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Better: It's time technology took a bigger byte out of baby boomers

For Better or Worse

By Cathy Drinkwater Better, cbetter@juno.com

5:27 PM EDT, November 1, 2012

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Today's young adults have never known a world without computers. By age 4, they could re-program an Atari game system to deploy nuclear water balloons over the back fence and into the neighbors' barbecue. (At least, my 4-year-old could. We moved soon after that.)

Doug and I have four grown kids who fall into what's called the Net Generation.

They're as clever at using a wide array of electronic devices and applications as they are at ignoring our emails. My middle kid — that 4-year-old I mentioned earlier — can text so fast you can't tell where his thumbs end and his iPhone begins, and flames shoot from his keyboard.

It's Darwinian. Eventually, modern man — physically, we're pretty much the same as we were when the wheel was invented — will evolve into Homo Thumb-o-Giganticus. His oversized thumbs will be shaped like a touch-screen stylus; those of us with normal thumbs will fade away like the Neanderthals.

In the future, there will be photographs of us in science textbooks. Students will marvel that we got by with our puny little thumbs. "They were primitive," teachers will say. "The last of them hung on like grim death, sending long, laborious emails to each other. Now, everyone get out your iPhones; we're having a pop quiz. Tweet your answers to #20%ofyourgrade."

Computer, phone and electronics companies direct products and ads almost exclusively at Net Gen'ers. But what about us Baby Boomers? We had to learn to use computers by the seat of our pants. We had to re-program our brains (at this point little more than oatmeal and tapioca) to embrace the Internet as the foremost authority on everything from child care to decent restaurants to whether we look fat in this dress.

We didn't have earbuds surgically implanted at birth. If we stare at a screen longer than 20 minutes, we feel disconnected from humankind. We are dinosaurs of the Information Age, throwbacks to a time when kids wrote letters instead of texts. We friended pen pals instead of strangers on Facebook, and phoned one friend at a time, instead of sending out Tweets to an army of followers.

We're a vast, untapped market.

Where's our technology? Here are a few ideas for Boomer-friendly gadgets and apps I'd like to see:

uPhone: As in, "U should pick up the phone and call your mother. She worries."

yPhone: As in, "Y don't U ever call me? I'm old. I could die any minute ... not that U care."

GrPS: Grandpa (re)Positioning System. "Help Pop-pop up! He just played horsey with you for three hours and his back is killing him!"

Blue Tooth for Seniors: A denture-cleaning system with five settings: Normal Human Tooth Color; White; White-white; Blue-white; and So White People Have to Wear Sunglasses When They Look at You.

iTunes 75.0: Carries music downloads for old hippies and early-heavy-metal-heads.

FaceliftBook: Self-explanatory.

iPod Nana: Comes with headphones instead of earbuds, because grandma's earlobes brush her shoulders from all those heavy 1980s earrings. Bonus is that the headphones are also harder for the grandkids to swallow.

Are you listening, Apple and Microsoft?

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at cbetter@juno.com.