Baby boomers are getting into new technology, on their terms

Facebook’s growth continues to explode, now topping 350M users and still going strong. If there is a ‘secret sauce’ that has propelled Facebook into becoming the most widely used social network in the world, one of the key ingredients of that sauce would undeniably be demographics. As Facebook has grown, it has gotten older. Twitter is a brilliant real-time publishing tool, LinkedIn is equally brilliant for business networking. However, no other social network in the world has managed to weave together all three primary social pillars as well as Facebook has. Those pillars are Family, Friends and Business.

“A study in August by marketing agency iStrategyLabs suggested the number of new Facebook users aged 55 and older grew by almost 514 per cent in the previous six months, compared to 4.8 per cent growth among 18-to 24-year-olds and 24.2 per cent for those 17 and younger.”
– (source: AM1150)

On the research trail for a new venture, one of the things I’ve been mindful of are the wants, needs, usage patterns and behaviours of baby boomers. What motivates boomers to adopt new technology? What turns them away? I recently stumbled across a study that offers some great insights into the baby boomer cohort and how they perceive new technology. Inside the tech world, we gravitate to the shiny new beta-toy on the block and the digerati tweenies/Echos are a sought-after cohort because of their willingness to be on the front-lines of the adoption curve. But talk to investors, VC or otherwise, and they are clearly looking for the next Facebook. While attempting to be the next Facebook is a fool’s errand, aspiring to be as widely used as Facebook isn’t. But before you can shoot for that moon, it would be wise to ensure that your concept is age-agnostic and that means it has to be something a baby boomer could embrace.

“…boomers are in fact active adopters of new technology – but with a unique style driven by two aspects of their character. The first is that this generation lives at the midpoint of life’s cycles: often with children at home, yet also responsible for aging parents. From this center-court vantage point, they see the technology wants and needs of their children and also of their own parents. They’re likely to experience, in daily life, both the brash enthusiasm of youthful early adopters and the deliberate caution of older adults. The second unique aspect is their historical perspective. Baby boomers grew up with technology: they were in their teens to early 30s when the first IBM PCs and Apples appeared, and were the innovators and early adopters of that era (one dinner participant still has the manual for Windows 1.0). Yet they also recall a time when all telephones had wires and were rented monthly from Ma Bell – a time when there were a handful of television stations, and if you turned on the set in the middle of the night, you saw a test pattern. They created their social lives before the advent of ubiquitous communication, when physical distance meant true separation, and if your parents moved to a new state you’d likely lose touch with old pals.

The consistent theme in this diverse group is that boomers want to bring their own values to technology. Boomer ideals were forged in an era when human rights and individual freedoms were central concerns, and boomers apply that perspective to technology as well. They fear that their children, perhaps unwittingly, allow technology to shape their lives rather than using technology to help create the lives they want. Boomers want technology to fit the lives they have made and the values they hold dear.

The boomers thus occupy a unique niche. If their children are the technology pioneers, the first to explore new territory, boomers are the settlers, arriving a bit later to set up schools and libraries, churches and hospitals, to sink deep roots and build permanent structures. With one foot in the future and the other in the past, they are inventing a world for the 50-year-old of the future. The choices they make, the devices, software and services they embrace, will directly inform what is available as the next generation grows older.”

Full study entitled ‘Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation’ can be downloaded here: (source: PDF Report)

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