It will be Instagrammed, Reddited. Snapchatted, Mediumed, Tumblred, and all the apps that will follow. And this is good. Apps and the internet connect people in ways never possible before, and millennials have grown up using them, starting with MySpace. For introverts and middle schoolers MySpace was a way to make friends, find people with similarities, and feel connected at a time in life when forming connections in person is the most difficult. Just when the youngest millennials reached the age where pulling away from parents and toward friends is normal, they had a whole world open up to them in unprecedented ways. My own son, now crazy popular at twenty-five, was unpopular in middle school. MySpace, and later, Facebook, gave him the sense of community he needed and built his self-esteem.
Reddit and Tumblr and newer sites bring together revolutionary minded millennials. There are forums for anarchists, socialists, social democrats, and social justice groups. Facebook and other media are used to broadcast details of protests against the current administration and its polices on immigration, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter and trans rights, to name a few. They promote gatherings of anti-facist and anti-racist groups to counter the gatherings of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Neo Nazis. And people show up in unprecedented numbers.
All of this is good. On the other hand, the prevalence of information and misinformation has also contributed to our becoming jaded and overwhelmed. I used the app 5 Calls for months after the election to call senators and representatives and government offices to lodge a protest against every ridiculous executive order and bill that threatened our Democracy after the 2016 election. I also used it to urge support for bills and actions I deemed positive for the country and the world. But as time goes by, I find I use it less and less. Now I call only when I feel direct threat, as in the latest Supreme Court confirmation and the caging of immigrant children. It’s still useful, but the initial impact for me is less motivating because of the ongoing idiocy in our government, but more because I get lost for hours on rabbit trails in my News app. Psychologically, this behavior equates knowing with doing, and it isn’t the same thing at all.
The phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” started in the 1960s with the Black Panther movement. It meant that the revolution of our political and institutionalized systems would be REAL, genuine, and ongoing. Ironically, the revolution did become televised when the three national news channels available at that time broadcast the children in the Civil Rights Movement being attacked by police dogs and fire hoses, which ripped clothing and skin, coverage of protests against the Viet Nam war, and footage from the war itself. It’s hard to imagine now, but the visuals were extremely shocking to “average” Americans, to the degree that votes changed and pressure increased for the government to challenge Jim Crow laws, pass the Civil Rights Amendment, and end the war. The revolution, and television and the Washington Post did, indeed, bring about major change.
I talk with millennials now who don’t believe those changes were enough. They are right. But I ask them to look at how the oppression then was so much more obvious than it has been until recently. It was glaring and in your face, whereas systemic racism and incorporated financial imbalance was less obvious, and the current revolution must address those things. Also media was simpler, less ubiquitous, and therefore had a bigger impact.
The advantage of today is that there is a plethora of media, so more people can be reached and impacted in more ways. The revolution can be more easily coordinated and directed. Communication has increased in speed and coverage. More people are reached more often.
However, when there were only three news channels and a smattering of important newspapers, the images coming into the living rooms were shocking and life changing because of the shock. Today, we are so inundated with shocking images and stories that we can become jaded. Also, because we can directly interact with people online in our own bubble, we get the false impression that we are actually organizing. But unless that connectedness leads to action, there is no change. Just as I have seen protests and counter protests organized by millennials through social media, I have also seen millennials who feel sufficiently involved by talking within their bubble. Sometimes that bubble convinces them that revolution is hopeless. They, and we, may also feel sufficiently involved because we can argue with trolls outside of our bubble. But I have never won one of those arguments, whereas I have been able to change minds with face-to-face communication.
I don’t have the answers. But I do know that millennials’ desire for change and action is encouraging and palpable. They will have to figure out how to maintain the energy and connection with one another while fighting the good fights. They will protest and counter protest and lead the rest of us in those actions. They will continue to use social media to do so. I hope some of them are working on ways to make social media more impactful and change-making. The way television and newspapers used to be. I hope they will discover how to cut through the clutter and stick with what matters, using everything at their disposal to advance their agendas. I believe in them.