Friday, October 26, 2007

The Boomer Brain

Brilliant piece by David Brooks in today's New York Times about how he's "outsourced" his brain. The point, in a nutshell, is that he no longer has to use brain cells to remember stuff like directions, phone numbers, even how to do things, because he's got a GPS system, a Blackberry and Wikipedia.

While insightful on its own merits, it also raise two issues for marketers and for Boomers.

First, with all the technology and tools we Boomers are using so we don't have to use our own memories to retain information, what exactly will we be using our brains for as we grow older?

These days, with modern medicine, the body and most of its parts can be kept in working order longer and longer. But the brain seems to lose steam and ability, no matter how many Red Bulls we drink. Knowing that future, how will using our brains less and less now, during Middle Age, do to hurt our brain functionality? Or will it actually help us?
In our work, we've identified Mental Vitality as a key driver of Boomer behavior going forward. Boomers want to make sure their brains stay fully functioning until their last breath, and will invest time, money and effort into making that the case.

So Brooks' observation could create opportunities for marketers that can tap into that extra capacity. There is a business here, we think.

The second issue comes from this in Brook's piece:

"I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number. Their smartphones are smart, so they don’t need to be. Today’s young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it."

How indeed will today's young people use the "Free Space" now available in their brain due to outsourced tasks?

Initially, we got all giddy thinking about the potential advancement of mankind. Then we realized what will probably happen is what happens when we get new computers or devices with double the gigabytes of storage. Before we know it, the extra gigabytes are gone, used up by who-knows-what we've stored.

Still, though, this could create opportunities for marketers and businesses to figure out how to leverage this brain power now available.

Or, we'll discover years from now that it provided no major advancement for mankind. Just a place for different information to be put into long-term storage.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Matt and John - One of the easisest ways to boost and sustain mental vitality is also the absolute most effective single action a person can take - exercise regularly. In fact, physical fitness is a huge precursor to mental fitness and vitality. It is also proven protection against every age-related illness and most age-related complaints.

This is great news until it is viewed in context to the article's original premise - that we are doing less and less for ourselves. This certainly and obviously extends to all the movement-saving devices that have contributed to our obese and unfit culture. If we are doing less to exercise the brain cognitively and we are also neglecting the brain biologically (after all, it is a major organ of the body, people...), then we are really in trouble. Next consider how we may be harming the brain through the accumulation of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in the body, exposure to cell-phone radiation, and who knows what else.

How about a market developing in brain protection?

Karen B. Cohen
Lexington, Virginia

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