Intergenerational Selfies With a Purpose

Summertime selfie with Joe and Arthur

Summertime selfie with my boyfriend Joe and buddy Arthur. #GenTogether #NotByMySelfie

A selfie can’t change the world — or can it, just a little?

That’s the hope behind two social media campaigns right now: Grantmakers in Aging’s #GenTogether and Age UK’s #NotByMySelfie. My heart did a dance when I spotted them on Twitter this month.

They’re certainly not the first nonprofits to mobilize people via personal snaps, but they’re the first I’ve seen to honor intergenerational connection this way. They’re calling for friends, families, neighbors, coworkers and caregivers of all ages to come together, capture the moment and share it.

The best part of this concept, in my opinion, is the sharing. We’re used to seeing solo selfies, or selfies of peer-age friends and couples. (Case in point: Valentine’s Day. Your news feed, too?) We’re less accustomed to seeing images with people who are young and old and somewhere in between — especially such casual, joyful ones.

Age so often divides us. Growing up, we’re split up into classrooms based on the month and year our birthday falls. We play Little League by age groups. We eat at the kids’ table.

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Once we’re adults, it makes sense that our friends are typically those classmates, teammates and people who sat around the kids’ table with us. And many of us wind up starting jobs, getting married and having babies around the same time, too. It’s natural that we’re drawn to others experiencing milestones at the same time we are.

But we’re better together, in the company of generations before and after us, which is why I can’t get enough of these selfies. Ideas can bounce higher with different perspectives tapping them. While older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser, time can bring experience with it. Likewise, time (or lack thereof) can also bring inexperience, a refreshing point of view in itself. And don’t we all have some inexperience, depending on the topic?

These campaigns aim not only to create buzz about age integration, but also to raise awareness about social isolation among older adults, particularly #NotByMySelfie, part of Age UK’s “No one should have no one” campaign. It’s a serious problem, no doubt, especially as more people live alone into old age. One in four people age 65 and older in the United Kingdom feel they don’t have anyone to turn to for help, according to a survey by Age UK. And research shows this feeling can come with health risks.

What’s also a problem is the misperception that old age is automatically associated with isolation or loneliness, something people of all walks of life experience. Work by Stanford University’s Laura Carstensen shows that older people, recognizing they won’t live forever, may trim the time they spend with peripheral contacts so that they have more time for loved ones. Their circles may appear smaller — but they are, perhaps, stronger. A selfie with a 140-character caption about isolation could fail to capture these nuances.

But from what I see, the overall message is an age-friendly one. Check out these posts, and — if you feel so inclined — join in on the fun.

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