They called it the Silvers Summit, the day of panels at CES designed to talk about technology from the perspective of the over-50 generation. But the heads in the room weren’t all that silver. These folks are already using technology (of the hair-care kind) to fight the signs of aging, and expect to continue to use technology (of the high-tech kind) to keep fighting.
Yes, I’m a baby boomer, so these are my peeps. (Though I never thought I’d be in a room where discussion about the new 3-D TVs was followed by a Viagra joke.) Like the rest of the folks in the room, I have to grab for reading glasses to send a text message. And I don’t like it. I’m also trying to help older relatives adapt to the new technology, from digital television to the Internet, and can use any help in that struggle that I can get.
The message from panelists at the Silvers Summit to the creators of consumer electronics: Don’t design us out! Abilities fade—eyesight, hearing, manual dexterity, memory (this was getting really depressing)—but we expect to keep using technology and it’s going to tick us off if you make it hard for us to do so, so much so we actually might stop buying it.
Gary Kaye, a journalist with the Fox Business Network kicked off a discussion on gadget design with a rant about the new Google phone and it’s failure to include an easy text zoom comparable to that on the iPhone. “I’m not happy,” he said. “It’s a great piece of technology and they excluded me.”
On his list of new technology that doesn’t exclude the silvers market is the Sanyo hybrid bike, which charges with regenerative breaking then gives riders a boost up hills; a remote from TV Ears with simple buttons that turns the TV off should you fall asleep in front of it; and the Intel reader, which you use to take a photograph of print and then either blow up the text or have it read to you.
Other panelists pointed out the MyGait Go Computer, a simple device with a large-letter keyboard designed for easy web browsing and email, and the Sound Design SD-400, a Bluetooth headset that can act as a hearing aid when your cell phone is off.
But given the speed at which the post-50 market is growing, it was surprising how little technology is out there (beyond the “I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” kind of alert devices).
Said George Dennis, CEO of TV Ears, “We’re getting older, but we’re not going down easy.”
“What’s more important,” he continued, as he urged manufacturers to pay attention to this market. “To let an 85-year-old in a nursing home hear the TV [that may be her only entertainment] or let a 35-year-old stockbroker watch Ironman in 3-D?”
Photo: MyGait Go Computer
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.