Opinion

How old is too old to be a techie?

News item: A Pew Research survey released last week revealed that older Americans are about as knowledgeable as young adults when it comes to technology questions and issues, including net neutrality.

Got a call the other night from a retail technology store. A fitness band that was on back-order had arrived. This was exciting news.

The band, from Microsoft, is at the cutting edge of wearable technology. I’ve long been fascinated by the cutting edge, by the way technology intersects with our daily lives. The fitness thing, well, that couldn’t hurt either.

Bonus rationalization: I had a birthday coming up.

But just to be sure, I went to the product’s web page for a last look. I saw all the cool features – the 10 built-in sensors, the GPS, the Starbucks app. I saw a video of people using the band while running, working, jumping from a plane, graduating from college.

Then I noticed something: Everyone in the video seemed ... young. I played it again. Not one person looked a day over 30.

Which brings me back to my birthday.

It’s one of those birthdays that ends in a zero. And the number before the zero isn’t a three. I wondered: Would a newfangled fitness band look silly on my older wrist? Was my new gadget the technology version of the middle age muscle car purchase?

And this: How old is too old to be a techie?

Used to be that technology was a clear divider of young and old. In fact, technology spent a lot of its energy back then chasing older folks and their dollars. Come do e-mails!, technology said. It’s like letter writing, except your grandkids do it!

Now, we early tech enthusiasts aren’t very young, and we’re facing the unsettling reality that we’re no longer welcome at the cool table (such as it is). Tech companies look for younger workers. Marketers target younger buyers. That Micosoft video with the college graduate? She’s getting a congratulatory e-mail from her mother and father, who are not pictured. They probably took 15 minutes to type it.

But I suspect there’s a bigger thing going on here than a statute of limitations on cool. It’s about innovation and ideas and who’s encouraged to participate.

“Young people are just smarter,” said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in 2007, when he was just 22. He was talking then about the tech startup world, where the assumption is that you have to be young to come up with new. Truth is, that’s the assumption in a lot of worlds. It’s what you face when the number in front of your zero gets larger.

But another thing happens, too: You don’t worry so much about conformity. I bought my newfangled fitness band with its 10 sensors and Starbucks app. It’s very cool, even if I’m not. Maybe I’m getting too old to be a techie. But I’m old enough not to care.

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