Apple. Amazon. Facebook. Google. Instagram. These are some of the most powerful, innovative, and admired companies in the world. But they might be missing the boat when it comes to engaging with America’s soon-to-be biggest customer base. It’s a demographic tens of millions strong and counting. A group of consumers with unparalleled buying power. An audience that enjoys plenty of leisure time. I’m talking about older Americans.
A recent nationwide survey conducted by Parker about changing perceptions around aging in America found that roughly half (49%) of survey participants used positive words such as “hopeful,” “relevant,” and “vibrant” to describe the experience of growing older in America today. Perhaps even more revealing: the vast majority (71%) of those surveyed reported they do not fear or worry about aging very much at all. Yet nearly two-thirds (59% percent) of Americans said they feel that not enough technology innovation focuses on the lifestyles of seniors.
That data should speak volumes to tech companies looking to embrace this key audience—which only promises to grow in size and prominence. According to SeniorCare.com, there are currently more than 50 million people in America ages 65 and over, a figure that is expected to reach 83 million by 2050.
And it’s not just population size that should have Silicon Valley sitting up and paying attention: it’s economic muscle. AARP reported on a recent Nielsen study that suggested that this year, Baby Boomers will control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income. That same story explained that during the peak years of the recession, “retirees were one of the few demographic groups to experience stable or rising incomes,” and that the majority of Boomers are mortgage-free and account for fully 80 percent of America’s luxury travel spending. Likewise, a recent Huffington Post story cited that older Americans own 63 percent of all American financial assets, while U.S. News and World Report confirmed that American seniors are making and spending more money now than they were a decade ago.
Some tech partners are getting this new conversation around aging in America right. Tech-transportation company Uber, which has proven to be increasingly popular among seniors, partnered in the White House Conference on Aging to help better engage with older people. Similarly, tech giants GE and Intel recently piloted at nonprofit Evangelical Homes of Michigan a computer notebook-like device called Connect, which has seniors take a two-minute survey each morning so care workers can help plan their schedules, remind them to take their medications, and be mindful about exercise and nutrition choices.
We applaud these efforts at engaging with aging communities and hope other leaders in the technology space follow their example. The government has a role to play, too, in terms of bolstering infrastructure that allows for ubiquitous high-speed connectivity, which is particularly needed in rural areas. For many, technology is synonymous with freedom and independence, twin attributes upon which the aging put a premium.
Given the shifting demographics, and the scale of this largely untapped audience, why might it seem that Big Tech generally ignores aging populations? Part of that bias comes from a misconception that the aged can’t use or adapt to new technology. Also unspoken: technology is inherently sexy (have you seen the new iPhone 7?!), and seniors are simply beyond all that. . .a prejudice felt perhaps most acutely in advertising and marketing. (In other words, though millions of seniors are on Facebook and use mobile apps, advertising and marketing might not reflect that reality.) I’d argue, however, that society’s obsession with youth has unfairly marginalized our elders, stereotyping and dismissing them as irrelevant and out of touch. Our everyday experience,—echoed by the results of this national survey—shows this cultural attitude itself to be outdated and out of touch.
Aging is part of life, and technology has an important role to play in that journey: helping older people remain in their homes longer, stay connected with family and friends in disparate geographies, and ensure medication adherence and the monitoring of chronic disease. Each day at Parker I see seniors chatting with grandkids over Facebook; older residents digitally touching up photos and editing videos; seventy- , eighty- , and ninety-somethings discovering new hobbies or reigniting old ones through the everyday magic of digital communication and connectivity. Attention must be paid. Our leading tech companies would do well to support the interests and lifestyles of this vibrant, economically powerful, and growing population.
Join me in sending a simple message to hi-tech companies for delivery by letter, e-mail, IM, text, or emoji: Stay with it—seniors want to work with you!