Put away the cozy image of the little old lady knitting a sweater for the grandkids, or the distinguished gentlemen playing chess in the park, because the newest elder generation is not going to sit quiety in a rocking chair.
Due to its size and timing as the dominant generation during the spectacular rise of information technology, Baby Boomers will continue to have an out-sized influence on technology use and innovation.
That sweater will have been found on Pinterest and bought online, and that chess game will be played in the cloud against a brilliant opponent from Kiribati who gramps met in a chat room.
These are the kinds of things Baby Boomers have been doing and there’s no reason to think they’re going to slow down, says Dr. Karen Riggs, professor of media studies at Ohio University.
The way Boomers, which the U.S. Census Bureau defines as anyone born between 1946 and 1964, adjust the world around them is a big part of why they approach technology so differently from their forebears, the Silent Generation (1927-1945) and the Greatest Generation (1900-1926).
Here’s A Nickel, Get Yourself A Real PDA, Kid
The biggest difference between the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, Riggs explained, is work. The Boomer generation is the first where work outside the home became so prevalent for men and women. The Boomers also saw the exploding rise of technology in the workplace just as they were entering their mid-30s and -40s. This is why so many Boomers are technologically adept despite not having grown up with technology.
“We are expected to at least learn some of the basics of computers at the office,” Riggs said. But for the older generations, “a lot of people were left behind.”
Because of this relatively early introduction to personal technology, Boomers are actually more tech savvy as a whole than some of their descendants, because they paid their dues on Windows 95 and PalmPilots. They “get” today’s technology more than you would expect, because they’ve seen and worked with earlier attempts.
As the author of Granny @ Work: Age and Technology on the Job in America, Riggs is familiar with how the aging population functions in the workplace. Their adoption of technology tends to be of necessity, especially now that Boomers find themselves competing with Generation X (1965-1983) and Millennials (1984-2002) in the workplace.
“Baby Boomers are the quintessential early adopters,” Riggs emphasized, though they are discriminating. Boomers are initially more likely to take up core technologies and services like texting, Facebook and email than cutting edge products (to them) like Foursquare and other location-based services.
Boomers Can Afford It
Boomers are also less stingy than their ancestors, Riggs, who identified herself as a Boomer, said. “We are willing to spend money where our parents aren’t.” Sometimes, she added, to excess. “It’s common to spend money on toys.”
Because of this tendency to spend (though Riggs was careful to note that a lot depended on socio-economic factors) and Boomers’ tendency to move homes, devices like tablets and smartphones were obvious hits with them. Boomers also like things that are straightforward and utilitarian, which explains why services such as Flipboard, Evernote and Pinterest get a lot of Boomer attention.
The Loudest Generation
Finally, Boomers are very good at communication. They are adept at interacting with their elders on a personal level and then turning around and gadgeting up to talk to their kids and grandkids.
“Boomers are used to being heard,” Riggs added. They know what they want and aren’t afraid, typically to go after it. That won’t change as they leave the workforce. “Retirement is looked upon as an opportunity,” Riggs explained. “The seduction and necessity of technology is a big part of making that opportunity happen.”
With their big spending power and a drive to continue to push forward, Boomers will hugely impact services and device creation. Tech innovators who can create simple interfaces and intuitive devices should continue to prosper with Boomers in the workforce and in their personal lives.
Lead image by Brian Proffitt. Other images courtesy of Shutterstock.