Imagine: you’re walking down a busy sidewalk on a late Thursday afternoon. You pause to look up from your iPhone and chances are as you look around you’ll notice that everyone is doing exactly what you were doing just moments before. Walking around in today’s everyday society, it isn’t uncommon to see people; men, women and children, glued to their mobile devices. In fact, it’s just human nature. Whether they are speaking to someone on the phone directly, indirectly through text message or email, or on some sort of social networking site like, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest; society has grown to develop mutual understanding that in a way, technology makes the world go round. It’s overly common for a teenager and now, even younger child to be seen with their own gadget like a smart phone, laptop or iPad. It’s even fairly common to look around and see mom and dad breaking the barrier with these new technologies as well. But what about grandma and grandpa? How are they using technology? Are they using it at all? What this paper aims to explore is the way in which our ever changing technological society is affecting the lives of the older generations and that embracing these changes are now inevitable for them.
SILENT GENERATION VS. BABY BOOMERS
The ‘elderly’ generation as many of us view them today, are those who were born between the years of 1925 and 1945, notably during The Great Depression and World War II. Referred to as the “Lucky Few”, this generation includes those who were too young to join the service during the Second World War. It includes most of the individuals who fought during the Korean War. However, many had fathers who served in World War I. Generally recognized as the children of the Great Depression, this event during their most influential years had a profound impact on them. ‘Baby Boomers’, many of whom are our (Gen Y) parents, were born between the years 1946 and 1964. The “Baby Boom”, as it has been noted in history, occurred following tours of duty overseas in the United States, Canada and Australia during World War II. In the US alone there was an estimated 79 million babies born during this time period. A significant peak occurred in the late 1950s with households continuing to grow by the instant but; no generation to follow has been as popular as those from the Baby Boom era.
THEN AND NOW
There is a significant difference comparing the ways in which children growing up today are raised in society and how the Baby Boomers grew up at that very same age. Children in today’s society are so accustom to having technology readily available to them at all times. According to Victor C. Strasburger, MD, Amy B. Jordan, PhD, and Ed Donnerstein, PhD, the authors of “Children, Adolescents, and the Media:: Health Affects”; young children and teenagers are spending on average, just over ten hours of their days consuming some form of media. What might be more shocking than the amount of time that children are spending with their different types of media, are the statistics indicating how many teens own their own technological gadgets. The chart to the right indicated the percent of teenagers between the ages of 12-17 who own what type of technological gadget (as of 2009). With 75% of teenagers owning a cell phone, 79% owning some type of music device and 80% owning their own gaming console, it shows significant contrast to how children and teens are raised and how they consume their days. Technological innovations of the cell phone, for example, started in the forties but didn’t take off until the 1990s showing that certain forms of technology were evidently not as prevalent between the late twenties and early forties (Lachoée, Wakeford, Pearson, 2003). So, what did our parents and grandparents do with their time? I took it upon myself to speak to members of my own family to see how they lived their lives as children.
INTERVIEWS FOR RESEARCH
I decided to call my mom and her mother to compare how they grew up as children compared to the society we live in today. “We didn’t have cell phones or any of the modern technology back then…it was a much different time”, my grandmother told me. When I asked her what she did for fun she began to name a number of different games that she said were particularly inexpensive and could be played out in the streets or in the schoolyard. As she spoke I began to recognize some of the games like tag, or handball or hop-scotch. When it came to the very limited technology they had available she said that her family owned a television but it wasn’t a usual pastime like it is today; “maybe on a Sunday night if we were lucky” she said, “but even that was rare”. After hanging up the phone with her, I immediately called my mother to gain further insight on these past societies and how it affected those growing up in that time. As a young girl growing up in the early seventies, my mom told me that she and her friends played outside a lot more; they played a lot more interactive games like hide and go seek and they would play ‘house’. “I feel like kids today are always alone and don’t have much of an imagination anymore”, she said. She then proceeded to tell me that she too had a TV but there were very limited channels, maybe three and even then kids didn’t really do that when they were young. She told me, “It’s just a very different time for you guys to be growing up, we never had access to technology like this; you do”.
CHANGING THEIR WAYS
So, it’s apparent; children today are almost living in a completely different world than the one our parents and grandparents grew up in. But the fact is that they too are still living in this world. Although they haven’t grown up with the technology like many of the Generation Y’ers, they are being forced to change their behaviors along with these ever-changing times. According to Michael Rogers, “one of the nation’s leading experts on the impacts of technology on business and society” (according to MSNBC), “…it’s clear that the baby boomers keep adopting new technology. They’ve been doing it all their lives.” In this interview with World Future Review, Rogers says that this generation isn’t necessarily uncomfortable with new technology but they are in fact uncomfortable with the idea of it forcing them to change their lives. However, according to James Harkin and Julia Huber, authors of “Eternal Youth: How the baby boomers are having their time again”, they believe that as a generation, these boomers are rejecting many of the traditional associations of old age. They wrote, “In making personal fulfillment after 50 their priority, the research shows that many will use their purchasing power, connections and self-awareness increasingly to dominate the images and rituals of popular culture”.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
With the amount of technology opening a number of different doors for these older generations, have they actually embraced fully? It’s difficult to say exactly but, in a segment done by CNN only five months ago, only four out of every ten boomers have a smart phone. However, research suggests that it is expected to increase drastically within the next few years. Now, in terms of social networking, boomers have yet to fully embrace this medium like they have with computers themselves. Although 57% of this generation has viewed some kind of social network in the past, out of that percentage, they are unlikely to use regularly (according to E-Marketer, a leading authority on digital habits). Barbara Mark, an executive coach for women, who is a Baby Boomer herself, claims that many of her older clients often times feel intimidated and overwhelmed by all the up and coming technology. Even though Barbara understands the appeal and convenience behind all of the new devices and what they have to offer, many other boomers don’t find the same excitement in the abundance of technology we have today. It may seem as though there is a divide within this generation on whether or not technology could potentially effect and change their lives the same way it has changed those of Gen X or Gen Y. But, the capabilities and advantages that these two generations could gain may outweigh their negative principles and overall hesitation to acclimate entirely.
In 2009, a study was conducted to research the different generations that were to most likely be found using the Internet; it was called “The Pew Internet and American Life Project”. Their studies showed that in more recent years, there has in fact been an increase in older generations using the Internet (as shown in the chart to the right) much more than younger generations like X or Y. But what this research also found was the way in which these different generations are using the Internet. Compared to Gen Y for instance, older generations aren’t necessarily using the Internet to socialize or as a source of entertainment. They are actually using it as an information tool for doing searches, emailing and buying products. More specifically, those individuals who are 73 and older use the Internet in order to research information on health. An infographic done by the Pew Internet group confirms that about 56% of Silent Generationers do use the Internet but not to engage in typical online activity that many Gen Y’ers do like instant message, download music, use social media, etc. but rather to gain valuable information that could lead to their overall well-being.
FROM FLIP-PHONES TO SMART PHONES
Back in 2006, the number of mobile subscribers reached 71 percent and was expected to increase in the years to follow (Federal Communications Commission, 2006). With the increase of cell phone subscribers, mobile data service adoption has risen. This has led to an estimated 50 percent of US mobile subscribers using these services which facilitate other mobile-related services like mobile commerce. However, technology-based services tend to affect various groups by age cohort and how they adopt the use of these services differently. A previous study found that age influences an individual’s information technology acceptance and information processing ability. Kiseol Yang and Laura D. Jolly did further research to examine the differences in the adoption of mobile devices between two age cohorts; Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use and perceived fun— the three elements in the Technology Acceptance Model, were used to identify these differences. Out of 200 participants (67 gen X’ers and 86 boomers), this study found that boomers perceived mobile data services as more difficult to use than those in Gen X did. Conversely, the perception of usefulness of these mobile data services was stronger for the Baby Boomers. Therefore, the results of this survey confirm that the usefulness of mobile data services may be a critical motivator for Baby Boomers to adapt to using mobile data services further.
GOING BEYOND TRADITIONAL TECHNOLOGY
Cell phone and Internet use appear to be increasingly average daily activities for the Boomer generation but, who would think to ask one’s grandparents to sit down and play a video game. New research done through North Carolina State University has recently found that older adults who engage in playing video games like Wii, actually report higher levels of emotional well-being. Researchers asked 140 participants (ages 63 and older), how often they played video games, if they did at all. Results showed that 61percent of participants engaged at least occasionally while only 35 percent said they played at least once each week. Participants were later asked to take a series of tests to assess their emotional and social well-being and the results were as followed; elders who played video games, even those who only played occasionally, reported a higher level of well-being. Those who did not described having more negative emotions with a higher tendency towards depression. Additionally, research done right at the University of Rochester was conducted to consider if playing action video games could be a way to induce widespread enhancement in vision for older adults (Achtman, Green, Bavelier).
Numerous studies have been done to research the benefits older generations could face with learning and embracing the newest technology. Sherry L. Willis believes that technology can play a large and valuable role in how elders undertake learning activities. In her writing, “Technology and Learning in Current and Future Generations of Elders”, Willis suggests that boomers would benefit from learning how to properly use computers to acquire knowledge and skills, and gaining the knowledge and skills required to use computer and Internet technology. Francis Green, writer of “The Value of Skills” also believes that “key skills” aka computer skills are becoming much more important and highly valued in modern workplaces. He states that even workers who use moderately complex levels of computer technology like word-processing packages, these workers can earn up to 20% more than those workers who do not have any computer skills. Like much of the US population, older generations too, are using the Internet for communication and information seeking. These elders are avid email users and information seekers but currently, there are some limitations in their search skills that can be improved upon to better their everyday lifestyles. Boomers will remain in the workforce much longer therefore, it is important that they continue to train themselves in the advances of technology as they age.
JOINING A REVOLUTION
“Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation” explores how the boomer generation thinks about technology and anticipates how boomers’ use of technology may evolve in the years ahead. In this paper, Rogers discusses that when boomers start using new technologies, they are enthusiastic and engaged at first because to them, technology is relatively contagious therefore they will attempt to explore what’s current and new. Additionally, when it fits their particular needs, they will embrace the most cutting-edge technology like, voice recognition, projection cell phones, even computer goggles (tools for experiencing virtual reality). Furthermore, this generation is currently the fastest-growing group of individuals on social networking sites like Facebook, often times having been drawn in by younger members of their own families. Technology has slowly become a larger part of boomer leisure time and creativity and although not all mediums have been embraced entirely, this generation could really learn and benefit a great deal from technology. Our grandparents may not be ‘friending’ us on Facebook or texting us on a daily basis anytime soon but, the benefits that are connected with technological adaptation is worth noting. Using the Internet especially provides these older generations with many ways to learn new, beneficial information, connect and communicate with other members of society and essentially improve their overall welfare. Older generations may not acclimate with these new lifestyle changes overnight but, with the rapid alterations in technologies, overtime this generation will inevitably have no other choice but to join the technological revolution that has already taken the world by storm and they may not recognize it yet but, it will do them much more good than harm.
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