Joe Coughlin keynotes Washington Post Live: Booming Tech

Joe Coughlin keynotes Washington Post Live: Booming Tech

At "Booming Tech," a recent Washington Post LIVE forum sponsored by AARP in Boston in conjunction with the Spring 2014 Life@50+ National Event and Expo, speakers from diverse fields discussed the technological needs and solutions for the 76 million aging baby boomers, a generation that will live longer than its parents, and hopes to live better as well. Dr. Joe Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab, gave an energetic talk on what he termed the “Age of Disruption.” Pacing the stage, Dr. Coughlin vehemently disagreed with the conventional wisdom that millennials and Gen X are more "tech-savvy" than boomers. “Older people today have more college education and more high school education than previous generations,” he said. “We have higher expectations.”

As the average consumer grows older, he said, certain market desires will never go out of style—including style itself. The automobile industry is learning this particular lesson, having discovered that the owners of most high-style, high-price, and high-tech cars are well into their sixties. Dr. Coughlin emphasized the importance of design and user friendliness in technology, eliciting laughter when he quipped that he wouldn't want a product that identified him “as an old man walking." Portraying baby boomers as “not young, but youthful”, he suggested that often technology marketed toward older adults fails by ignoring the importance of fun. Rational arguments don't impel this consumer segment to the store, he said, but “fun, fashion, and the ability to connect with people”—that is, emotional, not rational, values—do.

By 2020, according to Google, almost everyone alive will be online, on an average of six devices per person, and have at least five IP addresses. In such a world, it is no surprise that younger and older consumers alike are beginning to ask more of our technology. Noting the increasing popularity of wearable technology, Dr. Coughlin suggested that the age of the “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” device is well past. Older consumers are now looking toward wearable technology that is both predictive and proactive, which does not merely supply objective information such as your blood pressure or heart rate, but also interprets the data for you and offers you advice. In the home, technology has the potential to turn our houses and apartments into “platforms for “activity, vitality, and wellness,” Dr. Coughlin said, citing a number of creative technological solutions that help monitor and improve health, including smart toilets and grocery shopping aids. The AgeLab's AwareCar, meanwhile, is changing how we think about the role of technology in transportation, by maximizing the consumer’s level of driving performance despite increasing age.

Dr. Coughlin concluded his talk with an axiom he says he learned from his work at the AgeLab: “Aging adults love technology.” The notion that older people are inexpert with technology "has nothing to do with understanding, and everything to do with bad technology,” he said.

Watch video here:

Other participants in the event included Joseph Ternullo, president of Kinematix USA Inc. and Will Crawford, head of Boston Office for FitBit Inc. Moderators were Mary Jordan, editor of Washington Post Live and Sacha Pfeiffer, host of NPR's All Things Considered.

A PC World article covered the event here.