So, finally, below I've provided a final 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. You can read Part 1 of this trilogy by clicking here. And Part 2 by clicking here.
Boomers and the Future of Technology - Part 3
Michael Pollan, a prolific book author and writer about food forThe 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
Here is part three of this three-part series:
Mostly for Learning, Entertainment, and Communication
Few Boomers are interested in technology for its own sake. Geeks within the generation are in a minority. Most Boomers purchase technologies to achieve other goals—or values—and those motivations generally center on learning, entertainment, and communication.
Today, learning involves accessing the Internet’s nearly limitless repository of information and knowledge. According to a study published by the Nielsen organization in November 2009, the primary online destination for seniors (including members of generations older than Boomers) was Google Search, tallying 10.3 million unique visitors.
Most Boomers have learned basic skills needed for online information research, and they will use this “universal library” for many reasons as they age, not the least of which will be to research diseases and conditions of aging. It’s not a coincidence that Boomers and those over 50 are the most active users of WebMD.com, the comprehensive online medical resource.
Huffington Post. And the most ambitious are taking online college courses to facilitate career transitions.
But the Internet is not just a learning tool. The online world presents a plethora of opportunities for those seeking new forms of entertainment. Boomer colleagues frequently send me links to entertaining videos posted on YouTube, covering every conceivable topic. More and more movies have become available online for instant download. The online world of video games has seen enormous expansion, with some significant growth among Boomer women.
In the future, more traditional entertainment such as movies and television will expand online user experiences with unique content and depth. An example is the complementary websites to James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar. Online content for this movie includes in-depth morphological information about the animals and plants that inhabit the fictional world Pandora. A blog and forum allows movie fans to interact, ask questions, and speculate about Cameron’s plans for a sequel. Of course, the Avatar website includes provocative movie trailers designed to nudge web surfers into movie theaters or to purchase the DVD for home viewing.
Communication is perhaps the most compelling virtue of the Internet and fundamental to Boomers’ use of technology in the future.
It used to be true that if friends did not reach a clear and mutual agreement to stay in touch upon parting ways, such as after high school graduation, they probably would lose touch for life. The cost and effort to find a friend would outweigh the psychic benefits of reestablishing a relationship.
The Internet has changed this since finding an old friend may require nothing more than a single Google query. The Internet has spawned hundreds of innovative applications for social networking during the last few years, from Classmates.com to LinkedIn.com. An article in USA Today conveyed the increasingly central role of online communications for Boomers—not just an amusement but also a necessity: “Whether it’s congressmen Twittering during presidential speeches, parents connecting with high school flames on Facebook or empty-nesters planning group outings on grown-up sites such as Eons.com, Baby Boomers are speeding up the Web’s ongoing metamorphosis from limitless void to global watering hole.”
Further, the newspaper article provided some stimulating statistics that pointed to a growing trend: “Currently, 16.5 million adults ages 55 and older engage in social networking, according to Internet monitoring site comScore. Facebook is seeing the most growth among users age 30 and older. MySpace, with 130 million users, is enjoying a surge among the 55-plus set, which total 6.9 million users and spend an average 204 minutes a month on the site. And in just one year since AARP.org unveiled its social networking platform, about 350,000 users have created 1,700 groups celebrating everything from gardening to social activism.”
Internet analysts propose many theories as to why Boomers and older generations have been swarming to social networking sites as these platforms have gained greater sophistication, coupled with ease of use. But it all comes down to two obvious motivations: staying in touch and getting in touch.
Today, many families have become scattered across the nation and around the world and social networking websites provide instantaneous daily communications among family members. Boomers keep tabs on their friends, children, and grandchildren, gaining a sense of “being there” when they are not. Robust online multimedia capabilities allow dispersed families to share photos, videos, and recorded messages. These demands for sharing multimedia content have been successfully addressed by a number of online platforms, especially Ning.com, a social networking solution that requires very little time to set up and administer.
Entrepreneur and marketing executive Martin Diano launched a Ning platform social networking website in 2009 called Boomer Authority, “a professional association for experts and organizations that specialize in the 50+ Baby Boomer demographic.” The community rapidly gained momentum, with many industry notables becoming founding members, and more than a 1,000 new professional members jumping on the bandwagon in less than a year.
Communications through technology are also serving a very primal need. Around 40 percent of adults 45+ are single, so those lacking love are turning more frequently to online platforms to discover new romantic interests. According to Pew Internet, one in ten Internet users has jumped online to dating websites, and “37% of Internet users who say they are both single and looking to meet a romantic partner have gone to a dating website, which represents about 4 million people.”
While at this time online daters tend to skew younger, it’s reasonable to predict that in the future more of those over 45 will use online dating as one accepted approach to finding romantic partners. Online dating reduces some of the randomness of dating, diminishes geographic limitations for those who live in rural communities, and allows online daters to meet many more prospective partners in a shorter period.
One of my colleagues turned 50 in 2008, and he has never married. A busy traveling consultant, he believes that he does not have time to organize his limited spare time around traditional dating pursuits, including meeting women in his age range at local bars and nightclubs. He once shocked me with a revelation that in a single weekend he had scheduled six “meet-to-get-acquainted” dates using online matching to meet women with compatible interests and values. Finding this number of potentially compatible partners, setting up dates, and meeting them might have taken a year or more through traditional dating channels and practices.
Yet, lacking clear foresight about gadgets and software applications of the future, most experts agree that the Boomer generation, with its enormous economic and cultural clout, will foster another revolution in healthcare driven by rapid technology adoption and adaptation. As Boomers age, they’ll seek insights into their age-related illnesses through self-directed online research and consultations with peers and medical authorities. They’ll adopt and adapt emerging technologies to monitor, measure, and mitigate disease conditions.
Larry Press, an academic with California State University, foresees remarkable escalation of consumer-driven healthcare: “Healthcare will see new applications—driven in part by financial necessity and in part by expanded possibilities. Individuals will play a larger role in their own healthcare. We will monitor and treat ourselves and electronic communication with medical professionals will be common.”
Boomers and their appetite for technology innovation have not gone unnoticed by Best Buy, the multinational retailer of technology and entertainment products and services. Writing for CNBC, Best Buy CEO and Boomer Brian Dunn reiterated that Boomers drive technology innovations by adopting and adapting on their terms, primarily to meet three core motivations:
• Desire for connectivity. Yes, the kind that comes from devices talking to one another, but more importantly, the kind that enables interaction with other human beings. This is a generation that refuses to allow physical disabilities or other barriers to get in the way of contact with friends and family. No wonder Baby Boomers are among the most active in social networks today.
• Demand for ease. Apple’s launch of the iPad last month caused some bloggers to quip, with no little amount of sarcasm I might add, that this device is merely an iPhone for the elderly. To which I respond, “You gotta problem with that?” It’s a tool with touch pads you can easily see and logical functionality that makes sense to me and my Boomer brethren … and millions of other Apple fans out there.
• Delight in invention. Don’t tell me that the generation that popularized lava lamps, macramé wall-art and many other more interesting but questionably legal expressions of creativity would somehow retire from its spirit of inventiveness. In fact, it’s the Boomer-consumer’s input that fuels multiple product development streams at Best Buy and elsewhere within the broader technology industry.
Although much of the technology future remains a mystery even for technology experts, product developers and marketers expect with certainty that Boomers will rapidly incorporate new technologies into their lives, especially technologies and applications that simply and fortify their abilities to learn, communicate, and be entertained. Further, substantial innovations will spring from the core needs of an aging generation that has historically shifted the balance of power from healthcare providers to individual consumers, launching an industry called consumer-driven healthcare.
Planning consumer technologies and online applications for the Boomer generation simply involves addressing my declaration at the beginning of this chapter: Understand that Boomers are not technophobes and have been accepting new technologies throughout their lives; and they embrace technological change when change makes their lives easier, more rewarding, and vital. But also realize that technology today has the benefit of nearly unlimited data storage capabilities in miniaturized components; thus, technology innovators can truly achieve the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Product developers can layer easy-to-use graphical interfaces over more complex functions.
Clearly, product designers need to be attuned to the perceptual and sensory deficits that accompany aging; they must design interfaces and menus that are easy to see, read, and understand. Finally, product innovators need to understand that for most Boomers, technology is not the end but the means to achieving other goals such as staying connected with family members, finding romantic partners, enjoying rich multimedia learning experiences, empowering consumers with access to information, and discovering how to cope with disabling and handicapping medical conditions. By understanding how technology innovations address Boomer core values and emerging needs at this life stage, product developers will be one step closer to creating innovations, online and offline, which become synonymous with Boomer aging. And they’ll become wealthy because they understand how to integrate technology with a generation.
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