Why Baby Boomers are just as obsessed with technology as Millennials

In the technology battle of the generations, it’s email vs. Instagram.

20160224 stock mwc smartphone user in suit
Credit: Stephen Lawson

With the passing this weekend of Ray Tomlinson, the man largely credited with inventing email, I couldn’t help reflecting on the enduring nature of his creation. Even as teenagers live on Instagram and Snapchat, for me and millions upon millions of other professionals, email remains the staple of our business lives—and often our personal lives as well.

See also: Father of Email Ray Tomlinson passes away at 74

In fact, Pricenomics argues that for Baby Boomers, our obsession with email leads us to be just as addicted to technology as are Millennials. We’re just doing different things with it:

“One survey has found that over 50% of employees check their company email over the weekend and before or after work. Another found that 40% of employees think it’s fine to respond to important work emails during family dinners. Yet another revealed that most workers expect responses to emails within an hour if not in minutes. … Nearly 60% of adults check their work email while on vacation, and 6% have checked their email while a spouse is in labor. Another 6% have checked email at a funeral, and 10% at a child’s school event.”

See also: 4 reasons email will never die

It’s not just email, of course. Pricenomics cites a Nielsen study of who uses technology during meals (we’re assuming that tech is mostly smartphones). Surprisingly, while 38% of people aged 15 to 20 annoy their parents by staring at their phones while dining, 45% of Gen Xers and a whopping 52% of Baby Boomers engage in this behavior. (A key difference, the “kids” don’t think it’s rude, while their elders ought to know how annoying it is—and do it anyway.) Pricenomics also cites an Informate study finding that grownups aged 25 to 54 spent more time on their phones than did teenagers!

You might think that younger people are using technology for fun while older workers have to use their devices for work, but Pricenomics says that ain’t necessarily so. Studies have shown that while checking your email can make you feel productive, that’s often an illusion.

Challenging conventional wisdom

Understanding that adults are just as addicted to technology as kids are can challenge a number of conventional wisdoms and may require new behaviors from technology professionals. For instance, “digital native” Millennials may not actually be more tech-savvy than their parents, they’re just using it for different activities. That could be an important consideration for hiring decisions. Similarly, tech-obsessed people of all ages—not just kids—are increasingly demanding a first-class digital experience. And that holds true for IT departments’ internal customers as well.

Just don’t forget, if you want to reach Baby Boomers, email is still the way to go.

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