When the Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie made two septuagenarians (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) the masterminds behind a senior-friendly vibrator, it was more than just TV hilarity.
It was real.
Okay, fine: realistic fiction. As in, out of the realm of farce and squarely in the camp of could actually happen. With the senior sex toy story beat, Grace & Frankie, like all great comedies, played up a cultural reality worthy of discussion and attention – in this case, the familiarity and ease between Baby Boomers and technology.
It’s a relationship that all of us, but especially developers, are wise to note.
On this side of the screen, Baby Boomers (the massive post-war population born between 1946 and 1964) have long embraced technology with a fervor largely unacknowledged by the mainstream. Boomers are, in fact, now the nation’s biggest buyers of technology, with female Boomers wielding particularly unmatched consumer power.
Is this “news”? It depends who you’re asking. As anyone over 55 can attest, Boomers have been buying and using technology at a pace more or less in keeping with national averages since consumer technology’s dawn. Still, that memo took its time getting to Hollywood, let alone Silicon Valley.
I’ve worked in the tech industry for 20 years, and have seen firsthand the perennial market push toward younger segments: First Gen X, then Millennials. This game of favorites endured from consumer technology’s initial splash in the 1970s until recently, despite (and here’s the part that tech got wrong for so long) evidence that debt-saddled younger populations have fewer and fewer disposable dollars than older adults. Even knowing as much, big box stores and big tech brands kept making dancing robots and other flash-in-the-pan gadgets for kids, teens, and young adults, with little regard for mom-turned-grandmom: Her vitality, her tech fluency, and perhaps most importantly, her buying power.
Finally, that’s changing.
Baby Boomers, seeing the neglect, are doing more than voting with their consumer dollars. They’ve begun stepping up as everything from investors to developers, ushering in products that reflect their personal needs and wishes as well as the needs and wishes of their peers. Like Grace and Frankie, Boomers know that fellow Boomers are in the market for much more than emergency alert systems and other protective measures. They have a lot of life to live and a lot of love to give. Boomers are looking for (and creating) products that help them keep doing exactly that.
Evidence of this movement are what I saw last month at three banner industry events: TechDay New York, Microsoft Build (Seattle), and Philly Tech Week. Despite distinct vibes and offerings, all three included products and product concepts that point to an emerging middle-aged and senior segment. Standouts include Hive Link, a smart home app for caregivers, WellBe voice-enabled health and wellness virtual assistance, social robot ElliQ, and Ebb, a sleep-improvement focused smart device.
These products are a far cry from “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” They are evidence of Boomers’ zest, their independence, their curiosity. In this shift, we see not only a change in perception, but a maturation of the industry itself, which is finally moving away from a spirit of showiness and short-sightedness to one of true solutions. How’s that for satisfying?