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Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation

Futurist Michael Rogers explores what Boomers want and expect when they look around the corner.

silhouetted man in front of large video screen

— Photo by Richard Newstead/Getty Images

Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation is a unique, qualitative study of how the boomer generation thinks about technology, sponsored by AARP and Microsoft. The paper offers a fresh perspective on a generation often not considered when experts chart consumer appetites for technology, and it forecasts how boomers' use of technology will evolve in the years ahead.

This video (below) provides an introduction to the report's  themes and issues. And for a lively half-hour conversation between Michael Rogers and Prime Time Radio host Mike Cuthbert, listen here.

The insights used to produce the paper were gathered during May 2009 in San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York, when more than 60 boomers dined and then voiced their opinions in a directed discussion led by author and futurist Michael Rogers. Together, they shared their thoughts on, frustrations with, and enthusiasms as well as hopes for modern technology. The participants all had broadband Internet access at home and were clear and ready communicators. They represented what technology marketers call "influencers"—the vocal consumers whose opinions shape others' behavior.

Participants were encouraged to talk about the improvements they wanted to see in technology and to speculate about what they'd like to see next. As a result, the report includes both present attitudes and an extrapolation of the technologies boomers are likely to embrace in the future.

For full details, see Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation. (downloadable pdf file)

Key attitudes that emerged:

  • When boomers start using new technologies, such as texting or personal videoconferencing, they are enthusiastic, engaged, and quick to share with their peers. For boomers, technology is contagious. And they don't consider themselves technology dunces. Instead, they blame manufacturers for excessive complexity and poor instructions.
  • Boomers are the fastest-growing age segment on such social-networking sites as Facebook, and many log on at least once a day. While not early adopters, they have been drawn in by younger family members and also by business connections. Social networks will be a big part of boomer life in the future.
  • When it fits their needs, boomers will embrace leading-edge technology—voice recognition, projection cell phones, even computer goggles (tools for experiencing virtual reality). They're eager, for example, to see medical records computerized; a surprising number would even be implanted with data chips holding their own health history. A majority have enthusiastically adopted online banking. And now they're open to seeing financial applications on mobile devices, even to turning cell phones into electronic wallets.
  • Technology is a big part of boomer leisure and creativity. Boomers use technology for learning, music composition, shooting videos, rare-book collecting, playing DJ, planning travel, and more. For boomers—the first gamers, with "Pong"—video games are back, especially with the rise of physical interfaces. And while still fond of print, boomers are seeking fresh sources for news, from AP feeds on their smartphones to The Economist on the Internet. Television via the Web is their next frontier.
  • Coming of age in an era when human rights and individual freedoms were central concerns, boomers apply that perspective to technology. They fear that their children, perhaps unwittingly, allow technology to shape their lives. Boomers want technology to fit the lives they have made and the values they hold dear. If their children are the technology pioneers, the first to explore new territory, boomers are the settlers, arriving later to set up schools and libraries, to sink deep roots, and to build permanent structures

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