weekly blog--one for the ages
Leave it to the baby boomers to start another revolution. This time the focus is on changing how we view old age, and I didn’t know the revolution had even begun until I went to a forum last week. The forum, “Baby Boom or Bust: Planning for our grandparents through design and technology,” was sponsored by three groups at the forefront of the movement: Aging2.0, BostonBridge and the MIT AgeLab. And like most journeys, getting there was as insightful as the forum itself.
The forum took place down the street from MIT in the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). The Center provides workspaces and community for startup companies. To get there, I rode the T from my home in Newton Centre to Kendall Square. It was rush hour and the trolley car was crowded. While standing amid the crush of people, one of the seated passengers gave me this sorrowful look and then offered to exchange places. I politely refused.
When I arrived at the CIC, I had to make my way through groups of young professionals standing in the lobby and outside the fifth floor Venture Café. It was clear from their facial expressions that I was the short, balding, gray-haired alien who had mistakenly landed in the wrong building.
Meanwhile, the first question the forum moderator asked was clairvoyant: "who was over the age of 60?" About one-third of the 75 or so participants raised their hands. Most of them worked in care-giving professions, and like me, had probably come to bear witness to some of the new technologies and products that would stir the soul.
However, there were no Star Trek-like transporters, holodecks, humanoid robots, or 3D food processors on display this night. Instead, the forum turned into a flat discussion about the steps required to create a successful new product, and the bounty of business opportunities that awaited the smart entrepreneur.
I learned that in a few years China would have more people over the age of 60 than the entire population of the United States. Also, baby boomers were more likely to bluntly tell you what they think about a new product. Those who were older were more likely to be polite, tell you that the product was great, and then never use it again.
Regardless of age, the not-so-secret approach for developing a winning product was to create something that was intuitive to use, and that demonstrated a high degree of return on investment—which simply meant that the user couldn’t live without it.
On the ride home, the T was less crowded and I easily found a seat. Instead of staring into my smartphone like everyone else, I looked out the window. During the pastoral stretch between the Chestnut Hill and Newton Centre stations, I concluded that we were in the midst of a revolution as profound as any that had come before. And like most, it needed a defining name which I ultimately found on the AARP website and a tour led by Dr. Bill Thomas.
Wrote AARP's president: “It's really not about aging--it's about living. To disrupt aging, we need to own our age. We need to get to the point where we're no longer defined by the old expectations of what we should or should not do at a certain age.”
The Age of Disruption Tour featured a community-based workshop on Dementia, and a rock band, non-fiction theater performance.
Far-out to that.
I also decided to broaden the appeal of the ConfrontingAging website by adding sections on Disruptive Aging, Entrepreneurship, Emerging Technology and Concepts, LGBT, and Noteworthy News and Trends.
Further, I redesigned the front page to make it easier to navigate, and given my revolutionary nature, changed the name of the Successful Aging section to Positive Aging. The term was used by one of the forum’s panelists. She did not know its origins, but after additional research I concluded that the use of the word “positive” instead of “successful” would embrace people with more adverse health conditions.