The Connected Project
We know that connectedness is vital to us as human beings, We also know that stories are powerful ways of feeling connected – both in the telling, and the listening.
The Connected project began with a series of conversations between three of us: Daniel Betty, Elizabeth Palmer and me, in a pre-COVID-19 world.
Some of the loneliest, least connected people in our community are drawn from two groups: teenagers and older adults. Older adults can have limited mobility, limited funds and limited understanding of technology. Teenagers have the technology, but can lack the social maturity and skills to negotiate a place in society that they can call their own.
In fact, studies show that about half of older New Zealanders experience some level of loneliness, and 8-9% feel lonely all or most of the time. (Age Concern New Zealand, 2021) and that New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. (Illmer, 2017)
In our initial discussions, we speculated that a lack of connectedness – to peers, but also to people from other generations – might contribute to these appalling numbers. Further, we wondered if feeling undervalued and unheard was a part of the problem, and if so, how we might address that.
As I said, we began the project pre-COVID-19, when there was no barrier to older adults meeting teenagers face-to-face. Our original plan was for a series of school-based, two-hour workshops. Older adults would come to the school, be greeted by students, and then engage in conversations, using a form of technology as a starter, with those students. These conversations would be guided by teachers and me, and filmed.
Our major re-think because of COVID-19, was that it was no longer possible to have face-to-face, group meetings of teenagers and vulnerable older adults. We decided, instead, to film conversations with only us and individuals. These conversations followed hour-long initial interviews, where we explained the project, talked about possible technological focusses, and planned the filmed discussion.
These conversations are being edited down by Dan into around ten minutes each. He included images to provide context and deepen understanding, where necessary (for example, a Model-T Ford when our oldest (102 years) adult, Claude Davison, said he got his licence in one in 1932!)
From there, we’ve started taking the interviews into schools, where students have responded to them in a variety of ways. We’ve had vlogs where students ‘talk back’ to the older adults about their own experiences with technology, poetic responses comparing stories of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake and students’ own COVID-19 experiences, creative writing about an important older adult in students’ lives, and interviews between the older adults and students.
It’s been wonderful to see both older adults and students embracing the project.
One striking similarity in all our interviews with older adults is that they all talked explicitly about connection: how important it is, and how they feel connected through belonging to different communities. In many cases, the technology aspect, (crafting, for example, or gardening) allows access to such communities. We felt that this was an important message for teenagers: that real-life, real-time connection through common interests is essential for wellbeing.
Some of our interviews have, and will, lead teenagers to examine history and other countries/cultures through different eyes. For example, one of our interviewees, Piripi Whaanga, worked for Radio NZ during the Springbok Tour of 1981. His focus was the technology involved in broadcasting from games and protests. For students studying the tour, this brings a fresh and insightful new perspective into the nature of ‘live’ broadcasting, gatekeeping and censorship in the media.
There are many initiatives to support older adults, and many others aimed at helping teenagers. We feel that our point of difference is that we help bridge the inter-generational gap by encouraging older people to tell their stories, and younger people to listen, understand and respond to those stories.
We’ve dreamt big for the next stage of the project, and we’re already well on our way to realising some of those dreams.
- To make more mini-docs from the raw footage, and add supplementary interviews, to suit new directions.
- To showcase what we’ve achieved, in a presentation or exhibition to the wider Hastings community. This will involve both the older adults and teenagers, in person or by presenting the artefacts they have helped create.
- We would like to interview more older adults, but broaden our focus to ‘wellbeing’, partly in response to the government’s “Psychosocial and Mental Wellbeing Plan” for COVID-19, published in December 2020. We would like to take the resulting material to intermediate and junior secondary students (Years 7- 10).
- Finally, we want to build a website, to broaden the reach and impact of the project beyond Hastings, first regionally and then, ideally, nationally.