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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

What do those attitudes mean for the boomer of the future? Here's a brief projection of what their lives might look like 10 years from now—in 2019, when the youngest boomer turns 55. These forecasts are based on technology that is either soon coming to market or feasible over the next decade, combined with the interests of the study participants.

Digital Fitness. Boomers will wear sensor-equipped exercise clothing to keep track of their physical condition during workouts, their calories burned—and  upload it all to an online record. Even their running shoes will contain sensors and GPS to provide additional data. Their mobile devices may even be set to (gently) remind them when they're falling behind on their exercise routines.

Chip Me, Doc. Once Boomers are confident about security and privacy, they will be early adopters of electronic health records—many would even choose to have them implanted as tiny chips. And they'll start keeping their own records online, using digital diagnostic devices to upload their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, even the results of a mini-EKG.

Gene Scans. Boomers will buy low-cost gene scans that they'll integrate into their own health data. They'll then upload the information to new personal-health social networks that privately link people with "comparables"—individuals with similar genetic makeups and backgrounds—with whom to compare notes on health issues.

New News. Some boomers' breakfast routines will include reading the news with mobile devices and sophisticated e-readers that they keep on the table, right next to the coffee and cereal. But even when boomers embrace the convenience and personalization of electronic delivery, they will still look to the major news brands both for news aggregation and credibility.

Good-Bye to Tiny Screens. Boomers will demand mobile phones with built-in projectors: They envision pushing a button to see an image on the wall. Past that, we'll see data-glasses with prescription lenses that are connected wirelessly to mobile devices. The display would appear on the lower half of the lens—right in the area of bifocals used in reading.

Social Networks. For boomers, social networks will become as commonplace as the telephone—particularly to link them into the lives of their children and grandchildren in a way that's unobtrusive yet meaningful. And personal videoconferencing will be commonplace: High-definition video cameras on the big screen in the living room will enable regular family-to-family chats.

Employment, Boomer Style. Boomers who are past the 9-to-5 routine but still working part-time will become the masters of tele-presence: videoconferencing with HD and surround sound. Boomers will move to some very pleasant locales, yet stay in the midst of the action. No longer at the water cooler, they'll instead organize their opportunities through sophisticated and business-oriented social networks.

Parents. Boomers will lead the aging-in-place movement with their own parents, wiring their parents' homes with smart sensors that monitor motion, power usage, average conversation levels and footstep patterns, and that send regular updates that all is well—or suggest the boomer check in to make sure the parents are OK.

A Safer, Kinder Internet. As boomers demand better security online, true Internet identities will become available—the equivalent of driver's licenses or passports—not only improving security but also producing better online manners. Boomers, seeking trust and civility, will be the "settlers" of the current Wild-West Web.

Simple, Self-Healing Computers. Boomers will expect computers to keep track of their own electronic "health" and to report problems before they cause serious trouble. Preferring voice commands and touch screens, boomers mistrust any device that takes more than one page of instructions to use.  

Money to Go. The mobile device will become both a credit-card and cash equivalent, and boomers will take to this as a natural progression of online banking.

Home, Green Home. The boomer dream home will have a full solar roof, plus energy monitoring that lets residents tailor their usage to maximum efficiency. Domestic robots will be increasingly common appliances, and in new homes, designers will make kitchens and floor plans "robot-friendly."

Video-Game Fever. Boomers will become video-game aficionados, primarily using motion-sensing video game consoles rather than old-fashioned game controllers. One favorite genre will be games that let players use real sports equipment—from ping-pong paddles to golf clubs—to work up a sweat playing online competitors on the big screen.

The clear message of Boomers and Technology is that this generation's technology habits are not frozen in time. Boomers are thoughtful adopters who are open to new technologies that add value to their lives. And the choices they make—the devices, software, and services they embrace—will directly shape what becomes available as the next generation grows older. Boomers today, in short, are inventing the 50-year-old of the future.

For full details, see Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation.