When it comes to technology, whether it be consumer tech or the overall concepts of technological advancement, most people in our modern society would say you should adapt or die. While that might not be a problem for millennials or my fellow generation X’ers, the “greatest generation” has had a mixed experience when it comes to adapting to new technology, or even keeping up with the almost obsolete.
With baby boomers, they either are or aren’t adaptable – and most of that has to do with how much patience we, their affable and technology-savvy children, choose to exhibit.
Perhaps that is an overwhelming generalization…
Baby boomers are not subhumans. They are just, well, older.
In order to adapt to new technology, you need to have a reason. Either you haven’t retired yet, or you have always worked alongside technology, creating a life-long interest. Regardless, there has always been a learning curve with new technology requiring a shade of patience.
As they get older, baby boomers are less likely to be patient about anything (I live in Florida, take my word on this), creating a new set of issues with adapting to new technology. Why should they when you are still around to do it for them? Some have no intention of adapting or dying and will surely let you know about it.
“My parents had an arranged marriage with tech over 20 years ago, because they owned a business and owning a PC was necessary to be efficient,” says Marc Girolimetti of Red Raider Studios. “They were also early adopters of hard mounted car phones and loved them, though I’m sure it was so they could call each other and say ‘Schmoopy’ a lot.”
Girolimetti says converting his mother to a Mac suddenly turned things downhill.
“My Mom became seriously impatient and reliant on utilizing me to solve all of her issues. When I sent her promo code and instructions for redeeming my app, I received texts claiming it didn’t work, only to find out it did.
“Why? She lacked the 30 seconds of patience required. I don’t know why she doesn’t learn her lesson, but it is what it is.”
Patience is a virtue
Perhaps patience is the major block to adapting to new technology. After all, if our parents have more important things to do – like garden and take a myriad of pills every morning – why would they want to spend time learning technology that may or may not benefit them?
As long as there are clamshell cell phones and VCR repair stores, they may never have to adapt in their lifetimes.
But there’s more to it than just that: As baby boomers get older, they are focused on staying alive more than anything else. I can’t speak for the entire generation, just offer observations, but we can agree that health-related technology is much more important to them than social media or apps.
According to a Merrill Lynch Retirement Study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, boomers are exponentially interested in technology if it will help them live longer. Yet, while the study showed that boomers are interested in tech that would shares their medical information with health care providers to improve care, medical alert tech and organ replacement; the study didn’t indicate if boomers were willing to adapt to this technology themselves.
They are certainly willing to adopt this technology, assuming it exists within their lifespans, but do they directly benefit from adapting to it?
Such it is with every other generation and technology user, boomers are constantly adapting if they choose to. That is the difference: Choice vs. Need.
Health is more than just a trend in a new iPhone
With all the health tech on the horizon, boomers might want to start keeping up if they want to understand the controls to their new cyborg hips. There is a lot to want to adapt to: E-commerce, automatic pill refills, inhalers that send messages to family members, Skyping with doctors and a multitude of mobile apps should give most baby boomers reason enough to stay up to date with technology.
One reason boomers might not be keeping up with technology is because they no longer have to. Yet, there are some benefits of doing so.
“For many boomers, they become experts in their field of work, but technology education in the work place slows dramatically,” says Brian Hills of Good Guys Tech. “Additionally, once they retire, keeping up with new technology is difficult unless they do a lot of research, reading, and hands on practice. However, it is a great idea to keep challenging your brain especially when you are older.”
That might be the key to why boomers seem like they just “don’t get it” when it comes to new technology. Without the day to day pressure of learning technology to keep up with work related demands, there is a slowdown in the adaptation to new technology.
There is less of an intuitive adaptation going on, since the needs have been replaced by wants – and our insistence that boomers learn new tech in order to communicate with us. The only reason your mother is on Facebook is because that is the place where you post most of your pictures and check constantly.
There is a strange marriage of past learning in technology and future ignorance of technology. For instance, my own father was an electrical engineer. He brought computers into the home and always had his children in touch with technology.
However, since his retirement, he refuses to adapt to technology that might improve his life – whether it be a Nest thermostat or using an iPad.
At the same time, his best friend who is not retired is constantly hanging at the cutting edge of technology. Both men have made their careers in tech, but only one has given up trying to learn what is new.
Part of this might have to do with marketing and designing new devices, as the older generation tends to get confused by too many tiny buttons.
“[Boomers] are constantly learning and adapting to the new technological era since it is less intuitive for them,” says Kalyn Rozanski of Rozanski Trends. “This is why we are seeing design that is becoming more universal and intuitive.”
Survival of the techiest
It is interesting to consider that the reason for the high shift to icons, strong colors and defined borders in app development and system controls might be because of the boomer generation. Boomers still make up a huge demographic of technology users, regardless of their control or understanding of the technology in their hands.
From the Kindle to smart home technology, more tech is being designed to adapt to whatever generation is utilizing it. Companies know this, and are creating applications and services aimed at not only the younger users, but older users as well. This is apparent with health service apps and development.
Overall, boomers are using new technology. There are still plenty of them at the forefront of new technology, whether it is in development, executive level decision making or marketing. At the same time, that set of boomers are quietly adapting and moving forward while we deal with the most outspoken group of boomers when it comes to technology: our parents.
- “When my mother was 60 she landed a job as instructional designer – designing online courses for accountants. However, she has to be reminded to turn her cell phone on, and finds my universal remote confusing.” — @debng
- “My mom is only interested in technology if it entertains her.” — @audaciouslady
- “‘Two words: My Hotmail. As in, ‘I can’t check my Hotmail.’ ‘Something is wrong with my Hotmail.’ ‘How do I get a picture from my Hotmail?'” — @laughmom
- “My mom texting me and it still scares me.” — @bsgpr
Perhaps then, it is less that boomers are not adapting to new technology because they no longer have a need, but because they still want to make us feel needed. Perhaps our parents, after they get yet another lecture on how to attach a photo to an email, hang up the phone and laugh silently to themselves, the photo already attached.
Perhaps they are running a base Linux system on their homemade PC, but when we come over switch over to a dual-boot installed Windows 98 system and wonder why their Hoyle card game isn’t working.
I guess we won’t find out the answer to that until we’re calling our kids for tech support in 30 years.