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A Digital Shoebox Project to Build Empathy & Digital Skills

Youth grow up in front of and behind the camera; every moment is captured on a chip and uploaded to cyberspace. For the elderly, Kodak moments were captured less frequently, and one would have had to do the proverbial uphill climb to develop a roll of film. But regardless of the technology used, photography is a medium that captures human experience--and the stories of human experience are not all too different across generations. The project will engage youth to help the elderly organize their photos in a "digital shoebox," using media to create an online archive, slideshow or video. This collaboration will create empathy among generations by surfacing personal stories, while also building digital skills for the elderly.

Photo of Jenn Yoo
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How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

Youth mentors guide their older counterparts through a digital shoebox project to organize photographs, keepsakes and scrapbook items in an online archive.
Every generation bemoans the detrimental effects of technology on the youth of its day, and the youth roll their eyes at the obsolete technologies their parents prefer. We forget that the elderly were young not long ago, and today's youth will worry about tomorrow's in not too long either. 

The idea is to bridge this chasm of perception by bringing young and old to the same table, looking over artefacts of memory and helping to bring them online. Because my mother keeps her childhood photographs stuffed in a shoebox, I haven't seen them since I was a child myself. But now, with #TBT popularizing quick-onset nostalgia, everyone's rummaging in their closets for pictures from back when, and there's room to remember that Colin Powell was taking selfies before I was born. 

The Digital Shoebox Project could take various forms, depending on the skills and time commitment / constraints:
  • A lighter-weight social media campaign that takes advantage of the #TBT trend; youth mentors help their "mentees" scan photos and send them to family or post them online. 
  • An archival project that simply sets up online storage of photographs and digitized letters, postcards, etc.
  • A narrative project that includes digitization and culminates in a longer-form scrapbook, slideshow, video or other media project (along the lines of StoryCorps).

Assumptions to test:
  • The project & mentorship parameters will build rapport. Are photographs & a defined outcome enough to open up personal stories? Is there willingness on both sides to share and listen, or is training needed to facilitate this?
  • Youth mentors have the digital skills required. What is the best medium for creating an archive, slideshow, or video? What tools or software do they have access to, and show the project have guidelines for which ones to use or should each mentor choose what they're most familiar with? 
  • Older people want to store their photos in a digital format. Will they be willing to share their personal keepsakes? Will they have concerns about storing or posting them online? 


What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to test any assumptions you might have about your idea?

The first step to test these assumptions would be to talk to people in both target groups. I would probably start by looking up programs at the local public library that work with the elderly and try to do user interviews. (I've seen StoryCorps banners at my local branch, so I think that would be a great place to start especially.)

What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input, skills or know-how of our OpenIDEO community?

- Recommendations on tools to use for digital archiving / storytelling


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Photo of Leigh Cullen

Great work Jenn. As I mentioned to Cristhian, who has a similar idea to yours, the concept is lovely!
Best of luck!

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