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The Boomer in Me, We and Technology

We Boomers are a force to be reckoned with. I say “we” because I unwittingly joined the ranks of these 77 million revolutionaries in a Fort Dix, N.J., hospital delivery room in 1960 – and my mother deserves the lion’s share of the credit. While I wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of my generation’s anti-establishment movement, I certainly share the Boomer tendency to resist and question arbitrary authority, and its restless desire to keep moving forward.

Brian Dunn
Source: Best Buy
Brian Dunn

In fact, ours is a generation that thrives on — and demands — change. So that’s why I’m always caught off-guard by the assumption that Boomers hesitate to embrace technology. If this were true, Best Buy stores would be noticeably shy of foot traffic, and manufacturers of the devices we sell would have much smaller R&D teams and much larger unsold inventories. None of which is the case.

Last December, the Pew Research Center asked Boomers to reflect on the first decade of this new century to compare how America’s multiple generations assessed the past 10. It was no surprise to me to read that the majority of Boomers agreed along with everyone else that the past decade’s changes in technology and communications were for the better. (Interestingly, tattoos were viewed with more skepticism. I personally have no issue with a well-designed tat.)

Right around the same time, AARP and Microsoft conducted a joint Boomers & Technology study to examine the topic of technology specifically. They went to rooms packed with Baby Boomers around the country to find out not only what our generation does with technology, but how we feel about what we’re doing with it. This study concluded that Boomers have an “ever-changing relationship with new technology, viewing the world ahead with great enthusiasm and just a touch of caution.”

With all due respect, I could have told them that. There are things I’ve noticed about how Boomers think about, talk about and actually use technology that actively defy any stereotypes around age-related gadget fear or resistance. From what I see in my Best Buy store visits and in conversations with our customers and employees, there are three things that drive Boomers to make technology work for them – and on their terms:

  • Desire for connectivity. Yes, the kind that comes from devices talking to one another, but more importantly, the kind that enables interaction with other human beings. This is a generation that refuses to allow physical disabilities or other barriers to get in the way of contact with friends and family. No wonder Baby Boomers are among the most active in social networks today.
  • Demand for ease. Apple’s launch of the iPad last month caused some bloggers to quip, with no little amount of sarcasm I might add, that this device is merely an iPhone for the elderly. To which I respond, “You gotta problem with that?” It’s a tool with touch pads you can easily see and logical functionality that makes sense to me and my Boomer brethren … and millions of other Apple fans out there.
  • Delight in invention. Don’t tell me that the generation that pioneered lava lamps, macramé wall-art and many other more interesting but questionably legal expressions of creativity would somehow retire from its spirit of inventiveness. In fact, it’s the Boomer-consumer’s input that fuels multiple product development streams at Best Buy and elsewhere within the broader technology industry.

Much has been said of the value of Boomers from an economic perspective. Wielding something like $3 trillion in spending power is definitely attention-grabbing. But as the head of a technology company, I can tell you that Boomers offer infinitely more value to Best Buy than sheer revenue potential. The greatest power of this generation is that we have little patience and a huge appetite for innovation. That’s the energy that fuels me personally, and powers much of Best Buy’s vision of the future.

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Brian J. Dunn is chief executive officer of Best Buy Co., Inc., the multinational retailer of technology and entertainment products and services.

Watch "Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$!", Thursday, March 4 at 9pm ET on CNBC. The program will also air Saturday, March 6 at 7pm ET; Sunday, March 7th at 9pm ET; and Monday, March 8th at 8pm ET.

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