If there's one thing baby boomers are accustomed to, it's getting attention as a group. Since their arrival in the post-World War II population "boom," baby boomers -- those born in the U.S. between the years 1946 and 1964 -- have carried a lot of demographic weight, and an accompanying mix of fascination, interest in their collective voice and impact, and a desire to sell them products.
Just because the boomers are now retiring from the workplace in droves doesn't mean they're easing into a rocking-chair life, or that they've lost any of their influence or commercial appeal. In fact, when it comes to technology, businesses are realizing that the baby boomer demographic -- which has at times been overlooked when it comes to the marketing of new technologies -- is actually a goldmine of active and potential tech consumers.
This is the generation whose members were the most likely to have purchased some of the earliest home computers available. As they got older -- and had more discretionary spending available -- they were able to purchase innovative tech products as they were developed and introduced to the marketplace. Now that they're entering their 60s and 70s, boomers are no less enthusiastic about modern technologies, but now are as likely to learn about technologies from their children as they are from peers, who themselves are recent converts.
So what are 10 modern technologies baby boomers are using? Keep reading to find out.
Computers and laptops are quickly becoming nearly ubiquitous accessories to our lives. For those who aren't able to enjoy a home computer or a laptop while relaxing at the neighborhood coffee shop, local libraries offer free use of computers (when one is available, that is).
While use of computers was once a sign of generational divide, boomers have lived and worked in an era in which their use was quite common and even necessary. Increasingly, baby boomers are turning to the Internet for news, getting information from government Web sites and downloading music.
In fact, 81 percent of younger boomers (those born between 1955 and 1964) go online, as do 76 percent of older boomers (those born between 1946 and 1954) [source: Pew].
Even generations that precede the boomers frequently go online: About three in five members of the "silent generation" (born between 1937 and 1945) use the Internet, and so do about one in three members of the "G.I. generation" (born before 1937) [source: Pew]. Interestingly, boomers are among the most likely of all age groups to make online charitable donations [source: Pew].
What else are retirees doing more of online? Find out in the next section.
While social networking is now a normal part of the online experience, it took most of us a while to warm up to what initially seemed to be an invitation to privacy invasion. Boomers, too, are now flocking to social media sites, and the growth potential the boomer demographic represents has certainly caught the eye of social media companies.
Our daily social proximity to others seems to shrink as we move from school to the workforce, and then from the workforce to the home. Social media has made it possible not only to almost instantly connect to friends, classmates and colleagues from the past, but also to develop a widening ring of social contacts through the bond of shared interests or simply by virtue of being a friend-of-a-friend.
While younger adults are the most likely to use social networking sites, boomers as a whole now represent the fastest-growing demographic among social network sites, and about half of all boomers regularly use social networking sites [source: Pew].
Use of social networking by younger boomers increased 30 percent between December 2008 and May 2010, while older boomers increased their use of social networking by 34 percentage points [source: Pew].
Though many boomers register on social networking sites initially as a way to see the most recent photographs of the grandkids, boomers soon expand their own online social network and discover benefits outside of sharing family photos.
We've come a long way when it comes to communicating by phone, as we'll discuss next.
The telephone has had a pretty amazing technological trajectory over the lifetime of a boomer. In earlier decades, phones came equipped with what effectively were leashes to make sure nobody strayed too far mid-conversation. The rise of the cordless phone extended pacing range to about the driveway before early cell phones empowered us to talk anywhere, except too far away from a city or from inside a tunnel. Smartphones, however, will not only allow a user to walk-and-talk to their heart's content, but also provide them a map of their destination and restaurant suggestions once they've arrived.
Smartphones make for easy texting, which many boomers are big fans of. Boomers, after all, can appreciate the immediacy and speed of communication a text allows, bypassing the customary pleasantries involved in a phone conversation and the formalness of most other forms of written communication.
For these same reasons, many boomers find that texting children or grandchildren is more likely to elicit a quick response than would be the case with a letter, e-mail or phone call.
Of course, smartphones also enable boomers to access their e-mail or search online while at the gym, the supermarket or the golf course with ease. Before long, boomers will also be able to use smartphones like debit cards or even as hotel keys.
Next: They're not of the "me generation," but boomers have adopted the "i."
While Apple's iPads and other tablets -- which generally boast larger screens and more features than standard e-readers -- are currently priced out of reach of many consumers, a lot of baby boomers are well positioned to be early adopters of these fairly recent tech arrivals.
Though their generation grew up with physical newspapers, boomers are increasingly getting their news online, and an iPad is a great way to do so. While iPads aren't well equipped for lots of typing (unless you really like touch screens), they're great if you want to do some reading, online browsing, shopping, looking at/posting photos or even Skyping.
So, what's the allure of iPads for the boomer? Primarily, iPads have much of the multi-functionality of a smartphone (with the exception of the phone part), the portability of an e-reader and -- perhaps most importantly -- a nice big screen.
Boomers have need for the iPod, as well. About half of all younger boomers listen to online music (as do nearly two in five older boomers), and about one in five boomers download podcasts [source: Pew].
The popularity of iPods played no small part in this. For boomers who remember jogging around a track with a comparatively gigantic Sony Walkman in their hand, the iPod is a welcome -- and tiny -- addition to their lives.
Next: Take it to the bank, anytime.
Boomers entered a world where financial transactions passed between hands in two primary forms: cash and check. Checkbook ledgers were necessary for keeping track of one's funds, and if there was some banking to be done it had to be completed by Friday at 5 p.m.
The way we do our banking has changed, and boomers are eagerly embracing that change.
Online banking is a safe, secure way to check your balance from the comfort of your home at any given moment, and it also allows you to transfer funds between accounts, pay bills and keep tabs on credit card activity. And if you lose your credit card or bank debit card, you can log on and cancel it immediately.
Boomers search for financial information online more so than younger demographics, and half of all boomers use online banking -- a number that is trending upward [Pew].
What's the hold-up with the other half? It may have something to do with an increased interest in Internet privacy among boomers, meaning some may not be comfortable facilitating online access to their personal bank vault [source: Rogers].
However, many boomers are open to the idea of using their smartphones as credit cards, but favor security measures such as remote deactivation.
Next, we'll talk about why boomers get their news online, but do so with ink-stained fingers.
After the rise of around-the-clock cable news, it wasn't easy to imagine a way in which breaking news could be more readily available -- or more abundant. For boomers, who grew up in an era of daily newspapers and nightly-news anchors, online news has become their go-to source of information regarding developments in world events, local happenings, sports, finance and entertainment.
While use of online news sites by adults between the ages of 18 and 45 has leveled off, boomers' viewership continues to increase [source: Pew].
Boomers turn to the Internet for their news practically as much as any other age group. In doing so, they're not following a trend, but simply satisfying their thirst for up-to-the-minute information.
In fact, more boomers rely on a mix of print and online media to scratch their news itch more so than other generations -- older generations rely more heavily on print, and younger on online news sources [source: Pew]. This may be a result of growing up with an appreciation of online news, but a healthy held-over skepticism formed in the earliest days of online news when accuracy and accountability were often trumped by a publish-it-first mentality.
Regardless, relying on both newspapers and online news sites for information may make boomers more broadly aware of events in the world, since online news-reading can be specifically tailored toward one's own interests, while reading a newspaper offers exposure to a wider range of subjects and opinions.
Next: Paper is so yesterday.
As wonderful as it is to stroll through a giant bookstore that's honeycombed with bookshelves, it's less wonderful to dedicate an increasingly large amount of space in your own home to storing the books you've accumulated.
Until the emergence of e-readers (or e-book readers), one might have to dedicate a separate bag for carrying the books one intended to read on vacation. Now, thousands of books can be transported in and accessed by a device with dimensions similar to a book, but thinner. E-readers are portable devices that can store text from digitized books, newspapers and magazines. They have wireless capabilities that allow owners to download books or other documents using Wi-Fi or 3G networks. They're also noted for having long battery lives -- in some cases, a full charge can power an e-reader for a month or longer.
As e-readers become more popular, digital book sales continue climbing. In fact, online retail giant Amazon is now selling more e-books than hardcover books and paperback books combined [source: Miller].
Boomers are increasingly looking for large-print books, and the ability to change the font size of text on e-readers is very alluring. Additionally, some e-readers have features that give a voice to the words on the page.
Best yet? Libraries now offer a free digital-book lending service.
Next: When TV got serious.
Boomers ushered in -- or perhaps were ushered into -- a new age in media. Representations of events through the eyes of mass media helped influence the collective perception of those same events like never before. For instance, we may think of the Zapruder film when we think of President John F. Kennedy's death, or assume that every person of this generation was at one point an extra dancing to Jefferson Airplane in a scene shot at Woodstock.
Regardless of the role imagery plays in our lives, nobody really likes their imagery small, pixilated and accompanied by tinny sound. So it's no surprise that boomers appreciate the perks and features of watching movies or TV shows on a large LCD or plasma flat-screen with audio being piped through the surround-sound speakers of their home entertainment systems.
For boomers who have spent most of their lives arranging furniture in their family rooms to accommodate a big, boxy television, the ability to hang a flat-screen TV on the wall like a painting is, well, pretty cool.
It's no wonder boomers embraced flat-screen TVs. Compared to other televisions, flat-screen TVs provide clearer images, larger images, better sound and are more visually appealing as an addition to a room.
And boomers are an ideal demographic market for flat-screen TVs. People in their 50s are most likely to make large electronics purchases, and consumers age 50 and older outspend younger adults overall by $1 trillion [source: Rogers].
Keep reading to learn which technologies are going to help boomers live longer, and better.
As baby boomers enter their retirement years and continue to age, there will be increased strain on the health care system in the decades to come. By 2030, there will be about 72 million people in the U.S. over the age of 65, and by 2050 there will be 108 million people aged 65 and older, and these numbers are expected to result in a growing shortage of health care workers and providers [source: Health Care Technology Association of America].
Fortunately, boomers are well positioned to benefit from new technologies that will make it easier in years to come for them to "age in place" and extend personal independence and remain in their own homes.
One home health care technology that will be increasingly useful for boomers is remote monitoring. This allows for up-to-the-minute medical information -- such as heart rate, blood-sugar levels and self-reported pain levels -- to be transmitted from an individual at home to off-site health workers. This saves time and money all around since fewer home-care visits will be needed. The use of special in-home cameras allows patients to directly interact with an on-call nurse, further reducing the need for medical appointments except when hands-on care is necessary. Motion sensors can be used in some cases to discretely monitor regular activity without compromising privacy [source: USA Today].
Boomers also benefit from computerized health tracking, which enables a never-before-seen doctor to quickly access a patient's files and catch up to speed on that patient's health history.
Next: Folding up the maps and tapping into the satellites.
More so than younger generations, boomers are most likely to equate new technology with an improved quality of life [source: Rogers]. That's likely to be the case when it comes to boomers' opinions of GPS navigational systems, which not only have improved quality of life, but also saved plenty of lives.
When baby boomers were growing up, going on a trip to the Grand Canyon (or perhaps Niagara Falls) usually meant watching a parent trying to unfold a giant map in the car while the other parent insisted the destination had been overshot by only a couple hundred miles.
For purposes of safety, convenience and simply geeking out on some really cool technology, boomers have embraced the use of GPS. As often as not, these embraces are mutual, as most new cars have the option of built-in GPS, which is also standard on cell phones and utilized by online mapping systems.
So what exactly is GPS? GPS stands for "global positioning system" and it's a U.S.-operated system that involves a network of orbiting satellites (with 24 in use at any given time) that allows those with GPS receivers to determine their three-dimensional position on Earth. Portable GPS-based navigation systems geared toward boomers often feature larger screens and improved readability. Boomers can also use GPS to keep tabs on aging parents, especially those with dementia.
While we tend to think of new technologies as being youth-oriented, the needs and desires of boomers may very well dictate which new technologies we see in the years to come.
Keep reading to learn more about baby boomers.
Baby boomers should get weight-bearing exercise to improve bone health and balance. See the top five reasons for baby boomers to get weight-bearing exercise.
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