Microsoft Says Graying Boomers Will Never Surrender Their Gadgets!

Boomers learned to love their gadgets early, and will continue to buy new ones, says Microsoft.
As more baby boomers near retirement, adjust to bifocals, and have their hips replaced, Microsoft predicts the Me Generation will be anything but geezer in its ongoing embrace of technology. The New York Times reports on a study, jointly sponsored by MSFT and the American Association of Retired Persons, that suggests many more years of spending on upgrades and gizmos. Instead of clinging to their old VCR players, TRS-80 computers, and brick-like cell phones, boomers will continue to splurge on the latest neat high-tech toys.

The report, written by futurist and author Michael Rogers, is based on focus groups in four cities. It concludes that boomers won't be like the grumpy oldsters whose digital clocks always flash 12 and who refuse to surrender their perfectly good long-playing monaural hi-fi sets. Instead, Rogers writes, "Baby boomers grew up with technology: They were in their teens to early 30s when the first IBM PCs and Apples appeared, and were the innovators and early adopters of that era."

Indeed, Microsoft was founded by two boomers, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and the Redmond company is well-positioned to benefit from the consumer trend. But the company and AARP both paid for the report, and picked the futurist who based his conclusions on a sample size of just over 60 individual boomers (as compared to the 78 million boomers enumerated by the U.S. Census). That's one way to get a favorable outcome. How else does the report favor its sponsors...?

If you've ever read the AARP Bulletin, its technology ads tend to favor products like stair lifts and those Jitterbug cell phones with huge buttons and no extra features besides calling. But its readers are huge spenders, even adjusting for portfolio losses during our current recession. The MSFT-AARP study, called Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation, estimates that boomers will outspend younger consumers by $1 trillion next year.

That's a lot of software, and also a lot of ad sales in the AARP Bulletin and AARP Magazine. There's a self-serving synergy at work in the study. If younger consumers are skipping Windows in favor of netbooks and cloud computing, if they're defecting to Apple and Google, Microsoft needs to cultivate its loyal older customers. And the AARP, in turn, needs to argue that older consumers are worth courting, to remind us all of boomers' buying power.

Also, it's no secret that MSFT has been trying, with HealthVault and other ventures, to get into the health-care biz at precisely the same time that health-care reform will push most of our records and many of our queries into electronic and online form. Thus, the Rogers study reminds us, "Boomers are already early adopters in online health: They are 98 percent more likely to visit health Web sites than the average Internet user."

Well, yes, because younger people tend to be healthier, and they accordingly spend more of their online time updating Facebook pages and surfing for porn. Arthritis can wait.

It's also flattering--"Boomers See Technology as a Tool, Not a Tyrant"--to feel up to date and in control of the latest new gadgets. In essence, buying new stuff makes you feel young--or at least that's an association marketers have successfully fostered since the Mad Men era. Both the AARP and MSFT want to continue that linkage, to fight against old traditions of thrift. Just try telling a septuagenarian to buy a new sweater to replace the old, frayed favorite--it's a waste of money! And the old one is just as warm! That attitude won't do for boomers with old Windows XP machines in need of replacements.

But in 10 years, Rogers predicts, boomers will be buying workout attire equipped with sensors to judge how many calories we burn; medical records on chips implanted in our own bodies (!); and cell phones that project their screens on the wall, so we don't have to use reading glasses.

All made (or licensed) by Microsoft, no doubt.

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