Our grandparents saw the introduction of electricity into everyone’s lives. Our parents saw the phenomenon of two cars in every garage. What have we baby boomers seen? As BoomerCafé editor and co-founder Greg Dobbs writes, innovation might be the most enduring quality of 21st Century America.
We’re at no loss for confidence from presidential candidates, most of whom are baby boomers, about how good things will be if they win. But I’ll tell you in a moment why they’ve all got it wrong.
First, the Republicans, the ones who’ve managed to stay in the race? They promise us that if elected, they will trash whatever Barack Obama has done and put America back on the path to prosperity.
For his part, President Obama has the same playbook but a different strategy: he will build on what he already has done to keep America on the path back to prosperity.
Good luck to both sides. If there’s one thing on which we all can agree, it is that we like prosperity, and want as much as we can get. But you know what? No matter who wins in November, it won’t primarily be his policies that get us there. And here’s the proof: while our economy went south under the policies of the last Republican president, we didn’t see an eye-popping U-turn to the north under the policies of the incumbent Democrat. Some would translate that to read, a pox on both their houses.
Yet America will recover, or continue its recovery (depending on who you talk to). But it won’t be because of our ability to manufacture hard goods any more; sure, what we do build we now build well and if you include petroleum, we are still the biggest producer of goods and services in the world. But as we have seen since we became the leading generation in this country, although a little more manufacturing is coming back to our shores from overseas, by and large, it’s still cheaper to build things elsewhere.
Rather, we will find prosperity because of an intangible quality I’ve always had trouble getting my head around…until now. It’s called innovation. Inventiveness. Entrepreneurial brainpower. And by and large, baby boomers have been the driving force. But what I’ve never gotten my head around was, how do those characteristics translate to prosperity? What good does it do us to imagine great things if we aren’t actually turning them into something solid?
And then I read this headline: “App Economy has created 466,000 jobs.” That’s the “app economy” as in “Angry Birds,” “Facebook,” “CNN.com,” apps that give you the world via the smartphone, the tablet, and the social media. The online piece under the headline— reporting a study by TechNet, a think tank for high-tech corporations — likened the “App Economy” to “a 21st Century construction sector.” That’s when the little light went off in my head: we still build things, but we don’t buy them off the shelf any more at the mall and, standing alone, we don’t even hold them in our hands.
No, what we do today to stay at the apex of global commerce is innovate, then turn those innovations, however physically intangible, into something that people can actually use. And if you doubt that, consider this: today there are something like a million apps out there in the marketplace, and every day the number grows. Lest you think they’re mostly games that fling birds into buildings, think again: according to TechNet’s report, “Every major consumer-facing company… discovered that they need an app to be the public face of the business.” In other words, “app” employment is the construction sector for the 21st Century because apps have become the front door we walk through to do business.
Oh, our next president — and all the politicians down the pyramid — will claim credit for our prosperous future. But truth be known,they don’t have nearly so much to do with it as they used to. And that’s a good thing. We don’t have to depend on dysfunctional elected officials to find prosperity; we only have to depend on ourselves.