (Herald Sun “Glued to smartphones and YouTube, the oldest of the tech-obsessed iGeneration turn 18 this year”, 3 March 2013).
Before the teenage eUniverse launches a social media cyberspace attack upon me, let me attempt a feeble peace offering. There’s a long-established precedent of older generations lambasting “the youth of today.” In a Boise Weekly article, Ted Rall notes that Millenials were lambasted as narcissists. Generation X’ers were called “shallow, apolitical, unambitious shoe-gazers” (“Turn Up That Music: The Gen X-Millenial generation gap”, 12 June 2013). In fact, the article notes the Strauss & Howe book Generations which traces the tradition back to American colonial times.
I have no intention of trying to reach back 200 years. Some definitions may be in order. There’s surprisingly little consensus on when each generation ends and begins – or even how they should be labeled. For my purposes, I’m not going back any further than Baby Boomers (1946-64), the era which birthed rock and roll and many of the music trends we still see today. Then we have Generation X (1965-79), Millenials (1980-95), and the iGeneration (1995-2013).
So back to the problem with kids today. First of all, it is important to understand that iGeners never knew a life without electronic communication via the Internet, email, mobile phones, texting, blogging, laptops, tablets, Skype, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, iPods, iPads, and iTouch.
In his book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn. Larry Rosen identified a slew of characteristics of iGeners, including adeptness at multitasking, desire for immediacy, and the ability to use technology to create a vast array of content. He told Sharon Jayson in a USA Today interview (“Tech-savvy ‘iGeneration’ kids multi-task, connect”, 10 February 2010), that today’s young people “expect innovation.” Anything they want will “be tailored to their own needs and wishes and desires.” That also means, as child and adolescent psychologist Dave Verhaagen says in the USA Today article, that kids “know almost every piece of information they want is at their disposal whenever they need it.”
He identifies portability as key.
An article in Psychology Today (“Welcome to the iGeneration!”, 26 March 2010) noted that today’s typical teenager sends and receives more than 3000 texts per month, compared to 191 phone calls. The USA Today article cited a study by Rosen showing that more than half of 9 to 12 year olds have cellphones.
For those who can actually recall such antiquated devices as land-line-based telephones, pre-World Wide Web home computers, and televisions which only picked up a handful of channels, this new-fangled technology is often welcomed if not entirely understood.
With new technology comes change, both good and bad. On the plus side, who from my era didn’t appreciate the advent of remote controls to eliminate the need to keep getting off the couch to change channels? Who didn’t like when cordless technology eliminated the need to be tethered to the phone in the kitchen, where Mom and Dad could easily hear your conversations?
What, however, has technology done to how the iGeneration experiences music? What is their level of appreciation for it?
Perhaps the clearest change in behavior is that of multi-tasking. Today’s children will grow up in an attention deficit world which cannot carry on a five-minute conversation without an interruption from a chiming mobile phone to alert its user that some friend three-times removed has posted a new funny cat picture on Facebook.
This is a direct result of a world in which it is possible to ALWAYS be available. With a mobile device at their fingertips, today’s children are always accessible. That means music is ALWAYS available. As a teen, I saved my allowance so I could buy cassette tapes at the mall from chains like Musicland and Camelot. In my twenties, I made weekly excursions to the local CD store or department stores like Best Buy. Now new music is never more than a few clicks away.
I also had to “discover” music via the radio or MTV. Today’s kids send YouTube video links back and forth and can stream seemingly any music they want, anytime, anywhere.
In his own article in Neiman Reports for Harvard (“Understanding the iGeneration – Before the Next Mini-Generation Arrives”, Summer 2010), Rosen noted that even the pre-teen set average more than 1000 tweets per month.
Rosen identifies these characteristics of the iGeneration in the Harvard article:
Whittaker would say one of the characteristics of the iGeneration is “isolated socialization” – meaning one can access people and their social lives from their desk or laptop. This group can also self publicize and be exposed like no other generation before it.
In Herald Sun article, social researcher Mark McCrindle notes that the generation is defined by how rapidly they integrate technology into their lives. He notes that baby boomers had vinyl while today’s teens have grown up with MP3 players, smartphones, and storing music in iCloud.
The article also notes that YouTube, with four million views per day, is second only to Google as search engines go. The iGeneration has grown up in a world of rapid social, culture, and economic change. They are adaptable and ready for change.
Being connected has become a huge part of their identity. Social networking allows teens to form surrogate extended families and work collaboratively and co-operatively. Psychologist and social researcher Professor Hugh Mackay notes that kids use their mobile devices “like an electronic security blanket.”
For more “Aural Fixation” essays, check out the Dave’s Music Database Aural Fixation page page.
Resources and Related Links:
First posted 8/31/2013; updated 10/27/2023.