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Different Generations. Shared Humanity. (Updated 6.29.14)

"With Me" is a system of games that utilizes design as a tool of inclusion to connect generations. It will encourage meaningful interaction and intergenerational dialogue to integrate older adults deeper into the fabric of our society.

Photo of Christine Valerio
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While we all function as unique individuals with our own interests, likes, feelings, thoughts and values, we are one species, sharing the same basic human need. The need to be social.

The nature of today's American culture is that we are exposed to an obscene amount of content each second. I find that this exposure and this new way of living has sometimes created a separation between generations. Younger generations, are speeding up with fast-paced technology and the culture of multitasking that we're so familiar with, while older generations are trying very much to hold on to the personal connection that seems to be getting lost in our 140 character messages. Our fast paced, youth-driven culture of constant "connection" has, in a way, separated us from the basics of personal interaction.

The "With Me" system is intended to slow people down. To be present with each other in one space. To celebrate and realize our shared humanity, and to interact with people in a way that may have gotten lost in our busy lives. It's not about age, it's about our human desire to build meaningful relationships throughout all phases of our lives. 
Living in a society where getting old is viewed as a negative part of life, ageism begins to form at a very young age. Most people are exposed to it their whole lives without realizing it because it's so deeply rooted in our culture. Being young is good. Being old is bad. 
We tend to witness aging from the perspective of loss and we internalize it based off of what we see on the outside. We watch and we absorb the negative because it’s what is most visible to us. All too often, we let our internalizations develop into stereotypes and prejudices. 

What about the good that we so rarely hear about? What about the tremendous amount of life experience that people gain through their years? What about the love and pain that they’ve seen and felt, and through it learned more about life than most can truly understand? What about the amount of wisdom that older adults have to share with the world that could only be gained with the addition of many years? What about the social changes that they’ve witnessed that we’ll never be able to fully understand by simply reading history books? What about each individual's journey that makes that person who they are and tells the story of their unique life?

"With Me" is a way to bridge the gap between generations to provide a means of connection and an outlet to learn from one another in order to diminish the stereotypes and fears that are all too often associated with aging. 
Each game is designed to have one participant from an older generation and one participant from a younger generation. 
Talk With Me 
A set of 20 cards - each card containing 1 word. 
Participants will alternate picking up a card and talking about what that word means to them. Some examples are: love, gratitude, age, change, travel and mistakes.
What happens when two people sit together and talk about some of life's toughest words? 
Can we learn together?
Can connections between generations be discovered?
Will we learn more about ourselves?
Will we understand each other better?
Write With Me
Each participant receives an envelope containing a card with a prompt inside of it. While sitting together, the participants will write to each other based off of this prompt. 
There's something about letter writing that's extremely personal and freeing. Sometimes words are better expressed on paper than when said out loud.
The rarity of letters in our lives today makes it a cherished form of communication. What happens when two people sit and write together without actually speaking? What happens when we bring back a slow form of communication that many younger generations are no longer familiar with? 
Recall With Me
The idea behind "Recall With Me" is to remember childhood together. 
Each participant will take turns on a the same blank sheet of paper writing down short phrases, places, people or thoughts that come to mind from your past. Creating one image of two lives. 
Can remembering together trigger similarities in lives and generations? 
Can it connect people together?
Can it create conversation and meaningful connection? 
**UPDATED: 8.13.13**
Thank you everyone for the comments and suggestions. I've been a little quiet lately because I've been working on a workshop to test the games that I designed. Based off of everyone's feedback and my own curiosity, I thought it would be very important to see how these live outside of just my own thoughts and in my community. So this past weekend on August 10th I held a workshop at a senior center in my neighborhood. I brought in some friends and family, ages 20-30, to interact with the seniors of the center, ages 75-98.

There are updated photos in the slideshow above.

I was really touched by the outcome, and while I do still think the games need tweaking and editing, the event overall showed me that connection between generations is something that is often on people's minds as they get older. 

We started off the workshop with a conversation on intergenerational dialogue. People of different ages shared their views on how they interact with older or younger generations. We then shared these thoughts on post-its and made a post-it wall of all of our thoughts that people could look at. (see photo in slideshow)

The comment that was hardest to hear was "There is no connection. My grandchildren don't want to have conversations with me. Everything is a one word answer, which leaves little room for conversation." But there were others where grandparents felt that they connected perfectly well with their grandchildren.

I then introduced the games to them and passed them out to each table which had a mixture of "older" and "younger" people at each. Everyone had about 25 minutes to interact with each other. I walked around to each table to listen in on conversations and it was beautiful to see people who didn't previously know each other laughing together and connecting on some very personal topics. 
When the "playing" portion was over, I asked people to share their feedback. Some started reading their "Recall With Me" sheets out loud. Others were talking about different connections that they made and new things that they learned from each other. 
What I learned:
  • The instructions for each game may not have been as clear as they could have been. There was some confusion with what to do with each game. This didn't seem to affect the workshop, but for future use I would edit.
  • The games might have to be revised for larger groups. I originally intended them to be a one to one interaction. "Write With Me" and "Recall With Me" was difficult with more than three people.
  • Talk With Me was the most liked game. Multiple people were able to play being that there are 20 cards. People were laughing together and telling stories of their lives. I intended a card with "death" written on it to be a serious subject, but it actually made people laugh together. People were having a good time.
Overall conclusion of the event: 
While the games were appreciated and people enjoyed interacting with them, they really served as an icebreaker. People didn't play them for the whole time. They moved on to other conversations, but it was a way for them to start conversations.
**UPDATED 8.19.13**
Below are a few quotes from participants:
"I think the problem is that young people don't realize that older adults have gone through the exact same things that they are going through and can provide a lot more knowledge about what to expect. They only see the person on the outside and they don't realize that the person in front of them has been shaped by years and years of experience." - Asher, 25
"Many of us here (at the senior center) have grandchildren. I have grandchildren from 14-27 years of age. Young people today answer back with one word sentences. How are we as grandparents supposed to pull these words out of kids. This bothers me and this hurts me when I talk to my grandchildren." - Sadie, 88
"We played Talk With Me. We got some pretty tough words to talk about, but it was great to not just have interaction, but meaningful interaction where you got to learn about people's perspective and the experiences that younger folks will have to know about one day. Also I think the seniors learned from us younger people about how we perceive certain topics. It benefited both of us in a pretty big way." Mike, 28
"When we listed things we remembered from our childhood, my memories and their memories of their own childhood were both rather similar. We tend to think our generations have a "gap" of interest but in reality we don't. We are much more closer connected than we think." - Erica, 25 
Further games that I would like to create prototypes for (thanks to the help of the community):
Imagine With Me (thank you Ruth
Do With Me (thank you Fatma)

**UPDATED 6.29.14**
Hi all, I just wanted to update the community on where this project has gone over the past year. In February 2014, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from The Pollination Project to reproduce With Me on a larger scale and to hold workshops at assisted living homes and senior centers. 

With Me will be packed as a kit that will hold 1 set of each game. There will be 25 kits donated to each center following an intergenerationsl workshop. I'm currently in the process of designing the kits and speaking to assisted living homes and senior centers. My goal is to have the production finalized by August 2014, with workshops begininning in September. 

I was also very excited to see a feature in the Huffington Post about With Me. 

You can see a more detailed look into the first With Me workshop held last August in the slideshow above, or by clicking here

How might your idea scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

I imagine the idea spreading by eventually moving it into a digital space where people can upload about their experiences and share it with a larger community. I would hope that this would not only spread the idea of intergenerational dialogue through the games, but also encourage interaction beyond the games. Seeing the experiences on an interactive platform could also assist in the measurement of impact, which may be difficult with the analog format shown in the prototypes.

How might your idea attract and involve partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors?

I think this idea would attract partners in health care, specifically associated with nursing homes and eldercare. As a volunteer in assisted living homes and with homebound seniors, I've on an occasion experienced difficulty interacting with those I'm volunteering with. Sometimes it's difficult to begin conversations when knowing little about each other. "With Me" can serve as a tool that is given to volunteers and health care workers to aid in more meaningful interactions with those that they are caring for.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Guy Viner

Hi Christine- I loved looking back at this challenge and stumbling across your idea. In particular, the 'combatting ageism' section is well articulated and strongly linked to the current AARP challenge, "How might we inspire and engage young people to support older adults through mentorship?" I'm wondering what your thoughts are on how learnings from this challenge can be applied to the current one. In particular:

1- have you found any research or insights on combatting ageism particularly helpful during the healthy ageing challenge?
2- Do you have any suggestions for quick experiments or prototypes that may be helpful for current participants to understand how to effectively shift perceptions and engage youth?

Thanks so much!

Photo of Christine Valerio

Hi Guy, sorry for the late response here. I'm just seeing this now! Below are a few responses, and feel free to reach out to me with any additional questions.

1. Research that I found particularly helpful in combatting agism was simply speaking to older adults. What I learned most is that younger generations stereotype growing older as being negative, but most older adults don't see it that way. Two anti-agism activists whose work I find particularly inspiring are Ashton Applewhite ( and Laura Carstensen ( Check them out! I learned a lot from them.

2. As far as prototypes go, I played with simple ideas that would encourage connection between participants, while leaving much of the experience up to the audience. I think anything where participants can get to know each other and that can achieve putting aside pre-conceived notions of "what it's like to be old" or "what it's like to be young" will help in shifting perceptions. What if it's something where age isn't known at first so the users aren't able to use any judgements? This would obviously require not being able to see the person at first :)

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