NH's baby boomers are ‘new darlings of the tech world’
At Goodeed Electronics in Nashua, the shelves are loaded with recycled smart phones, tablets, laptops and other consumer tech devices that have become part of everyday life.
Thanks in part to the bargain prices, Assistant Manager Bernardo Tormos sees people of all ages shopping for tech tools and gadgets.
Tormos said baby boomers, or customers in their early 50s and older, tend to gravitate toward iPhones and iPads.
“They are easy to understand and use,” he said. “Older people want to take something home, turn it on and have it work.”
Tormos said older customers sometimes struggle with the details of wireless systems and connections, but they rise to the occasion. “They aren’t afraid of technology,” he said.
Baby boomers and their use of technology has become a hot topic, and for the past couple of years, the American Association of Retired People, AARP, has teamed up with different organizations to look at how older people integrate technology into their lives. Last week in Boston, AARP and the Massachusetts High Technology Council sponsored Booming Tech, the latest forum on the electronic needs and aspirations of baby boomers.
Hosted by the Washington Post, panelists from business, government and academia discussed how boomers are influencing the direction of technology.
Described as the “new darlings of the tech world,” baby boomers, just by their numbers alone, are an important factor in the economy. Nationally, boomers account for 24 percent of the population while in New Hampshire, they come closer to 30 percent of the state’s residents.
And as a group, boomers tend to be well-educated and well-employed with money to spend at Goodeeds and other tech retailers.
Age not a barrier
Panelists at the Booming Tech forum reminded the audience, as they seem to do every year, that boomers are not reluctant to embrace technology, innovation and its advantages.
“Most boomers are tech savvy and curious,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Agelab, which studies how social and economic trends and an aging population are guiding technological innovation.
Coughlin said if boomers see something they think will help them live longer and better, they’ll jump on board.
Nashua State Representative and Board of Education member David Murotake doesn’t see age as a barrier to tech use. As Murotake, who has a Ph.D. in the management of technological innovation from MIT, pointed out, boomers ushered in the tech revolution and their need, tastes and desires shaped the development and direction of technology.
“We are responsible for the mass adoption of technology,” he said, adding that professional boomers were quick to see the benefits and possibilities of computers and the Internet.
“It’s been my observation that in the United States, people who can afford technology have adopted it,” he said.
Nothing tells the story quite as clearly as The Apps Store. Some of the most popular apps targeted toward younger users include Vine, a six-second video sharing app, Mixlr, an audio broadcasting app, and Temple Run, an addictive, adrenalin pumping game that has now spawned Temple Run 2.
Apps that are billed as “must haves” for baby boomers include ITriage, a symptom checker app for people with chronic health problems, Elder411/911, an app to guide people through emergency hospitalizations and Cogfit, a collection of exercises to strengthen memory and mental agility.
There is no doubt that technology is proving to be a huge asset to boomers who are coping with the many health issues that come with aging. But boomers want, and expect more.“As boomers, we are the loudest generation,” said Coughlin. “We have something that makes us different.”
According to Coughlin, tech developers can stop making devices and sensors that monitor health conditions, we now have enough.
“We aren’t young, but we are forever youthful,” Coughlin said. “We don’t want technology that says, ‘You’re an old person.’” Coughlin said boomers are looking for technology that excites and delights them and weaves together emotion, design and fun.
Making life easier
John Lepore, owner of Tailor-Made Audio and Video, has tapped into that boomer tech demand by offering technology that can automate just about any aspect of a home environment. The business can create a sound system that pumps a personal playlist of music into every room and can be controlled remotely with a cell phone, a comfort system that controls lights and heating or a security system that locks windows and doors.
“Our market is generally people in their mid 40s to their mid 60s,” said Lepore.
“A lot of times, we do a needs assessment and find out what people are looking for,” he said. “And then we let them know we can also do this, that and this.”
Although Lepore said people in their 70s and beyond seem less interested in technology than his customer base, older people are still turning to tech-based solutions to make like easier, safer and more convenient.
Murotake has noticed that boomers will often follow the lead of other boomers, a dynamic that has helped some types of technology gain acceptance among older users.
William Aulet, director of MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, told the audience at the Booming Tech Forum that boomers have an opportunity to actively shape tech innovation by jumping in with both feet and using their experience and perspective.
“It’s a myth that you have to be 21 to be an entrepreneur,” he said, adding that boomers actually led the current entrepreneurial craze. “You just have to have the spirit of a pirate.”