They were born before the Internet and grew up with rotary phones, but now baby boomers are the nation’s most voracious purchasers of WiFi service and tech gadgets.
The 76 million Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964 are hardly the youthful face of Silicon Valley, but those in their 50s and 60s are in many ways shaping tech innovation.
Tech industry designers are keenly aware of the boomer generation’s deep pockets and huge appetite for technology, so they are focusing intense effort on creating new cars, appliances and other gadgets tailored to them.
A virtual avalanche of devices is on the way to help boomers care for their elderly parents, including floors with sensors that can detect falls and refrigerators that sound an alert if they aren’t opened during the day.
“This is the generation that is driving the big purchases of the iPad. The luxury car market is not being driven by younger people but by people well over 57,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab.
Coughlin spoke at one of the #techboomers forums The Washington Post held recently in San Francisco and Boston, and highlights from him and other speakers are published in this special report.
Close to half of the adult population in the United States soon will be 50 or older, and they will control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income, according to a 2012 Nielsen study. They already account for more than 40 percent of purchases of Apple computers and wireless services.
Younger people may be the first to try the latest technology, but the sheer number of boomers means they make an outsize splash everywhere they throw their weight, including the digital world. Boomers date and bank online, form travel groups, play Candy Crush Saga and other video games, and visit with their grandchildren via Facetime.
It may have taken a few years, but increasingly, people older than 50 are making their presence known on Facebook and Twitter, such as the much-discussed recent Twitter exchange between Conan O’Brien and Madeleine Albright.
When the late-night talk show host, 51, tweeted, “I picked out my Halloween costume. I’m going as ‘Slutty Madeleine Albright,’ the former secretary of state, 77, replied, “@ConanObrien I’m considering going as hunky Conan O’Brien — but that might be too far fetched.”
There wasn’t an “OMG” or an “LOL” in sight, but a boomer getting schooled by someone even older drew huge — and telling — online chatter.