The week of August 31, 2014

Teens are taking over my digital lawn

By Monica Riese

In many ways, I am the least qualified person to write this letter from the editor.

Sure, it’s a letter, and I am indeed an editor, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m basically a 75-year-old woman. I’m a card-carrying member of a bowling league, I taught myself to knit a few years ago, and I’m regularly in bed before 11pm. I wasn’t even a huge fan of teens when I was one.

They’re overdramatic and occasionally cocky and stupid and altogether too energetic for my taste; they take selfies in inappropriate places and communicate in another language, and interacting with the whole lot can be exhausting at best and frustrating to no end.

But here’s the thing.

Elementary school classroom posters and Whitney Houston lyrics have long proclaimed that children are our future, but even I, in all my curmudgeonly cane-shaking, recognize that that’s utterly wrong. Children and teens aren’t our future; they’re our present.

Justin Bieber hit the mainstream when he was a mere 15; Miley Cyrus auditioned for what would become her big break at the ripe old age of 11. From the Vine star who skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes chart in 37 minutes flat to the YouTube pranksters who landed a movie deal with Lionsgate, the entertainment sphere is quickly becoming the territory of the teen.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the yearbook of YouTube stars that Rae Votta and Michelle Jaworski collated for this issue; dissect the AwesomenessTV empire with Audra Schroeder; meet some of SoundCloud’s up-and-coming producers, profiled by Andy Hermann; or get up close and personal with teen idol Lohanthony in Me IRL, our weekly interview series. There’s a reason that, according to research released by Variety earlier this month, teen celebrities have outranked their Hollywood counterparts in terms of both popularity and relatability.

But it’s not just the celebrities that have taken over: Their fanbase, the 13- to 19-year-old set of (mostly female) teens who have been ignoring you in favor of their iPhones at Thanksgiving dinner for years now, is practically impossible to keep up with. That iTunes chart I mentioned earlier? The work of teens. Spring’s biggest controversial book giveaway? Run by a teen. Just last month, we profiled a young college student who plays an active role in Syria’s revolution from her home in Chicago. In her op-ed this week, Aja Romano explores the ways in which the misunderstood Tumblr generation is perfectly primed to mobilize for activist causes in a way wholly unfamiliar to their parents and even older siblings.

That said, the unplanned closure of a quiet Taco Bell due to a swarm of screaming O2L fans? Also teens. Fake bomb threats against four separate airlines in April? Teens again. We sent Audra Schroeder to a DigiTour stop in Chicago to try to get to the heart of that tween passion—and the business behind millennials’ Beatlemania.

To be sure, writing about all of this in a longform Sunday magazine flies directly in the face of today’s shorter and shorter media—see Greg Stevens’ explanation of the Vine effect in his op-ed this week—but that’s where yours truly comes in. If I, the George Wilson to YouTube’s Dennis the Menace, can grok the significance of this movement to our entertainment and political spheres, so too must you, dear reader, get on board with the influx of young voices. Because long before I can retire, the 10-year-old face of Kid President will be able to run for the White House, and I have to admit I don’t want him raised by a generation of adults who roll their eyes at his message or platform.

So to the grownups in the audience: Get reading. You have a lot of catching up to do.

To the teens?


Photo via Pascal Maramis/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed