Below I've provided a chapter excerpt from my newest book, Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future. This 279-page book explores a growing body of research, arguments, insights, and speculation over how Boomers are impacting aging and commerce.
Implications from my book are monetary and personal, local and international, intergenerational and multicultural. To learn why these conclusions are significant for your work and future, you can get a copy from online book retailers, including Amazon. Thank you for following my blog and, of course, your interest in Generation Reinvention.
Boomers and the Future of Technology - Part 1
Michael Pollan, a prolific book author and writer about food for The New York Times brilliantly condensed his manifesto about eating:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Allow me to condense Boomers and the future of technology to the simplest declaration:
• Boomers like and adopt new technologies
• Not unnecessary complexity or useless frills
• Mostly for learning, entertainment, and communication
Boomers Like and Adopt New Technologies
One of the ludicrous myths that I have been dispelling for almost a decade is the notion that Boomers are technophobes. Popular culture and media have sometimes conspired to create the impression that anyone who didn’t grow up with Nintendo is somehow bereft of skills to adopt and adapt to new technologies.
Many Boomers learned their higher math with slide rules, but remember slide rules beget the handheld calculator. Calculators beget the TRS 88. The TRS 88 beget the IBM PC and Apple computer. Rudimentary personal computers beget the screaming-fast desktop supercomputers of today.
Along their way to technology nirvana, Baby Boomers have discovered and adopted push-button telephones, answering machines, cordless telephones, VCRs, ATMs, cable television, compact disc players, microwave ovens, photocopy machines, faxes, cellular telephones, DVD players, personal data assistants, email, and the Internet. Boomers have not had much difficulty adopting new technologies and taking them in stride.“Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation.” Author and futurist Michael Rogers provided the leg work by conducting focus-group discussions with Boomers in four major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York. This project cannot be considered statistically reliable research since all focus group participants had AARP memberships in common, and only 60 Boomers constituted the research sample. But this report’s observations and conclusions appeal to common sense.
Citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Federal Reserve, and an article from the Consumer Electronics Association, Rogers makes a succinct and compelling case for technology companies to focus more on those over 50. He writes that in 2010, one-third of the U.S. population will be over 50 and “that’s close to 106 million Americans controlling 50 percent of the country’s discretionary spending and outspending younger adults by $1 trillion in 2010. Consumers in their fifties show the highest intent to purchase consumer electronics among any age group.”
According to Rogers, two dynamic generational influences propel Boomers as technology adopters. Many are sandwiched between their children, the “brash enthusiasm of early technology adopters,” and their parents, usually members of the GI Generation (born from 1900 to 1924) and early years of the Silent Generation (born from 1925 to 1945). The older cohorts tend to be more cautious, if not intimidated, by digital technologies.
Nielsen, the giant research company, announced in July 2010 its not-too-surprising conclusion that Boomers are aggressive technology adopters. “There is practically no segment or category out there where Boomers aren’t a significant audience — even across technology, including cell phones and computers. They may not be the first ones in the door when a new product comes out, but it is close,” said Doug Anderson, SVP of research and development for Nielsen. “They are purchasing at rates just as high as other segments, and because they are often buying for their kids, many are double-dipping.”
The second influence is that “Baby Boomers grew up with technology: they were in their teens to early 30s when the first IBM PCs and Apples appeared, and were the innovators and early adopters of that era.”
Rogers adds, “The consistent theme in this diverse group is that Boomers want to bring their own values to technology. Boomer ideals were forged in an era when human rights and individual freedoms were central concerns, and Boomers apply that perspective to technology as well.”
Finally, as I recounted earlier in this book, Rogers juxtaposes Boomers with their technology-crazed children: “If their children are the technology pioneers, the first to explore new territory, Boomers are the settlers, arriving a bit later to set up schools and libraries, churches and hospitals, to sink deep roots and build permanent structures.”
Some argue that Boomers avoid extremely early adoption of new technologies, but this runs counter to my experiences. Throughout my career, many friends and colleagues have been among the first to use and exploit emerging technologies.
Michael Rogers’ AARP/Microsoft white paper reiterates this insight: “In other words, when a new technology makes sense to them, Boomers may become early adopters and help lead the way.” The iPhone smartphone made sense to Richard Adler early into the lifecycle of the product, and he could also afford to pay a premium price for the phone.
The next edition of this blog will address Part II of my Boomers-and-technology manifesto: Not unnecessary complexity or useless frills. Subscribe to this blog now and be sure not to miss this unfolding saga of economic opportunities for technology companies. In my final installment of this trilogy, I'll include specific strategic recommendations that technology companies can undertake to improve marketing to Boomers.