What will the lives of Generation Z (often abbreviated as Gen Z) look like?
We know by now that a Western lifestyle encouraging quantity over quality is unsustainable – for the planet, our mental health and our pockets. Generation Z will have to do things differently. Having grown up in the era of the Great Recession era, they are already known for their thriftiness and entrepreneurial spirit.
One Gen Z’er, Isabelle Levent, has turned her reflections on the problems of consumption and distraction (and the choices Gen Z will have to make about living on a finite planet) into an 11-minute documentary called LESS. Levent, who at 16 is a Tribeca Institute fellow and a cofounder of Gingerline Productions, will screen her film LESS around the United States in the coming months, aiming to spread her message with the assistance of Devin Gilmartin, cofounder of Querencia Studio, and Emma Ferrer, artist, and granddaughter of Audrey Hepburn.
Together, the three redefine minimalism. “Minimalism today is often associated with its aesthetic – a cool, calm color palette, sleek lines and empty space – rather than its true meaning. It can be portrayed as an elegant life of few gadgets and simple, monochromatic clothing.” But these visuals are misleading, she says. Minimalism is no longer about rich people who have decided to purge themselves (Look at all the things that I refused to buy!) who imitate simplicity without giving up class signifiers.
Yet one of my concerns while watching the film was that minimalism as a movement was born from privilege.
Instead, for Gen Z members like Gilmartin, minimalism “is a way to process information and make conscious and informed decisions about what is important to one's self.” It’s a way of spending one’s time in order to keep one’s sanity, thanks to the chaos and distraction in the world.
Yet one of my concerns while watching the film was that minimalism as a movement was born from privilege. Both film participants live in an urban setting – both are white. In my email interview with Levent, I asked how she thought the choice to live with less might be different for someone living in or struggling to move out of poverty, or those living in rural places.
“The springboard from which I think about minimalism is Henry David Thoreau’s journey at Walden Pond,” she told me. “He preached simplicity and a deliberate, purposeful life; he worried about the illusions of ‘modern improvements.’ The choice to question and to focus is one that is one that people from all walks of life … have to reckon with.”
Who exactly can count themselves a member of Gen Z? The film isn’t exactly clear. WIRED Magazine and GenZ Guru both define this generation kids born after 1995; the Pew Research Center uses 1996 as the benchmark. Emma Ferrer, born in 1994, may or may not actually be a member of Gen Z; Gilmartin, also in his twenties, is, at best, an older member of the generation.
Perhaps the key difference between millennials and Gen Z, according to the New York Times, is that “Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Theirs is a story of innocence lost.” Generation Z, the paper notes, “has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession.”
However classified, Levent feels her film is an excellent medium to capture this essentiel difference. She and her cofounder, Aicha Cherif, hope to use film as a means to collaborate with companies and individuals exhibiting a social consciousness she sees in her generation.
In the end, however, there’s no simple solution to the problems Gen Z will face over its lifetime. “Our most reliable support system should be each other,” Gilmartin said, “the young people who are sometimes disoriented by the change but even more passionate about finding solutions to the issues they bring about.”
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