Societies change when a sufficient number of people rebel against the status quo. So, what is a rebellion?
Most people simply define a rebel as someone who is against the status quo. But this does not really fit very well. Believing that the status quo is bad is not an action. And, if nothing else, rebellions are certainly active.
But perhaps more damning to that point of view is that being against something is not the same as being for something. Successful rebellions always have a goal. They know what they do not like, and more importantly, they know what they want to replace it with.
Most people who are considered rebels today, and the majority of people who consider themselves to be rebels, would be better classified as being counter-culture. They act in opposition to the dominant culture in protest, but these people will never change society as a whole. After all, their beliefs and practices are based on being different. They define themselves based on the dominant society, on not being “the man” or “square” or what have you. If they were to actually become the dominant culture, then they would be “the man” or “square” or whatever. Indeed, their very existence actually strengthens the society they believe they are acting in opposition to.
There are three mechanisms by which such counter-cultural action strengthens society. First, it serves as an outlet for people who might otherwise work towards a new society. Second, since they are in opposition to the dominate culture, many people may find aspects of how they “rebel” distasteful. This distaste leads them to the conclusion that, if this is the alternative, then the society as is must not be all that bad after all. The third mechanism is fairly self-fulfilling. Since all these people who are rebelling against the dominate culture are unable to make any substantial change then people conclude that no change is possible. The fact that the counter-cultural movements have no interest in changing society at large is fairly irrelevant.
Of course, changing societies is possible. The main issue is that you need rebels. Real ones, not guys with black lipstick. A real rebel sees a situation they do not like and makes an active effort to change it into a situation they do like.
A real rebel would not see our modern society and go put on a trench-coat. A real rebel would try to figure out what they did not like, what they would prefer, and how to make the first become the second. If a real rebel saw what the world was and hated it, they would invent a society for themselves, without regard for the society at large. This means both that they would be willing to change anything that did not suit, and that they would not change something simply because it was there. If such a person managed to convince enough other people that their vision of a new society was better than the current one, then we would have a revolution.