Lack of empathy and identity across generations is nothing new – and it could easily be argued that in a world of social media and technology, the divides between those growing up in one era have never been more distant to those from another.  Often older people complain they literally have no idea what their children or grandchildren are talking about when discussing their online life.  However accessible the technology becomes there are still those who feel simply left behind by it, and have little interest in catching up.

This works both ways though, and for a generation to whom their rich online life can mean more to them than their perceivedly-mundane reality, the day to day experiences of those who grew up decades before they did can seem hopelessly distant.  Many millennials in particular find it increasingly difficult to share meaningful conversations with their grandparents or relate to their day-to-day experiences in a way that crosses this divide. When we are young and fit and going to live forever, we don’t want to hear about the limitations and illnesses of old age, and we can’t relate it to our own world-view

So those whose job it is to bridge this gap and convey understanding have an uphill struggle on their hands.  Fundraisers from Alzheimers Netherlands had a brilliant idea to address this though…  Here’s what they did.

Starting with a carefully-selected group of social media influencers and getting them to snowball it initially, they got busy with photo editing software, and – working with some well known brands and organisations and their Facebook Pages –created some fake event photos and tagged the Facebook member in it.  Not a difficult job technically, to cut out a face and edit it seamlessly into a group scene.  But what made it work was the brands they got involved: Major food festivals, concert promotors, organisations that habitually host large albums of event photos on their well-established brand pages.

memory loss

A memory is missing…

So, the Facebook member got an alert to say they had been tagged at an event, and they clicked through and saw their picture cunningly edited in to a photo from that event… an event they had no recollection of attending, even though it apparently involved legitimate and familiar organisations and locations.

Of course they didn’t remember it because it have never happened.  But what it did was create in the user similar feelings of anxiety, disbelief and confusion – even just briefly.  That’s me, right there… so, why don’t I remember..? 

It was timed for December when people are reflecting back on their year, and maybe being reminded of things that took place months ago.  Some might be unexpected reminders, however we expect the photo to be merely a trigger that brings the memory itself flooding back.

Plenty of people have seen themselves tagged in Facebook pictures that reflect behaviour their conscious mind had tried to supress, moments they’d rather forget, whilst temporarily having confounded their own memories with various substances.   To look at some Facebook event photos, you can easily be struck by the irony of the wanton destruction of brain cells going on, by young people without a care in the world that they could one day experience a permanent deficit of their own.

But it’s a good bet that few current Facebook users have ever experienced the sensation that Alzheimers and dementia sufferers endure daily, of having to ask themselves  – did that really happen? Was I there? What does this gap in my memory signify, about what else I may have lost from my mind…?

So this powerful campaign seems to have been effective, judging by feedback, in giving younger healthy people a genuine glimpse into the confusing world of the memory loss sufferer.  And the success was also indicated by the amount of people happy to volunteer their friends as unwitting participants in the game, offering names and photos to be subjected to the cunning Photoshopping into their own made-up memories.

The effects can only have lasted for a few moments, as the caption to the picture explained in full about the awareness-raising campaign and what the feelings just evoked inside them had been calculated to achieve.  They were encouraged at that point to put forward their friends for the same treatment, and the way the campaign spread rapidly meant it was striking a chord with the intended audience successfully.

Did they nominate their friends for the stunt because they felt their awareness of the reality of dementia sufferers had been increased and they wanted them to experience this – or did they do it for a laugh?  I don’t know.  How many of them actually donated to or supported the charity concerned as a result? I don’t know that either, and my Dutch isn’t up to finding out (ie, it is non-existent).  If anybody knows more, I would love to hear about it.

In the meantime you have to admire the campaign simply for its braveness and originality, and a genuinely fresh use of social sharing to achieve something completely unexpected and different. It made me think… and I wasn’t even it it.  What about you?

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, February 7th 2014  ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL

Share →