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Boomer Bytes #62: Cell Phones, Other Gadgets

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Cell Phones and Other Gadgets

By Steve Canipe

Are we boomers connected or not? I like to think of myself as being electronically savvy but am I really? I have always been an early adopter of things. I had my first microcomputer way back in 1978. I had a mobile phone in 1986.

Before you chuckle over my use of the words mobile phone instead of cell phone, you need to understand that first phone was sort of mobile. It was carried in my car but could also fit into a large bag, about the size of a large camera bag. With it in the bag, it could be carried around and was operable outside of the car using the battery, which was contained in the bag—but the device was very large and sort of heavy. As I recall, it was a Motorola product; it came in a black bag with a shoulder strap; and it had a twist on antenna!!


Wow am I dating myself or what? Well while I am dating myself, let me tell you about the first video game (I think I may have mentioned it before in an earlier column) called Pong. It was a one or two player and the ping pong ball was a set of maybe 4 pixels that bounced back and forth across a television screen. The idea was to get the “ball” to the edge of the screen and past the other defender. It made a boing noise as it hit back and forth. So very exciting at the time – now kids would say “are you kidding me? What is that?”

Terms like digital natives and digital immigrants have been used to describe the differences between us boomers and the newer crop of the millennials. Remember from earlier columns these groups are born with the time frames 1946-1964 and 1982-2004 respectively. However, unlike the Boomer Generation, the Millennial Age is not quite so clear cut and different people use different dates.

How much have we changed and how much are we likely to accept from a technological standpoint? Almost every Boomer is comfortable with using computers, although our level of usage varies widely. Some use it only for emails or to communicate with children and grandchildren through a program like Facebook and some even use Twitter. Most, if not all of us boomers, accept the cell phones, which are so common today, but many of these are very basic and would not be called “smartphones” at all. Many and maybe most of us are pretty facile with Kindle-type e-book readers, whether these readers be on our computers, cell phones, tablets, dedicated reader devices, etc.

In a report done and reported in Media Horizons at the end of 2014, the number of over 50 year olds using smartphone technology was showing great leaps. (http://www.mediahorizons.com/blog/item/416-smartphone-usage-and-habits-by-demographics) The report noted “…smartphone ownership for Boomers and Seniors is expected to increase by 45-50%… .” If this level of penetration continues then we are rapidly catching up with our children and grandchildren’s usage. Maybe their usage is driving our adoption as they urge us to connect with them more using the devices that are so familiar and comfortable to them.

My Mom passed away in 2010 at age 92 and was a user of cell phones, but I would never say she was totally comfortable with it. Her model of choice was the small model that only really made and received phone calls. I liked it because it gave me a lifeline to her if she was out and I wanted to be in touch or if she had an emergency away from home and needed to call. By putting her on my shared family plan, I could do all this for my comfort and at less than $10 per month. Pretty cheap peace of mind for me. She lived about 75 miles from me so I could not just drop by.

Using a computer was a horse of a different color. When my daughter replaced her college computer, we gave “Nanny” the older one. Was not a fancy model, even at the time; it had low memory and minimal storage capacity but it did have a CD player so that I could send her CDs containing photos of the grandkids and also of trips that we went on. Vicariously she got to participate in our travels and in events in the kids’ lives. Mom never mastered getting on the Internet and had to have a cheat sheet of press switch #1; then press button #2; and so forth. It worked and she enjoyed it as much as it might be expected for a glorified photo album!! No email ever worked for her so that idea was given up early on.

Other technology devices/uses that have really caught on with the Boomer crowd include what has taken many generations by storm – digital cameras!! Whether it is with a smartphone with a camera, or the smaller point and shoot, or the full blown digital SLRs, this technology has really caught on and Boomer use is about the same as every other generational group. Actually the penetration in the 65 and older demographic is slightly more than any other age group including the millennial one!! Seeing how easy this digital photography was and the fact of it being so similar to the old-fashioned print photography, there was little stepping outside the comfort zone needed. What is different among the generations is that many older people like to still print the images at their local drug stores or other retail outlets that will print images.

Another area where we exceed the other generational groups is in playing electronic games. Maybe my use of Pong was only a foreshadowing of what we would ultimately do!! According to the Media Horizon report, we oldsters use digital games at a 53% rate versus only 52% for the 18-29 year olds. Are we beating them badly in this application penetration or what? (I know funny! But we are still using more than they are!!)

While many boomers don’t use the smartphones in as many and varied ways as their children and grandchildren, the use of text messages has definitely caught on. The Media Horizons research, which was referenced earlier, noted that 75% of the 50-64 age bracket and 35% of the 65 and older group used text messaging. This indicates some significant age difference in this age bracket but we may be catching up.

Using the GPS devices is another area where we older folks are not differing much from our younger counterparts. Perhaps having this system in so many newer cars has helped us make the transition to accepting GPS technology. About 35% of us use it compared to only 43% of the 18-29 year old crowd. Pretty similar.

Some areas where we boomers continue to lag are in video chatting, sharing and listening to music, downloading apps, and accessing the Internet. Will we do better adopting these technologies when more of the younger boomers begin to age into the 65+ group? Probably we will.

It may be possible that the growth in cell phone ownership and usage will cause numbers to increase. The report which was referenced several times in this column has shown interesting comparisons among the various technologies and age groups.

What are your thoughts on the technologies mentioned throughout the column and how do you use them? Are you comfortable with the using smartphones, digital cameras, texting, digital gaming, etc.? Please post your thoughts here or send an email to me atboomerbytes@yahoo.com. What technologies are you most comfortable using and which would you never be likely to use?