Baby Boomers are getting Sputnik’d by tech and social media

Sure, boomers can master texting and smartphones (photo by Sheila Scarborough)This was the generation that saw the Soviet Union launch the beach ball-sized Sputnik I spacecraft in 1957. That moment was a turning point in the life of then 10th-grader Homer Hickam, author of the book Rocket Boys and subsequent movie October Sky.

Sputnik motivated Hickam and an entire nation to embrace technology, kick-start the “space race” and put a man on the moon by 1969.

Boomers were the original geeks.

They watched the earliest television programming (including Star Trek starting in 1966) then bought the first color TVs.  They saw increasingly more sophisticated cars on the road, a telephone installed in every house and electricity delivered to every nook and cranny of the nation.

Their superb tech heritage is going by the wayside, however, as many are letting themselves be Sputnik’d….surprised and intimidated….by thumb-texting, Facebook-ing, tweeting younger folks.

There was a time when this generation led the way in technical prowess, and not just those in their 20’s and 30’s.  Grace Hopper was writing and creating the COBOL programming language in 1955, when she was 49 – which is my age right now.

Too often, I see my peers and older Boomers wave their hands helplessly about computers, smartphones, digital cameras and social media.

They say, “I’m not really a tech person” or “I don’t understand this stuff” or “I don’t want to mess with this. I’m too old, I guess.”

With their combination of life experience, perspective and tech-savvy history, they could run rings around all of the young punks.   Psychology Today says that:

“Baby Boomers are not the Luddites that some media critics seem to suggest, and in fact are very plugged in to technology adoption, something that marketing initiatives have yet to reflect.”


Show me more of these plugged-in folks, like boomer travel blogger Donna Hull, or business analyst Miss Dazey or communications wizard Connie Reece. Maybe the helpless hand-wavers I’m seeing are not the norm.

I’d love for that to be true.

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14 Responses to Baby Boomers are getting Sputnik’d by tech and social media

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking article. I can definitely relate. I started on computers within 1.5 years of when the personal computers became available. I’m still a very tech-savvy member of the Baby Boomer Generation but each year it does get a bit harder as more new things come out. And the print keeps getting SMALLER but my eyes don’t get better. 🙂 I’m still having a lot of fun with it, but it’s definitely a continuing challenge. Then again, that’s a good thing – probably helps keep our brains active and fit.
    Kaye Swain – SandwichINK´s last [post] ..Storms A’Blowin The Grandkids Sunflower House

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  3. Dominique says:

    The stereotype of the hapless and helpless boomer technophobe seems all too prevalent, and sometimes all too true. It’s one of the reasons I’m usually reluctant to cop to the fact that I am very much a Baby Boomer myself.

    It is disturbing to me when I see a number of writers I came up with through print basically just throw up their hands and throw the towel in on their careers as print markets dry up.

    To me, failing to embrace the “new media” would mean accepting having my voice silenced…something I wasn’t willing to accept. And interestingly enough, jumping in and using the new technology allowed me to create a new platform for myself as a regional travel writer (way more fun than writing medical advertorials, which was one of my last regular print gigs).
    Dominique´s last [post] ..Photo Friday- The Bean and Me in Chicago

    • Hi Dominique,

      This struck home: “It is disturbing to me when I see a number of writers I came up with through print basically just throw up their hands and throw the towel in on their careers as print markets dry up.”

      I’ve seen the same thing – I’ve offered informally to help some friends, and they absolutely refuse to learn. Don’t you be shy about your age; it’s an asset, as is your curiosity and willingness to try new things (characteristics which are, of course, ageless.)

      Your Midwest Guest blog fills a niche and gives worldwide, 24/7 access to your work. I’ll take that any day over having to pitch print as my only publishing option.

  4. Margo says:

    I’d love for it to be true too! I have these same conversations often with peers. Just yesterday I got a facebook mail from one of the most intelligent, educated women I know (probably early 60s) that said…
    “I am a dinosaur as far as understanding blogs and social networks in general…their purpose and how they work. I enjoy reading the articles you post, but I do not exactly understand where they come from.”
    She at least seems to be trying. It seems much more often I see people, including people 10 -15 years younger than my friend mentioned above, dismissing social media more than throwing their hands up in the air. I hate to say it but it almost seems as if they think it’s cute that they think they’re too old. Often they are the blue heads on Facebook and have 200 friends, join a few things and are done with it, believing (or wanting to believe) that’s all there is.
    Margo´s last [post] ..Corfu Part Three- A Trip to Mouse Island

  5. MissDazey says:

    I was in high school when the Sputnik flew over. I think some people, no matter what their age, simply like learning new things, being inventive, and trying out new technical gadgets. Mr. Bruce and I are both at an age we feel overwhelmed at how much new stuff is coming at us, and we pick and chose what new things to learn.
    Sometimes people might say I’m too old to learn when they mean either 1) I don’t want to learn and have no need to learn or 2) someone will laugh at me while I learn 3) it’s easier to let you do it.
    On a personal note: I won’t call you a “Facebook blue head”, if you won’t call me a dinosaur. However I love the term “business analyst”
    MissDazey´s last [post] ..I Am Following

  6. Susan Reynolds, who was early on Twitter, myself, @2healthguru, @mickeleh, @stevegillmor, @davewiner — there are many of us who keep up. But I will say that most of my friends are younger, and most people my age belong to a Yahoo group and maybe Facebook. But they do a lot of video and photosharing and are big Skype users (grandkids)
    francine hardaway´s last [post] ..Jobs- Jobs- Jobs or not

  7. Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners says:

    Sputnik’ed indeed, Sheila. I get so many emails of people who want coaching help, and as soon as I ask questions like “who are you trying to market to” or “what problem do you solve,” they go running for the hills.

    I’ve said it and I’ll say it again: some things have changed, and others haven’t. Open your eyes and you might see for yourself.

    Disclosure/Funny Story: I’m not sure if my mum is a baby boomer or not (definitions are so passe). However, she was very very much anti-email. Once she spent 5 minutes on it, now you can’t get her to stop. Same thing with Skype.

    Current Status? She isn’t on Twitter but reads my Tweets and then emails me questions about pictures, etc. She’s asking now about promoting an event for her local community on it. We’re making progress. 😉
    Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners´s last [post] ..An Idea for Getting More Reviews of your Tourism Business

  8. Donna Hull says:

    Sheila, I’m honored that you named me as a plugged-in boomer. Believe me, that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t learn how to use a computer until my 40’s. And, then, it was a matter of asking one of my children to turn it on so that I could type. I had no idea how to delete, copy, paste, save, etc. My breakthrough was taking a Word Processing course at the local community college. Since then, my knowledge has progressed. Now I’m the family computer expert.

    You are right, most of my boomer friends don’t participate in social media except for Facebook, which they use for sharing news with old friends. They also read blogs, which they learn about from Facebook. Most boomers have no idea about twitter, even considering it a waste. Part of the problem is that they don’t understand the benefits of social media, why they would want to participate, what it could do for them. Hm, I see a blog post coming at My Itchy Travel Feet.

    I am amazed at the boomer writers who refuse to hop on the social media/tech train. They are stifling their careers. It’s hard embracing new technology – the learning curve is constant and high. But, it’s also exhilarating.
    Donna Hull´s last [post] ..Learning to Drive a Stagecoach in Paso Robles

  9. Miss Dazey: Yep, “pick and choose” is what anyone should do regardless of age. “Stick head in sand” is not one of the options.

    Francine: Honored to have you here on the blog; you are without a doubt one of the savviest tech people I know.

    Andy: Go, Mum! 🙂

    Donna: Hey, I call it as I see it; you’re doing great work! Lemme know when you write that blog post, and thanks for sharing your turning point with us – hope it inspires others.

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