“For the next 20 years,” predicts futurist Michael Rogers, who will be appearing at AARP’s Orlando@50+ Nationl Event in late September, “we are going to have to balance two enormous generations: the baby boomers and the millennials.” They’re about the same size, he notes, and their different perspectives will indelibly shape evolving technologies and political developments.
“Baby boomers have always been adopters of new technology,” Rogers says “and we’re pretty used to the rapid pace of change. I think that the bulk of boomers will become increasingly comfortable with the virtual world and want to get things done online; they won’t necessarily need to talk to a human being — but when they want to talk to a human being, there’s got to be one there.”
By contrast, he observes, virtual contact seems natural to millennials, particularly the cohort’s youngest members.
“The generation that’s growing up with social networking will maintain into adulthood the ability to have meaningful virtual relationships,” Rogers says. “You’ll ultimately have a social identity that you carry with you on the Internet. Just the way you have a circle of friends in the real world, and if you see one on the street you say hello; when you go to an online store in the digital world, you’ll be able to see right away if a friend of yours is across the aisle.”
The field in which boomers will embrace cutting-edge innovation, Rogers believes, is health care technology. “In-home monitoring, for example, the ability to wear a little patch that constantly measures your blood pressure or pulse, is obviously of interest. And even some really advanced stuff, like having a chip with your electronic medical records implanted that can be retrieved if you’re unconscious in the emergency room; that makes a lot of sense for boomers.”
The millennials will be the ones who will drive the adoption of technology addressing climate change, he says, “because by the time it gets really serious, in 2040 or ’50, most boomers will be happy just to be on the front porch! But over the next decade, we’re likely to see climate catastrophes — a Katrina-size hurricane hitting Miami and bankrupting the state of Florida, for example — that will change public opinion. As millennials gain political power over that same decade, I think the combination of those two developments means that there will be meaningful climate change regulation, including a carbon tax, which will instantly change everything. Suddenly, all these alternative energies will make a lot of economic sense.”
The way we get news of such developments is changing dramatically, and Rogers, a veteran print journalist and best-selling novelist, sees many challenges facing the digital media:
“The American public became addicted to free news, but it can’t be supported with advertising; we thought it could, but it can’t. It’s inevitable that we will end up with two levels: one will be for-pay news, which will be for an elite audience; the other will be free, more general, more of a commodity and of lower quality, but reaching a broader audience.”
In book publishing, too, he says the differences will be in content as well as format. “America is increasingly divided into people who don’t read books at all and a small percentage who read a lot of books, for whom e-books make a lot of sense. Boomers are drawn to e-books in particular by the ability to increase the font size. Long-form reading over the next 20 years is going to become a more specialized skill; you just don’t need it to get along in life. The audience will be much more interested in very short material, like the Flash Fiction that’s sweeping creative writing programs.”
One highly touted development in entertainment, however, strikes Rogers as premature. “3-D movies are driven much more by Hollywood and the consumer electronics industry than by consumers themselves. There will be a time when there’s a technology that doesn’t require glasses and gives you the full 3-D experience, but until then, I think the glasses are just one piece of hardware too many for people. I would mark this as what futurists call a weak signal, which means there’s something there, but it’s probably not at mass acceptance yet.”
Rogers is looking forward to making stronger signals visible to the general public at AARP’s Orlando@50+ National Event in the fall. “We’re going to use these concept videos that are like science fiction, but based on research into areas like health care, automobiles, the home and business. I’ve always found that when you show people what the future might look like, it really starts them thinking.”