OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Back in March, high school senior Emma Gonzalez gave a two-minute speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, speaking out against gun violence following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida. The press hailed her talk as powerful and moving. Rapper Kanye West called her “my hero.”
But for many of Gonzalez's peers, taking a public stand is a natural reaction, said Molly Logan, co-founder of Gen-Z-owned think tank and studio Irregular Labs, on stage at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.
“It’s ordinary for Gen-Z. This is what Gen-Z does,” she said.
Logan works with Gen-Z talents and innovators on a daily basis. She invited five of them to join her on stage.
The group was a diverse, creative bunch, with no one confined to a single profession or project. Elise By Olsen is a publisher, editor and curator, most recently founding Wallet, her fashion criticism publication where she serves as editor-in-chief. Lula Ososki is a writer, creative director and consultant. Kai-Isaiah Jamal is a spoken word poet, activist and model. Nicolaia Rips is an author and playwright, with her debut book “Trying to Float” scooping an ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award. Liv Little — the oldest at 24 — is a curator, audio producer, filmmaker and editor-in-chief of Gal-Dem, a media brand run exclusively by women of colour.
The parameters of qualifying as a Gen-Zer are still slightly foggy. Logan says its roughly anyone between the ages of 14 and 24. But, broadly speaking, this young generation shares key traits. They value activism and inclusivity. They don’t adhere to binaries or rules. They value creativity and imagination, hybridity and multiplicity, fragmentation and deceleration. They are the fluid generation.
Gen-Z thinks in multiplicity… you don’t have contradiction.
Schooling the audience on the ABCs of “fluidity,” Logan emphasised that fluidity is not a synonym for gender.
“They’re completely different. they’ve been conflated, it's incorrect,” she said. “Fluidity is a way of thinking, it’s a philosophy, it’s a way of navigating the world. Gender is a system that’s being impacted by fluidity. They’re not the same thing, separate them now.”
Often, clients Longan works with think in binaries: gay or straight, black or white, male or female. But Gen-Z doesn’t, she says. “Gen-Z thinks in multiplicity… you don’t have contradiction.”
Logan emphasised that this new generation is not afraid to destabilise the status quo, especially if it has failed them. By Olsen, for example, started her first blog when she was eight. Next, came her publication, Recens Paper, which she launched aged 13. It was a lack of youth-driven media projects that spoke to her interests that fuelled her entrepreneurial spirit.
“The youth magazines that were out there at the time were commercial glossy magazines promoting beauty standards and gender stereotypes that I didn’t agree with,” she said. “These magazines were usually adults reporting on youth culture. I wanted to see a magazine that was reporting from the inside. Recens was essentially a magazine by young people for young people.”
Similarly, Ososki rejected the traditional university education route. Instead, she started writing for i-D aged 17, before going on to work at London-based creative agency Superimpose.
“The biggest issues that I face with traditional systems such as education or the workplace is they don’t want to be adaptable of flexible to our fluid thinking and mindset,” she said.
But challenging the establishment for the sake of challenging the establishment isn’t the end goal. Little splits her time between Gal-Dem and the BBC, spending about 10 percent of her schedule in its commissioning division. In addition to writing books and screenplays, Rips has guest lectured for The School of The New York Times, while her work has been published by Beneficial Shock Magazine and Bomb Magazine. She is also a student at Brown University.
“I worked within the system because I could, because there was an opportunity presented to me. They paid me, they gave me a platform, and it’s in a world I highly respect,” Rips said. “I do think it can be fluid and publishing houses can be fluid because there’s this collaborative process to it.”
We’re not the first people to ever come up with these concepts or have a platform that spoke to marginalised voices.
Jamal agrees cross-generation collaboration and conversation is an important part of helping to work towards a society that is more in line with the ideals and values of his cohort. As a spoken word poet, most of his work is social commentary lensed through his experience as a queer, trans man of colour. But, when he is hired for a job, he challenges his employer to think about his or her company and how it conducts itself.
“You also have to think about what is happening in your institution already,” he said. “It’s more for me about not saying: this is wrong. It’s more saying: this is outdated….I don’t want to be here for the season that it’s trendy [to talk about these issues]. Will you still be supporting me when it’s no longer trendy? Will you still support me then?”
Speaking after the on-stage talk, Little raised an important point. While her generation is creating a new cultural currency, it's not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to ask questions, challenge establishments and see the world through a different lens.
“We’re not the first people to ever come up with these concepts or have a platform that spoke to marginalised voices,” said Little. “[The previous generation] just didn’t have tools like the internet that they could leverage to have the kind of reach that we’re able to have ... That’s a really important side to it as well.”
To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.