For years I have been urging corporate executives to talk to "kids" so they could better understand the future. " Look over their shoulder", I have urged them. Ask them what they do on the Internet. Talk to them about their values. What do they think of intellectual property rights? What do they like most about the Internet? What do they like least? What sites are really with it? Which are brain-dead? What do they think the Internet will be like in five years? How do they expect they will use it after they get a job? If what they tell you makes sense, I have urged, then think about how you can incorporate some of their kind of thinking into your business or institutional planning. If what they say doesn’t’t make sense or you don’t agree with what they say, talk to kids some more. If you don’t have any kids, borrow one! If you can’t find any kids to talk to then talk to some ThirdAgers.
If you can’t find any teenagers to validate your business plans for the web, look for some 60 year olds. When I visited the Heritage Village retirement community and went into their “web room” I saw a huge banner across one wall. It said “Keeping Pace in Cyberspace”. That is their motto. They are not intimidated in the slightest by technology. A petite elderly lady looked up from her keyboard to say hello. She was helping a friend learn how to send email to her grandchild. At their monthly meeting a seventy-year-old gentleman made an announcement that the “Hardware” special interest group (SIG) was going to start a new project whereby each participant would be building their own PC from scratch and he asked if anyone would be interested. Dozens of hands were in the air to join the group.
ThirdAgers are generally between the age of forty-five and sixty-four. The heart of the group is made up of those who Mary Furlong, founder of ThirdAge Media, described as being in their “transitional fifties”. Some are going through job changes or a divorce. Others have aging parents, health issues, or are experiencing the birth of grandchildren. These are all issues which change lives and create a desire to join a support group, go to a class or pick up a hobby. Where I live in Connecticut, people go to Founders Hall to spend a day with friends and just "hang out".
In many cases, Mary explains, people become more intrinsically motivated”. For all these reasons ThirdAgers are flocking to the web. They are not intimidated by the technology. They have goals and the web can help them cope. ThirdAgers are learning the web and are sharing family pictures and learning about genealogy. They are going to ThirdAge.com to get career or health advice or check the romantic tip of the day. There is no substitute for the loss of a loved one but web sites are helping people find others with similar interests and enabling them to create new friendships. In many cases these have lead to marriages.
ThirdAgers represent a fast growing segment of the economies of the world. ThirdAgers have time, motivation, and decades of experience. As the next generation of the Internet evolves into the new medium it will enable members of this highly skilled workforce to come back to work part time from their retirement via telecommuting. They may prove to be crucial in filling the huge skills shortage that is facing the information technology industry today. For those who don’t choose to come back to work the Internet will enable them to fulfill their lives in various ways and to find help in meeting the challenges they face, make new friends and continue the quest for lifelong learning.