Are boomers tech-savvy and getting more so?
Research indicates that 77% of baby boomers are Internet users; 85% have cell phones, and; 40% use social media. Yet, the popular press and the conventional thinking says that baby boomers are not knowledgeable about technology. They are wrong!
Let’s start here. I am 66-years-old, an older baby boomer, retired from my university teaching position four years ago, but not retired. Like many older boomers, I am refocused. I did some consulting the first couple of years post-retirement using the professional expertise of my original career. Now I am beginning a new entrepreneurial venture where technology is both the focus and the function. But setting that aside for a moment, let’s look at my background to see what hints that might provide about baby boomers and how much they know about and how they use technology.
As a teacher and professor for 39 years I began using technology for both personal and professional purposes with a Kaypro computer in the mid-1980s, a Macintosh Plus in the later 1980s, and then a series of Macintosh desktop machines, including the colorful, funky iMac until the early-2000s when I moved to laptops, first a PowerBook and finally several MacBook Pros. Today, I still use a MacBook Pro 13 inch, retina display with two monitors, an original (and very heavy) iPad, and an iPhone. In spite of my proclivity for Apple products this journey isn’t about one type of computer over another.
But, this story isn’t about hardware, it is about using these tools. As much as I would like to be more knowledgeable, even geeky, I don’t know how to program; I don’t play video games; I don’t watch cat videos; and; I’m not really a high-end, technical user. To be honest, I do occasionally watch those crazy “dog eaten by crocodile” stories on the Weather Channel; I am an avid listener of podcasts such as the smart, interesting podcasts hosted by Daniel Pink; I use YouTube tutorials for a myriad of tasks from fixing my dishwasher to refinishing my wooden deck to removing ticks from dogs. This summer we are hosting a family reunion here in Maine and that is all done through email and a document in the cloud giving everyone access.
On the professional side, I teach a summer graduate course as a fully-online class juggling lectures, podcasts, responding to discussions, grading papers, and reading students blogs…all without ever seeing anyone face-to-face. I meet with colleagues through video or audio conferencing; we work collaboratively on projects in Google Drive where we can all work on projects in one place without emailing multiple drafts back and forth. And a bit more creatively, I use apps and software to create presentations and blog in multiple locations here and here.
I love my devices, I love the access to ideas, people, and knowledge that the Internet provides. I use technology frequently to communicate with family members and colleagues, to organize my time, ideas, and work, and to create podcasts, movies, tutorials, and more. And honestly, I do not know what I would do if I didn’t have access to the Internet and its opportunities for learning.
In the interest of full disclosure I sometimes spend much too much time checking email during the day when I should be doing something more productive. I know better, but I haven’t totally developed the habit of checking email 2-3 times a day to avoid multiple interruptions. And while mentioning my tech shortcomings, I sometimes spend more time that I want looking at Facebook posts. More of a reader than a poster here.
When it comes down to it I am definitely old-fashioned on a couple of things. Although I have a small laptop I work with it attached to two larger monitors and a full-sized keyboard. I’ve had my iPad since it first came out and love to read from it but I rarely send email or type anything on it. On the other hand, I use my iPhone (a computer in my pocket) regularly for several tasks: Taking pictures, texting, Internet access, and phone calling. I still use a paper calendar where I can see the entire month laid out in front of me, but even here I am switching to an online calendar.
Ok, that’s just me but I don’t think that I am particularly unique in how I use technology. There are lots of fellow baby boomers out there who are as active with technology as I am.
Here are my four take-aways. See if you agree.
1. There is no master script on what to use or how to use technology or the Internet. Find your own level of comfort.
2. Technology is not going away, nor slowing down. If we want to keep up with the world, we have to have a base level of knowledge and expertise.
3. Opportunities for enriching our lives through digital access are enormous—the world’s greatest museums, art galleries, music and so much more are right before us.
4. There are many, many resources to help us learn about and how to use digital devices, resources, and the Internet.
Yes, boomers are tech-savvy and we are getting more so. More importantly, we are tech-savvy on our own terms!