TO: Young Tech Geniuses
FROM: Geezers Everywhere
RE: Thank you!
You didn’t invent computers or the Internet, but you dreamed up a place there where people could stay in touch with one another. The Winklevoss twins were 21 when they came up with HarvardConnection, and Mark Zuckerberg all of 20 when he was inspired by their idea* and created Facebook. It all started with cool college kids, then younger kids. Photos of taco dinners and vacations.
Then we older folks came along and started posting pix of the kids and the grandkids, and Facebook wasn’t so cool anymore.
Sorry about that, but thanks!
All sorts of entrepreneurial cogitation went into targeting the groups all marketers have been salivating over: millennials, and then Gen X and Y and I suppose Z. So they came up with apps for all sorts of things.
Apps are cool. Geezers don’t use apps, right? Wrong. Ride-hailing apps allow college kids to indulge in beer blasts without the evening ending in drunk driving; they also give us adults a way to get home from the party when we no longer feel confident driving at night.
Pizza delivery and Chinese takeout have been around for decades. But now, thanks to non-cooking millennials (and their parents, for that matter), more than those foodstuffs are being routinely delivered. Think lamb biryani. Also burritos and sushi. Think Grubhub, DoorDash, Seamless and more.
And if we do want to cook, Peapod and other supermarket delivery services are ready to gas up the truck and bring us the ingredients.
Speaking of ingredients, what about Blue Apron? Or Freshly? Or Sun Basket, or Purple Carrot, or Plated? The list goes on. Yes, you still have to prepare the individual elements of your evening meal, but the fixings are already measured out and ready to go. Thanks again, kids.
All the founders and developers of these cool tools aren’t young themselves (though it’s worth noting that Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses are still in their 30s, and Matt Maloney, co-founder and CEO of Grubhub, looks like a teenager even now), but it’s the younger demographic they’re aiming for.
It’s just, Cindy Skryzicki pointed out to me, that we grown-ups are the ones who really benefit.
Skryzicki is a senior lecturer in the Department of English, Journalism and Non-Fiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She notes that her daughter has a 54-inch sofa in her studio apartment—probably a size that can move right into assisted living! Her daughter also had a roommate who had everything delivered from Amazon, including toilet paper. Hey, especially toilet paper! How convenient is it to have to shlep to the nearest convenience store because someone forgot to buy enough T.P.?
And I’m happy to have the 40-pound bag of dry dog food delivered right to my door.
Some brands have noted, said Skryzicki, that the young people they’re targeting don’t have room to store 24 rolls of toilet paper or paper towels or, for that matter, a 40-pound bag of dry dog food. That has led to worry about the future of Costco and other warehouse stores. It has also led to initiatives like the one from Charmin toilet paper, offering the Forever Roll, which doesn’t last forever but is calculated to last a month. It comes in sizes for single users and larger households—and it’s something older people might rejoice in as well. (Hey, Charmin throws in a free toilet-paper stand as well, and who can argue with that?)
Our cool smartphones and just plain old computers offer lots to older people. It’s fun to play Words With Friends on our phones, or Spider Solitaire on our laptops. And then there’s Netflix, streaming movies into our family rooms, and YouTube, offering just about everything else (including those cute videos where dogs save ducks and things like that).
There’s a down side to all this—this is real life we’re talking about, not a marketing pitch. Some people are frustrated or flummoxed by Alexa and other “smart home hubs,” but that’s okay. Let Saturday Night Live make fun of us battling the machine: We’ll eventually give up and we won’t be spied on by data that, we now know, go both ways.
There’s more. Facebook keeps people in touch, but do they ever go out and really see one another? Those Netflix movies and YouTube videos can eat up hours, time not necessarily spent with others. Not going out to buy groceries or to restaurants for dinner? That’s isolation, not a formula for a healthy social life either.
But tech is the gift horse, and I’m not about to look too deeply into its mouth. When used sensibly, as liquor ads often say, they add convenience and at times life-enhancing possibilities.
And I’m old enough to appreciate that.
*The Winklevoss twins were awarded $65 million after they settled with Zuckerberg.