Culture Savvy boomers keeping up with innovations

Savvy boomers keeping up with innovations

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Bob Dodge, 64, has seen decades of technological advances firsthand, and says that as a baby boomer, he takes the changes in stride.

Dodge, who has worked in research and development for Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook for 17 years, said he has kept up with current technology due to necessity. Dodge works within a team that creates diagnostic systems for dogs, cats, and horses, a process that requires up-to-date, or even ahead-of-the-curve programs.

“It’s massively different,” he said, referring to changes he’s seen at Idexx since the 1990s, including computer technology and modes of communication.

Baby boomers, a great number of which are at or nearing retirement age, are often faced with a stigma that they are lagging behind current technology, whether it be cell phones, social media, or jobs in the tech field itself.

A 2012 study conducted by the Pew Research Center dispels the idea that boomers aren’t using the Internet or digital devices. The study found that 80 percent of boomers between 47-56 use the Internet, as do 75 percent between 57-65.

Between 87 percent and 84 percent in these age ranges, respectively, are also cell phone users, numbers that have most likely grown over the last two years.

An argument could be made that boomers have not only kept up, but have been innovators in technology. One could look at Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs as prime examples.

Don Gooding, the executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development in Portland, believes that Maine is no exception. Gooding said the state is home to a number of boomers who are regional leaders in the tech industry.

He believes that boomers involved in technology jobs have the edge in experience, given the multiple changes felt in the sector over the years. He says many have a good eye for a worthwhile venture.

“We’re in the third wave of frenetic technology change in our lifetimes: PCs (personal computers) first, dot com second, mobile/social the third,” he said in an email.

Gooding said that in all of the previous waves, some major new items made it mainstream, with many more withering without “enduring impact.”

“I don’t think boomers are being ‘left behind,’ but rather, we’ve seen this movie before and more of us would rather be in the ‘early majority’ of tech adoption rather than bleeding edge of ‘earlyvangelists,’” he said. “The boomer tech entrepreneurs that I see here in Maine, for their part, are more interested in well-architected deep products than ephemeral features. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy.”

So for Gooding, the patience of boomers is a virtue in the tech world. But, for every statistic that points to boomers as being accepting and ready for developing technology, some don’t necessarily want to become completely immersed.

Bill Baker, the assistant city administrator in Westbrook, concentrating on business and community relations, said keeping up with technology was one of the first major adjustments he made after transitioning from Westbrook police chief in 2012.

Baker said he played a role in getting the city a new, updated website and setting up social media accounts for the municipality in order to get news out.

“I am reminded every day about the importance of technology and social media, especially by the Generation Y and millennials among us who I think really get it,” he said.

However, he added, sometimes he feels that there is another transition under way to a more “tech savvy generation, and probably the best thing I can do is stay out of the way.”

He admits that he carries an “affliction” carried over from his parents’ generation, which immediately wants to say no to new technology.

“There are many days when I feel like our society has an unhealthy obsession with technology,” he said. “I hope we don’t lose the ability to look each other in the eye and talk to each other.”

In the same Pew Research study from 2012, only 35 percent of boomers between the age of 47-56 and 22 percent between 57-65 use a smartphone, compared with 66 percent of millenials.

For people with jobs in technology, like Dodge, the act of keeping up with the changing scope of technology used is simply part of the job description. An argument could be made that if your job requires you to be up to date, you will be, and if not, you’ll fall behind.

“It helps that we’ve had a really big thrust on information management in the last five years,” Dodge said, stating that his department now has roughly 200 software programmers “on the edge of that technology who you can talk to anytime you want.”

“It’s pretty easy to keep up with it,” he said.

However, Dodge said, he sees the differences in each generation, with baby boomers stuck in the middle. Dodge described his parents as trying to keep up with current trends, but with little to no success, while stating that his children mostly see communication as coming through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

“I think it’s funny that they’d rather text than pick up the phone,” he said.

Andrew Rice is a staff writer at Current Publishing.

Don Gooding, left, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development in Portland, says Maine has a number of leaders in the tech industry who are boomers.  Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, has a job that requires him to stay up to date with current technology, even if he sometimes has the urge to resist.

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