BEZAWADA: Demonized young generations are trying to improve society


Opinion Column: Traipse The Fine Line

“Juvenoia:” An unofficial term used to describe the fear and resentment in which older generations regard the newer. It is no new information that millennials and Gen Zs are possibly among the most hated generations to exist, with their violent video games, liberalism, millennial pinks, memes, mental illnesses, killing of entire industries, need for higher salaries, lack of foreseeable housing options, avocados, hipster fashion and disruption of the nuclear family.

I mean, how dare they enjoy their lives given the pressure mounting on them to succeed more than ever before? In all seriousness, there is a wide perception that the world’s young adults and children are unfit to take on the future, and that they are too sensitive or too depressed or too unaware. There is only one way to combat this notion. To fight back. And dare I say this is going wonderfully well, mainly because of a single weapon: Social media.

Approximately a month ago, on March 5, Byron Román uploaded two photos to Facebook captioned: “Here is a new #challenge for all you bored teens. Take a photo of an area that needs some cleaning or maintenance, then take a photo after you have done something about it, and post it.” #trashtag went viral on social media, with the original Facebook post surpassing 320,000 shares and accumulating 25,000 posts on Instagram. 

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers retweeted the challenge on Twitter and Reddit as well. But the most important result of this wholesome challenge was the volume of participants. Young adults from Guatemala to the Philippines to Vietnam to almost every nation in the world posted before and after pictures of themselves collecting litter, cleaning local parks and even entire shores.

To be fair, Román’s #trashtag was the last domino to topple in the game for popularity. The idea itself was nothing new. On October 2015, Afroz Shah organized a massive cleanup effort of Mumbai, India’s popular but heavily polluted Versova Beach. The monumental feat earned Shah the title of Champion of the Earth, which is the highest environmental honor the United Nations awards. In fact, even the hashtag “#trashtag” is not new. It started as a Twitter campaign by UCO Gear, a company that specializes in outdoor equipment, around the same time Shah was cleaning Versova Beach. 

The crucial difference between these projects and the global recognition of Román’s #trashtag is the context. The challenge is not meant to be an organized, cohesive or proactive effort. Román himself spontaneously decided to pick up trash in his local area and upload photos in the hope that others would do the same. 

He modeled it as a #challenge, an online trend of people recording themselves contending with obstacles of varying degrees of difficulty, and made it appear as something people could do in the spur of the moment. Whether Román realized it or not, he genuinely appealed to teenagers and harnessed their power, little by little, making an immense difficulty accessible.

A more sobering example of the impact younger generations have via social media is the anti-gun violence movement. Last year, a young man armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed 17 people in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, injuring many more. Unfortunately, during that same year, more than 300 people were murdered in schools. Survivors of the Parkland shooting had enough. 

In one of the most historic examples of youth activism, the internet-savvy survivors have amassed a growing social media army millions strong under the #NeverAgain banner, recruiting hundreds of demonstrators in national anti-gun violence protests, directly confronting influential public figures and inspiring young people around the world to challenge their governments and societies. Many of their posts are unfiltered, witty comebacks aimed at ignorant words and actions of prominent politicians and news stations. These tweets have since gone massively viral, attracting more and more revitalized young people to their cause. 

But the most fascinating aspect of this movement is its life. Our attention spans are shrinking, and we have become so desensitized to terrible news that media barely cover it for longer than a day. But the war against gun violence rages even a year after the massacre. How did the teenagers mastermind this worldwide rebellion? 

As young adults themselves, they understand their audience. By constantly uploading clips, GIFs, memes, reactions and interacting with their followers, they have rallied an ardent, sympathetic base of fellow young adults energized and ready to fight for their rights.

#BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and numerous more online campaigns are now bleeding into real life, forcing people to stop looking away from the wound. And it is young adults who have ripped off the flimsy bandage. Even if the older generation does not recognize it, it is still happening. After all, the show must go on.

Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts  and Sciences sophomore double majoring in marketing and communications and minoring in Japanese. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line," runs alternate Wednesdays.

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