What Do Netflix, Technology, and Senior Sex Toys Have In Common?

The Tech Market To Watch: Baby Boomers

When the Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie made octogenarians (played by 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 easy relationship 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, and now Centennials (the demographic born after 1995). 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 and those of their peers. And like Grace and Frankie, Boomers know that their 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 – and receive! Boomers are looking for (and creating) products that help them keep doing exactly that.
Evidence of this movement is what I’ve seen at recent banner industry events: TechDay New York, Microsoft Build (Seattle), Philly Tech Week in 2019 and CES 2020. Despite distinct vibes and offerings, all included products and product concepts pointing to an emerging and active middle-aged and senior segment. Standouts include Pria, a voice-enabled tabletop robot for medication management and home health care assistant, Tochie, a truly personal voice aid for senior and caregivers, WellBe, voice-enabled health and wellness virtual assistance, social robot ElliQ, Ebb, a sleep-improvement focused smart device, and Well…Said, a support accessory that connects seniors to Alexa for health management. Be not mistaken: These aren’t last gasp “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” territory. These are tools for tapping into quality of life. Which is the perfect segue back to our ladies:

In the latest season of Grace and Frankie (spoiler alert!), the boozy besties appear on ABC’s Shark Tank pitching Rise Up – a lifting device for seniors who have a hard time dismounting the commode. Evidence of Grace and Frankie giving into the woes of old age? Hardly! Sure, the idea was hatched when Grace had a hard time getting off of the toilet…but it was a toilet in the swanky apartment she shares with her much younger man.
Tastemakers and tech alike have gotten word: Boomers might be facing new-to-them hurdles, but their spirits and spending aren’t slowing. Zest, independence, and curiosity remain to be tapped. And beyond it’s practical and ideological merits, the market shift toward seniors shows not only a change in perception, but a maturation of the tech 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?