“For the next 20 years,” predicts futurist Michael Rogers, who will be appearing at the Orlando@50+ National Event, “we are going to have to balance two enormous generations, the baby boomers and the millennials.” Both generations are about the same size, he notes, but their different perspectives will indelibly shape evolving technologies, political developments and even the climate.
“Baby boomers have always been adopters of new technology,” Rogers says, “and we’re pretty used to the rapid pace of change." But human contact is important to boomers in a way that doesn't matter to millennials. "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. You’ll ultimately have a social identity that you carry with you on the Internet.”
Virtual health care
Boomers still find this kind of immersion in the virtual world a little baffling, Rogers notes. The field in which they will embrace cutting-edge innovation, he believes, is health care technology. “Having a chip with your electronic medical records implanted that can be retrieved if you’re unconscious, that makes a lot of sense for boomers. And in-home monitoring, the ability to wear a little patch that constantly measures your blood pressure or pulse, is obviously of interest.”
“For people with chronic conditions, instead of being monitored each day by a visiting nurse, you can get this diagnostic device, which is Internet-connected, and when you wake up, it says, ‘How is your energy today on a scale of 1 to 10? How did you sleep last night?’ Then it talks you through any diagnostic tests — the monitoring devices are connected to the machine — and takes the combination of the interview plus the results and sends that back to your doctor.
“Also, if you have a frail family member who’s living by themselves at a distance, there are sensors that will measure how many footsteps they take in a day, when they’ve gotten out of bed, if they’ve gotten out of bed.”
These technologies already exist, says Rogers, but they’re not yet widely used. “So much of medicine is controlled by the insurance companies and by what Medicare deems necessary. They need to be accepted as a general part of medical practice before they’ll be reimbursable expenses.”
Rogers spots innovations before they reach the mainstream by reading engineering journals (“because engineering touches on almost every area of technology”) and by monitoring blogs online.
Based on his reading, Rogers predicted a while ago that people would start taking climate change much more seriously when their countries got hit by climate-related catastrophes.
“It’s happening in Russia right now, because of the wildfires that have swept across the country; climate change is now a big issue there,” he says. “And over the next decade, we’re likely to see something similar here — a Katrina-size hurricane hitting Miami and bankrupting the state of Florida, for example — that will change public opinion.”
The millennials, however, will probably be the ones to drive the adoption of technology addressing climate change, “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 as millennials gain political power over that same decade, the combination of those two developments means that there will be meaningful climate change regulation, including a carbon tax. Suddenly, all these alternative energies will make a lot of economic sense.”
Rogers is looking forward to making stronger signals visible to the general public at AARP’s Orlando@50+ National Event.
“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,” he says. “I’ve always found that when you show people what the future might look like, it really starts them thinking.”