Boomers and technology are no strangers. After all, the Boomer Generation was the first that acted as TV remotes when our fathers would ask us to get up and change the channel; then actual TV remotes started coming along. We were the first television generation, and the first generation to use push-button phones. And, we were the generation who taught our parents how to get rid of the blinking 12:00 and make use of their VCRs. So it comes as no surprise that boomers are accepting new technologies today at about the same rate as other demographic generations.
However, despite the tendency to adopt new technologies, boomers have been a little behind with owning smartphones. About half of all boomers now own a smartphone, while the stats approach 90 percent for Gen-Xers and Milliennials. What about the other half of boomers? It’s Mister Boomer’s theory that boomers who have not climbed on board are not afraid of the technology nor are they rejecting it. Rather, it’s Mister B’s contention that it is mostly a matter of cost, or an inability to see that the devices provide a reasonable amount of usefulness versus the cost. In Mister B’s experience, most boomers are practical people.
There is a new technology that boomers are embracing, however, and that is the personal home assistant. These devices are also referred to as digital assistants, virtual assistants and smart speakers; they include Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. Studies are showing that acceptance of these types of techno marvels are growing fast among people over 65 (i.e., early and mid-generation boomers). The devices, which are among the first artificial intelligence (AI) devices made for the home, are increasing in their usefulness, and that is where the concept of these devices has potential for aging boomers.
These devices do more than turn the lights on and off, and the price point for entry in this brave new world starts far lower than a smartphone. Articles are talking about the ability for aging people to use the devices to great advantage. Arthritic hands can rest when spoken words can be translated into texts or used to replace computer keyboards in internet searches, or make calls to loved ones. What’s more, reminders for appointments or pill-taking schedules can be clocked, alarms for waking, or timing everything from cooking to exercise set, music or audio books played, updates for sports, news and weather given. Some articles are suggesting the devices are stopping some elderly people from experiencing loneliness as well. Fascinating work on improving the AI’s ability to ascertain emotional differences in speech patterning promise even more connectivity for medical professionals and digital companionship.
Across all ages, personal digital devices have been near the top of the Christmas gift list for the past few years, and the wave of adoption shows very little signs of abating. With each new iteration comes improved AI understanding of commands and requests, and ultimately, more usefulness. Google leads that race in a recent study, with 100 percent correct retrieval of search criteria and understanding of commands, while Siri comes in second at 97 percent, followed by Alexa at 87 and poor Cortana trailing far behind in the 60s percentile.
However, despite the promise and potential, for some the dark side of an increasing lack of privacy and constant tracking — even while the devices are idle — is an intrusion into the boomer lifestyle that goes against all that the Generation stood for, man! Among them, Mister Boomer is intrigued, but skeptical about the ix-nay of the priva-cay. He has no plans on employing one of these devices any time soon. For now, Mister Boomer is content with telling Alexa, Siri and the others to “come back, when you grow up, girl.”
How about it, boomers? Have you jumped on the personal home digital assistant bandwagon yet?