“Are we really free?” 

Long lost empires and philosophical dilemmas seem to be what’s brewing on the young mind of Lucas Ribeiro at PRM Agency as of lately. At only 16, he has the confidence of someone twice his age, yet is seemingly unaware of how he ever managed to adapt such a secure demeanour. And especially at such a taxing point in life - namely the teens. Throughout our exploration of Generation Z we’ve discovered that this generation seems far more likely to favour a creative occupation, while some boys such as Lucas is still very much interested in potentially pursuing a career within traditional fields such as engineering. However, he does possess an expressive nature, which he shares with his peers. 

In the midst of an age where hormones should prominently be raging, photographer Jade Danielle Smith captures Lucas' astonishingly confident and candid soul for our Generation Z series, showcasing his fervour and unique outlook on life. Lucas somehow manages to prove that he can glide through those teenage years with noticeable ease, as he would rather spend his time contemplating the reasons for why Portugal lost its empire than minor teenage trifles. “How did we lose it all?”.

Lucas cries, sometimes. ‘Of course,’ he says, but it’s okay, it's just normal to experience strong emotions. It’s important for him that he is as authentic as he can be, because he is an honest boy after all - he will always tell it as it is. Lying is out of the questions for someone like him, since his conscience might falter under such flagrant conditions. A sensitive boy, whose greatest pleasure in life is to make other people laugh. That will forever be his utmost achievement - a humble goal, but in the end a very purposeful one. Deemed an eternity of brightening any space he is ever to set foot in, his angelic features may put everyone in danger of melting like ice cream under an intense mid day sun. 

How would you describe your generation?
The main word: technology. I think it’s the first generation to experience the larger technology events. When I was born there was no Facebook, no social media - 10 years later there was almost all of that. Technology, I think that’s the way I would describe it. The phones, the computers.... I think our generation is the first one to have all of these things appear during our childhood.

How do you feel about technology?
It’s useful, without technology, everyone’s job would be way harder, but way too much of it is never good. I think it’s like that with almost everything, way too much of something is never good.

What do you think are the good things about your generation and what are the challenges you face?
From generation to generation, I think it’s getting better and better - like the future generations are obviously going to have it better than this generation. The challenges - that’s a hard one. Inflation, I think. That’s the only thing I can remember, all the prices are increasing. Also, a lot of kids are getting way too addicted to technology. I think those are the challenges.

Do you find that you can easily separate yourself from technology?
I use it a lot, but yeah, I think I can separate myself from it. I’m a bit dependent on it, because without Internet I wouldn’t know as much. I’ll set myself aside, because I use technology more for its practicality. 

How was it like growing up in Portugal?
People in Portugal are generally very welcoming. It’s totally different from any other country. It has a lot of variety and different ethnic groups, but we don’t have that mentality that immigrants are stealing our jobs. It’s a more left-sided country. When I was growing up, there were still a lot people not being accepting of other communities. The LGBTQ rights for instance. Calling someone ‘gay’ was a giant insult, but right now you would be insulting yourself by saying so. I can see a lot of change in attitude has happened. I really don’t know how it is in other countries, so I can’t compare that well. 

Well, you don’t have to compare. Did you like growing up in Portugal?
Well, I do remember one thing. We have exams - national exams in the 4th, 6th, 9th, 11th and 12th grade in Portugal. It’s super exaggerated. I don’t like school, but it’s necessary. I’m on the science track - there are several options you can take from 10th grade and onwards. It depends on what path you would want to follow. There’s science, economics, arts, humanities, informatics. I don’t think we’re mature enough at this age to decide what we want to do. That’s a problem with the education in Portugal I think. From 10th and 11th grade I had Portuguese, maths, English, biology, geology, physics, chemistry and physical education. That was all I had. Oh, and Philosophy. Philosophy is mandatory.

How was philosophy?
It’s really strange. We have an expression; ‘palha’. It means that we’re not saying anything at all, but at the same time we’re trying to convince someone in a text. For example, we might write an answer one time, then we write it again with different words and again and again and again. We’re writing a lot. To be honest, I understand why we use a lot of expressions in Portuguese now, because it relates to morals and ethics, and I’ve understood that from philosophy. It gives you a lot of important insight on how this world works and the opinions of various philosophers – for instance ‘liberty’. Are we really free? What gives you knowledge? Logic and mathematics. It’s a lot of opinions, but what they normally want is for you to explain what a certain philosopher thinks about something in a text. That’s what the class is usually about. Explaining concepts. Philosophy is pretty interesting. It’s strange that we have it though. In 10th grade, we started it and then it didn’t make much sense to me, but now I’m getting more into it.   

There’s one thing you mentioned earlier; ‘Are you really free?’, what do you have to say about that?
There are three theories. We are free. Liberalism. Then we have determinism. We have the radical and the moderate. The moderate says that we are not completely free. The radical say that all our actions are determined by past actions, so we think we are free, but really we aren’t. We don’t choose what we do - it’s something like that. I think personally that it’s something in between the moderate and the radical form of determinism. Our actions are determined, but at the same time we still choose them. That’s my opinion. For example, something in the past might affect an action you might perform in the future, but you still have choices – you are free to choose them.

That’s very interesting. I'm curious about something, what is your favourite childhood memory?
That’s hard, let me think. I don’t know if it is summer, probably it is. Summer in Portugal is the best,the summer there is really good. Definitely not my meals, because when I was a little boy I literally didn’t want to eat anything. I didn’t really like it. If it was junk food though I would eat it in an instant. I was that kind of kid. Probably summers. We have beaches all around the country. 

But that’s the worst childhood memory that you brought up…
Yeah, I know… Sometimes it’s easier to remember the worst. But what was better for me was definitely the summer. I just really enjoyed it - going to the beach. The perfect summer day would be going body boarding at the beach. It’s great when the beach has a yellow flag. Green flag means you can swim and do almost everything in the water. Yellow flag means that you can go to the water, but you shouldn’t swim because the waves might be too strong. Red means that you shouldn’t go to the water, perhaps only to place your feet by the water and wait for the waves to come and pass over your feet. Some people lay near the water and wait for the water to come. I think green is boring. Yellow is better for body boarding. Green can sometimes be really good for body boarding, but I prefer yellow. 

What are you passionate about?
Football. Definitely football. I’m not the greatest player, but I really enjoy it. The year Portugal won was a great excuse for people to get drunk on the streets, I’ll tell you that. Portugal never won a single competition in football really, although it does have a good national team. Lots of people love it, but we’ve never won a single competition, so the day it happened…. And we won against the French. We don’t really like the French that much, they’re the French, after all. Winning in Paris, like really… Watching it on TV, seeing immigrants from their ex-colonies celebrating the fact that France lost. I was like; ‘France was really bad towards Algeria…’. People were waving Algerian flags around the Eiffel Tower together with the Portuguese. It was hilarious to watch that on TV. Having also the worst player of the team score the goal was even better. No one wanted him to get selected for the team and everyone was saying that he was one of the worst players Portugal had ever had. He scored one official goal - one goal that mattered, and it was during the most important game of his life.

Who is Lucas? 
You were saying this wasn’t going to be hard. Really? This is not easy. I’m a very talkative person, I talk a lot. At the beginning, I’m shy, but then… Even though I don’t know you well, I’ll start talking to you like you’re my friend. I wasn’t a very comfortable person before, I was a really shy person. I think it’s very important to make people laugh, like I’m doing right now.

*The whole room breaks out in laughter*

That’s the main words I would choose to use to describe myself. I like feeling independent as well. For example, walking down the street all on my own, even though Google Maps is technically doing everything for me. 

How would you describe your current lifestyle? And what would you like it to be in 5-10 years?
I really like mathematics. Almost everyone hates math, but I really love it. And I really like physics and chemistry. I will probably be working in something where I would be able to use science and math in 10 years. Engineering is a good choice, because you have courses in college that have way more interesting math than the math courses I have in school now. The courses I’ve been taking have had humanities mixed into the subject, for instance the history of math. I don’t like learning history. I like history, but in school I think it’s so boring. I really like the history of WWII. I don’t think Portuguese history is that interesting. There was a time when Portugal was the biggest world power, but then how did we lose it all? Now about half of Americans think we’re Spain. Some people even start speaking Spanish when they’re in Portugal, because they think it is the same. Annoying really… How did we lose it all? Imagine Sweden being a world power and then the next moment it’s just the size of Belgium or something like that? It would suck.

Where do you get this confidence from? From your mother or father? The rulers of your country? Past emperors?
I really don’t know. It’s just there. I can’t explain how I got this confident. I don’t know how I went from shy to confident. Although, I do think modelling helped a bit. 

Who do you see as influencers of your generation today?
I see the United States principally as an influencer. Worldwide, I think the US has the biggest influence on the world. Portugal has a lot of influential people. Everyone knows who Cristiano Ronaldo is. I remember in 2012 when he got a specific haircut, and then everybody started copying it. For example, if it weren’t for celebrities and the Oscars, the selfie wouldn’t have been what it is today. If American celebrities do something, everyone will go and copy them afterwards. Like the golden teeth. How can that have been popular? And the fanny packs? Those were really ridiculous, but still they became popular.

Who influences you?
My friends. It’s a bit of a chain. They influence me, and others influence them. And on top of that you’ll find the celebrities. In Portugal there are influential celebrities, but that’s only for Portuguese people. When we’re talking worldwide, we’re talking Americans - and the press is also the reason why this happens. I know a lot of girls who like to copy the Kardashians. I can’t believe someone will go that low. I’m getting so toxic here… Well, I’m glad you guys like honesty.

Is honesty a quality that you treasure?
I prefer it when people just say; ‘I don’t like that’. I think you can see when people are being dishonest. There are some really good liars out there, but in end it’s hard to be a really good liar.

Do you find it easy to lie?
No, really not. I’m an honest person. I’ve never stolen anything, I would never have the courage to do that. If I were to be dishonest I would then be the kind of person that I despise, so that’s why honesty is important to me. I’ve kept secrets from my mother that she later discovered. It was big relief when she found out about it though, because I was stressing about the fact the she might find out. My mother is a really good mother. She taught me lots of things, like any other mother.

How do you think social media is affecting this generation?  
We like to get likes on the pictures we post. One year ago I thought that social media was really important. I still think it’s a bit, but not as important. Social media gives you the impression that you are important. And I think social media is affecting us badly. People shouldn’t be centring their lives around social media. I saw a video of a teacher here the other day, and he said that your life is like a glass jar and you have these small and large ping-pong balls to fill it with. If you put the smaller balls in first, there will be no more room left for the larger ping-pong balls. If you put the larger balls in first, everything will fit. The large ping-pong balls represent the most important things in our lives, and Instagram for me is like a really small ping-pong ball. That’s how I would describe social media at the moment. I don’t think it will ever take over completely, as I do think that Instagram will lose some steam eventually just like everything before has lost its steam. Just imagine, in 2008 everyone was using Myspace, but now Myspace is just a page where you have pointless ads everywhere. 

What do you do to make yourself happy?
Relax. I try to hang out with friends. If I have nothing to do, I will just lay in bed. I have a football, which I just throw at the ceiling - it’s entertaining. I can spend hours doing this. I’ll get out my phone, might spend some time on social media. I sit on my phone at school also, which is a problem. I think I spend way too much time on it. I should study more. I should listen to my mother, she is always right.

Would you say you’re an emotional person? 
I have emotions like everyone. Well, I do think our actions are dependent on our feelings. I think I am dependent on my feelings. I can’t control how I’m going to feel about something. It’s impossible to predict everything, so I think everyone is dependent on feelings. 

Are you comfortable with sharing your feelings with other people?
I would tell someone if I was down, but it depends, if it is way too much I probably wouldn’t talk about it. I will usually talk to my friends. I normally talk person to person. I will never send messages saying; ‘Oh, I’m feeling really down’. I would never do that. A conversation like that only really works when you’re face to face.  

Do you cry?
Of course, I’m a pretty sensitive person. I don’t get offended really easily, but some emotions I experience very strongly. Other people wouldn’t be able to handle it the way I do it. I get really stressed or really sad or extremely happy.

How do you handle these situations when you experience strong emotions?
I try to talk to someone - to let it out. I think it helps a lot. Talking to somebody, so you can process it and forget. Keep going around with an issue stuck on your mind doesn’t help, as it’s just going to be really bad for your psychological health. It’s not good. 

With mental health being a buzzword these days, is this something you're familiar with?
For me the most important thing is to be happy and that in the end is mental health. It’s ‘are you happy?’, ‘are you sad?’ or ‘are you stressed?’ It’s all those things, so I think it’s very important. Everybody goes through these things. We all have bad and good experiences. Most people will experience someone close to them suffering from mental health issues. I think the best thing in the end is to just blame school, sometimes school makes me feel so worried. 

Over to a bit of a different subject, genders are becoming more fluid. What do you feel about gender fluidity?
I think it’s becoming more equal between the genders. We are at point where people are feeling more secure about themselves like; ‘I can be this person’. There are lots of stories of how older people have come out and said that they for instance wanted to be a woman or a man, but they didn’t do it earlier because of how society worked. I think our society now is getting more open to all types of people. 

Are you spiritual or religious?
I don’t think religion should be too prominent in society. It has some importance. I’ll tell you, I’m a Christian, but I don’t really care too much about religion. I do think the Pope is a great example - like the things he says. .

Do you think masculinity is changing?  
It’s more room for people to be who they really are. You won’t get as judged for something by people, as it was previously. The definition of masculinity is also changing. Masculinity is a bit about what society considers being male. That’s what masculinity means, but I think in the future that will disappear. Although not completely, because we will probably still have some very conservative people in this world. I think the term won’t be used as much with time. There is less of a distinction between the genders now, so the terms will start to disappear. 

What is your ultimate goal?
To be the happiest I can be - that is the goal. It has to come through good means though, because if I were to do it in a bad way, that would make me feel bad. As long as I’m not harming anybody in the process, I’m happy. 

Are you happy now?
Yeah, I think I am, because with time I’m going to get more responsibility. I’m going to be 17 in September, and I think becoming older means getting more responsibility. There is an expression in Portuguese, it is; ‘Grão a grão, enche a galinha o papo’ and it means that little things will be added with time. Even though it happens really slowly, it will become really big at some point.  

Words and interview by Hedvig Werner. 

Gen Z: Lucas Ribeiro