TheNextWeb recently published an opinion piece by writer Curtis Silver called “Baby boomers aren’t tech novices. They just want you to think they are.”
Silver takes the reasonable position that the ability to adapt frequently is the definition of being tech-savvy, and then throws out a series of anecdotes and theories about why Boomers won’t (or can’t) do it.
He notes that his father, a retired electrical engineer, won’t use an iPad, and he says that “the only reason your mother is on Facebook is because that is the place where you post most of your pictures and check constantly.”
Without any support from data, he also concludes that “we can agree that health-related technology is much more important to them [Boomers] than social media or apps.”
While there are as many different attitudes about technology among Boomers as there are Boomers, there is abundant evidence that Silver is generally (maybe deliberately) wrong in these incendiary statements. Boomers drove the early success of the iPad, and they are on Facebook not just to follow their self-fascinated children but to stay connected with their own friends, too. Social media, moreover, still remains far more interesting to Boomers than health-related technology.
If Silver’s intent was to incite strong reactions, he succeeded. One of the many Boomer commenters called it “an entirely offensive article.” Others claim they avoid tech by design (“I don't skype. Not because I can't (God knows I set up enough instances of it for other people) but because I don't want to.”) Which led one 67 year old commenter (together with any number of silent readers) to say, “My, my, some of you Boomers are defensive.”
Silver’s article takes many different positions, and not all of them are simplistic – or as simplistic as the reactions they aroused. Boomers have, of course, made every major tech adaptation of the last 25 years. And research I have conducted and read over the last eight years confirms one of his most important points: “[Boomers] are constantly adapting if they choose it.”
Why/when do they choose it? If it actually enhances productivity; connects them better with their family and friends; and improves their quality of life. But adapting just for the sake of staying current? Not so much.
I thought about when I read another recent article, this one from The Atlantic,called “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis,” by Jonathan Rauch.
If you’ve read any books about happiness studies in the last 10 years, you’ve probably heard about the “U-Curve,” the scientifically proven phenomenon whereby happiness declines in adulthood until age 45-50, when it turns upward, and continues rising, to levels well above any other level experienced in adult life. After being alive, the most reliable factor in determining your level of happiness, it turns out, is age. And older is better.
Rather than worrying about whether they are good enough or have enough, people over 50 tend to be grateful for what they are, and what they have.
While the pace of change in technology may leave people 50+ wondering what they are missing, they are willing to take that chance, willing to wait until the benefits of learning about the technology — enhancing a life they already like — outweighs the costs of taking them away from that life itself.
Boomer attitudes about technology are not so much about technology as about life. And rather thanbrand Boomers as technophobes or (worse) incompetents, we’d all do better to realize that each of us will someday avoid early adoption — not just because we can lean on our children for tech support, but because we, unlike them, understand that we have a choice.