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Laura Lee Carter Headshot

Boomers: Engineered to Consume

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Do you ever tire of being manipulated everywhere you turn? I do. Everywhere I look, someone is trying to influence my decisions. They think that if they can say just the right words, they will succeed in transferring my money into their bank account. To these people I say: "How stupid do you think I am?"

I gained a whole new perspective recently when I started researching boomer psychology. I wanted to know how different our upbringing was from that of our parents.

In my book, Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, I argue that Boomers were the first American generation to grow up in a world inundated with constant manipulative advertising. Our parents had radios, but we witnessed a virtual explosion in technology in our lifetimes, with mind-blowing technological developments in our fifty or so years on this planet.

From the invention of transistors to the development of the World Wide Web, we have gone from a few hours per day of black-and-white television when we were young, to e-mail and cell phones in the 1990s, to today's total-immersion, 24/7 world news and infotainment cycle, with flashing ads everywhere we turn.

In one interesting example from boomer childhood, the popular Captain Kangeroo was enlisted to sell Schwinn brand bicycles directly to his show's audience, typically 6-years-old and under, throughout the 1960s. Then in 1971, the FTC recommended against Schwinn's on-air marketing practices using the show's host. The Captain was told to no longer insist that all of his viewers purchase a Schwinn!

Our parents grew up with a radio if they were lucky, and then eventually, a television set in their home, but boomers were the advertisers' prize target!

In Find Your Reason to Be Here, I write:

We 77.3 million boomers have influenced consumer behavior at every stage of our lives. Gerber baby food was created in response to an increasing demand for store-bought foods for infants, a popular item among moms back in the 1950s. Sales of transistor radios and fast food took off when boomers were teens, and Nikes became the shoe to have when boomers became yuppies.

We were engineered and groomed to become the perfect consumer, and then handed credit cards in our early twenties for the first time in human history. Everyone seemed shocked when many of us ended up in debt. Hmmm...

If you ever tire of feeling valued only as a consumer -- this is why. In the world of American business, that is all you are -- a way to make somebody else rich.