On MNN: Boomer Posts I Thought Were OK

Senior in malmo
CC BY 2.0. A senior cyclist in Malmo, Sweden. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

On our sister site I write about issues affecting the baby boomer generation. Here are some of my favorites from the year.

​How the smartphone changed our cities and our lives in the last decade

grescoe

Taras Grescoe/Screen capture

Taras Grescoe was prescient when he wrote this tweet; our smart phones really have changed the way we get around, how we use our cities, how we work. It's also going to change the way we age.

"My phone talks to my watch, which monitors my heartbeat. It knows when I fall, and can tell my wife where I am. I use it to track everything I eat and everywhere that I run and bike. I suspect that in the next decade, we will see it become our most important device for health and fitness; Apple knows a big market when it sees one."

Forget the smart home, it's all in the cloud now.

©. Jack Taylor/Getty Images

© Jack Taylor/Getty Images When I started writing for MNN in 2015, I was going to concentrate on technology and the smart home. In my first post, What is the smart home? It's too soon to tell, I wrote: "We are at the beginning of a new era ... Nobody knows how it's going to work or what it's going to do, but it's going to be quite a ride." In fact, it has been a dud. Most of the changes in the last five years have been in the cloud, in services that we pay for rather than things that we own.

"You can get old, waiting for the smart home to happen, and I've been doing exactly that, which is why I've been writing more and more about issues affecting aging baby boomers — how we live, how we get around, how we eat. And it's beginning to look like we may be among the biggest beneficiaries of these cloud-based services, as we ask Alexa to order up everything from medicine to food to services and have Uber or Amazon deliver them to our doors."

IrisVision is a VR headset that delivers reality to people with low vision.

Irisvision VR headset

© IrisVision Everyone thinks it's the kids who want to play with virtual reality, but I bet it's the boomers who really give it a push. It's a Samsung phone in a special VR headset.

"Ever since I first tried Google cardboard (and got really seasick) I've been convinced that phones can do just about anything, but IrisVision really shows where things are going. In my recent post I wrote, "Apple and Google are building all these technologies into their phones and Homepods and Google Home. We're all going to be spending our time touring the world with their VR headsets and wearing their watches." As our original parts wear out, they will become our eyes, our ears and our connections to the world. It's all very exciting."

What is a 'forever home'?

Preston Springs

© Mark Siddall There's so much talk these days about designing for aging in place, but Mark Siddall is designing houses that work for any age. But he also notes that where the home is matters as much as the design of the home.

"We often talk about connection these days, about being on the internet and everything else, but really it's that one of how connected are we to the place where we live and thinking about the amenities. If you're thinking in twenty-five or fifty years' time, well, I wear glasses. I don't know how my eyes are going to be performing in fifty years' time. So, I want to know that I am living in an area where there are shops and amenities that can support me in my old age without having to worry about that."

Infotainment systems in cars are distractions for all, but even more so for older drivers.

Subaru screen

Subaru screen/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0 Older drivers take way longer to use these screens than younger drivers. "On average, older drivers (ages 55-75) removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36) when performing simple tasks like programming navigation or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment technology."

But this isn't just a problem for older drivers. "This is a design problem, not an age problem," said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. "Designing systems to meet the safety and comfort needs of aging drivers would benefit all of us today, and for years to come."

Millennials want houses, but they don't want what boomers are selling.

too many gables

© Susan Law Cain, shutterstock

I wrote a lot about real estate on MNN, including a few posts about the mismatch between what the baby boomers are selling and what the millennials are looking for. I quote the Wall Street Journal: "Tastes — and access to credit — have shifted dramatically since the early 2000s. These days, buyers of all ages eschew the large, ornate houses built in those years in favor of smaller, more-modern looking alternatives, and prefer walkable areas to living miles from retail."

If boomers aren't budging, where will millennials live?

Baby boomers are still happy and comfortable in their houses and they are not moving. At some point, they will have to.

"Many of them are probably thinking that they'll be able to cash out with enough money to find a nice apartment or retirement residence in the neighborhood where they've always lived. Except the baby boomer cohort is so large that it has always moved markets.... So young people can't get houses because the boomers won't sell, they can't get apartments because the boomers won't let anything get built, and then in 10 years, the boomers are probably going to be stuck in houses they can't sell and have nowhere to move anyway because they fought every new development.

This is the mess we have created.

Why the future of housing should be multifamily and multigenerational

With 70 million baby boomers aging in place — either because they want to or because they have no choice — we have to change the way we think about zoning. We can have a mix of single and duplex and triplex housing forms, so that people don't have to decide between staying put or moving to a downtown condo.

What will happen when 20 percent of the population is over 65?

old lady driving
You can't drive forever. Mick Tinbergen/Wikipedia

Oh, did I get in trouble for this one. Today, half the boomers are under 65 but in ten years, they will all be older, and will total a full 20 percent of the population. It's like that in Japan right now, and a lot of young people are resentful and blame them for many of the problems in the country. Young people have a word for it, rougai, which some define as "the harm inflicted on Japan by its elderly." I wondered: "If they're having these kinds of problems in Japan — where there's a strong tradition of respect for the elderly and a social safety net — what's going to happen in North America if we don't start planning for this inevitable demographic shift?"

Readers were outraged and flooded MNN with complaints. "It's so unbalanced and stereotyped it's mind boggling that you would include it. Are you on a mission to help accelerate discrimination against older people?" But of course, that was not my intent. I had to write what was essentially an explanation and apology:

"The post was meant as a warning that we could end up like Japan, where many young people apparently have come to resent the old people around them — in a nation where they usually get respect — and that to avoid this, we have to deal with the problems the old-old will face. We're facing a demographic time bomb. This is my concern, trying to get people to worry about this issue of what life will be like when there are as many as 60 million baby boomers who are Old-Old."

And finally:

Baby boomers will be among the hardest hit by climate change.

Greta Thunberg and young activists. Where are the old ones? (Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
© Greta Thunberg and young activists. Where are the old ones?. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg complains about older generations: "You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes." Bruce Gibney, in A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, wrote, "Unlike acid rain, which had immediate impacts on Boomers’ quality of life and was therefore swiftly addressed, climate change is a problem whose consequences will fall most heavily on other generations, so far too little has been done."

In fact, there will be lots of boomers around in 2050, and that's a demographic fact. And they will be really old. "In every disaster, the older population suffers most. They're not as mobile, they are affected by the heat and cold the most, they are susceptible to disease."

In 2050, roughly one in three baby boomers will still be alive — 21 million old people who will need help, whose retirement properties in Arizona will be too hot to bear, whose houses in the Carolinas or Florida will be flooded out, and whose houses in the forests will have likely burned. If their pensions had been invested in oil and gas, they will likely be living in poverty. Young people are far more resilient and adaptable than the old, and they can follow the jobs and the water and move to Buffalo or Detroit. Old people are often stuck.

Any baby boomer who doesn't think climate change is going to affect them personally is just kidding themselves.