Big Boom Theory: The Next Episode

We don’t use the F-words enough,” according to Joseph Coughlin, Director of the MIT Age Lab, who spoke at a Washington Post Live event, Booming Tech recently.  “F stands for fun, friends, and fashion,” explained Coughlin.  If Coughlin is right about products for Boomers, the same probably applies to politics.

Coughlin, a showman in blue pants and bow tie, paced the stage while talking about Boomers and technology.  He reminded your humble blogger, ironically, of another showman, Ken Dychtwald, author of Age Wave,and founder of a company by the same name, who spoke  at an Inc. 500 Conference back in 1988.

Dychtwald’s central message, delivered with compelling style in the ‘80’s, was that baby-boomers were so numerous that their interests had dominated and would continue to dominate the American culture and economy for the course of their lives. The Boomers, according to Dychtwald, are like a wave passing through the body of the population.  

Coughlin’s central message may be as important to political innovation as Dychtwald’s was to marketing.  Your humble blogger took Coughlin’s comments as a reminder that people, including the big Boomer cohort, don’t seek innovation in civic affairs because it is “good for them” like some bitter medicinal pill or pious church sermon.  They seek innovation for the benefits they will experience materially, emotionally, and socially. 

The Boomer Tech program generally reinforced the political opportunities in the vast Boomer cohort.  Innovative politics can appeal not only to younger “digital natives” but also to the huge Boomer population.  Use of smart phones, tablets and computers in the Boomer population is also likely to correlate with income and other variables that may be relevant to your campaign.

Older adults love technology,” asserts Coughlin, but he urged developers and marketers to focus on life-style benefits, not health fixes.  “Innovators should excite and delight the market,”  he stated.  He advocated thinking about “technology, emotion, design and fun.” 

Other speakers elaborated that many Boomers are enthusiastic technology users with plenty of experience in adapting to technological change.  Boomers expect that innovative technology will enable them to live better and longer than preceding generations. 

However, the Boomer Tech program was also a reminder that the aging population of Boomers presents a much greater challenge to society than preceding generations.  Boomers will live longer as dependents and live longer in impaired health, requiring more medical care than preceding generations.  These challenges cry-out for innovation – business-as-usual threatens the future of the younger generations.

The Baby Boom kicked off at the end of World War II when people who had been prevented from or had delayed procreation due to wartime circumstances joined with the population of people normally entering the procreation stage of life to make lots of babies.  The annual births climbed through the prosperous 50’s and peaked in ’61 falling most years thereafter until 1976 when Baby Boomers themselves were procreating.  The population of children under 18 peaked in the early 70’s and then declined until about 1990.  As a percent of the population, children under 18 peaked in the early ‘60’s.  The end of the boom is a matter of definition but is generally fixed in the mid ‘60’s meaning that Boomers are all over 50 years old now.

The Booming Tech event was staged to promote the value of the Baby Boomer population.  The AARP (which no longer uses the name, American Association of Retired Persons) sponsored the event. They have a strong interest in promoting the market.  The AARP is a 1.5 billion dollar membership enterprise focused on people 50 or more years of age.  While AARP’s principal revenue sources are insurance royalties and member dues, advertising in their member publications, which I presume includes their web and expo revenue, accounted for 131 million dollars, 10 percent of their revenue in 2012.  They also have an interest in stimulating technology applications for the benefit of their membership and have their own program, AARP TEK, to help their membership become more tech savvy.


Photo  of Joseph Coughlin by Gretchen Ertl used by permission of Washington Post

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