The Mobile Phone Generation

When those words are spoken, we think about the millennials or gen-z, both of whom have grown up with phones in their pockets or purses and are native users of smart phones.

However, I think my parents’ generation, those who were born in the 20s and 30s and are now in their 80s and 90s, are the generation who may get the most utility out of smartphones.

The last time I visited my parents, my mom asked me to put Uber on her phone. Since then, she has used Uber to go to doctor’s appointments and other places that she did not want to drive to. At some point she and my dad will stop driving entirely and then Uber and Lyft and other ridesharing services will be even more valuable to her.

I was visiting my parents the last couple days and while I was there my mom asked me to put Lyft on her phone, so she had an alternative to Uber, and also Instagram so she could see what her extended family is up to.

But maybe the most amazing thing, to me anyway, is that my mom has pretty much stopped using her land line phone. She tells everyone to call her on her mobile phone. For a generation that arrived on planet earth around the same time as the rotary telephone to be abandoning the landline phone in favor of a mobile phone is really something to see.

If you think about it, though, it makes all the sense in the world. As you find it harder to do things that you used to take for granted, having your own personal computer on you or near you, that allows you to talk to your friends and family, via audio or text, see what everyone is up to, and get someone to come pick you up and take you to Church, the doctor, the store, or anywhere else, is really incredibly useful.

Maybe my dad will read this and decide he wants one too.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    And What’sApp for voice – it has become a standard in so many ways.But one thing I don’t like is its broadcast capability- some users treat it like email, forwarding links they want to broadcast to their network.

    1. awaldstein

      i’ll check out the broadcast thing, haven’t noticed it.

      1. Sada Kshirsagar

        WhatsApp is very popular outside of US. In India, it is almost the defacto app for everyone. Use WhatsApp extensively for voice and video conversations with people in India. Saw this being the case when I visited Brazil and Peru and many European countries too. In Brazil and India many businesses advertise their WhatsApp numbers as a way to connect to them.

        1. Geoff Jones

          What I love is folks I know who refuse to use Facebook but very happy to use WhatsApp . I’m 72 and gave up on landlines here in the UK 9 years ago! In fact I now think its weird using anything other than Facetime for calls 🙂

      2. William Mougayar

        Click on Broadcast Lists, Top left.

  2. rimalovski

    I’ve had a similar experience with my mom. When I told her, several years ago, that if she wanted to stay in touch with her then teenage granddaughters, she better adopt a smart phone so she could text with them. She flipped right there and then, and has not looked back…though beyond texting, calling and email, she is still largely mystified about how to use her iPhone and what else she can do with it.

  3. awaldstein

    The adjacent piece is that people monitoring their health be it through the iphone or any of many devices coming, view and interpret the data on the phones.Bought a watch recently to monitor stuff and fascinated by the potential of this and the amazing UX possibilities of seeing data and acting on it in different places.Even simply things like keeping my phone in my bag while walking, in my pack while biking and the watch alerts me of incoming calls/text so I can decide to respond should I care to.

  4. Andrew Parker

    Love this Fred. is focused on supporting this generation however they feel most comfortable – phone (rotary, mobile, etc).

    1. KyleGCummings

      This post made me think of Papa’s opportunity.

  5. TeddyBeingTeddy

    Not to mention a calendar in hand that reminds you of all your appointments, and shows a pic of who’s calling…handy for those with Alzheimer’s

  6. Pointsandfigures

    Face Time as well. Can be much more enlightening for both parties than a conversation.

    1. awaldstein

      Yup, Lianna’s mom never had a phone till now and spent a month in Israel so had to set her up.Facetime, What’sApp, Instagram and just texting has changed her life. And her family’s as well.

    2. fredwilson


  7. cbw

    Which phone does your Mom feel comfortable using? I want my 88 yr Mom to switch from her blackberry to an iPhone for exactly these reasons (Uber/Lyft, directions to places she needs to get to, etc) She is not comfortable with giving her old phone up.

    1. fredwilson


  8. JamesHRH

    Never got my still driving herself 95 year old Mom to adopt a high level of mobile phone usage. She is a tablet person though.

  9. Pete Griffiths

    And the cool thing is that:1) very high quality phones are cheaper than ever – got a Moto for google fi – nice phone at about $2502) voice assistants are getting better – Siri isn’t great but Google assistant is pretty cool

  10. stoweboyd

    But she still needs help installing an app?

    1. fredwilson


    2. TedHoward

      I learned how to uninstall an app on an iphone when in 2010 a friend begged me “I can’t stop playing Bejeweled! How do I get rid of it!!” That friend is an MD/PhD then in her 30’s. Her husband is also an MD/PhD and couldn’t help her. I don’t think my wife could uninstall an app. She’s also MD/PhD (same age&school). I taught her how to install an app because she had no clue how to do so.Just as MDs are shocked that everyone doesn’t know the function of the liver or the details of their own medical history, I’m shocked when educated people can’t use simple tech. But I know it’s common and will persist forever.

  11. aminTorres

    When my parents first started to visit me in NY from the Dom. Rep. in around 2006 or so, I would get them a cheap flip-phone with a sim card just so I could reach them when they were in NJ or in PA visiting other relatives. A few years after that I got them a touchscreen phone and my mom was very intimidated by it. I remember talking to her and sensing her frustration with it. She went back to the Dom. Rep. after her stay and while there my brother got her a used iPhone. It must have been 2008 or 2009 then.In my head, I was left with the memory that she hated touchscreen phone so when she visited the next time I went and proactively bought her a phone with a physical keyboard. But just like that, she was now disappointed about the keyboard and instead was all about the touchscreen.Ironically, while my parents are not in their 80s or 90s, (early 60s) the technologies that people on their 60s grew up with in the US were not evenly distributed in a place like the Dom. Rep. So I always find it fascinating when people talk about their parents with 30 years of difference in between my own parents but what they say about their parents describes perfectly my own. I guess this is a tale of making technology accesible to people.

  12. jason wright

    “while I was there my mom asked me to put Lyft on her phone” – there’s the friction that is the barrier to adoption for one cohort of older people.”At some point she and my dad will stop driving entirely” – everyone, young and old, will stop driving. That’s a good thing. Driving is so unproductive.

  13. KB

    I understand the sentiment, but surely you can’t literally mean “the most utility”. The reason millenials, gen z, etc. are being called the “mobile phone generation” is because their entire lives are centered around the devices. Smartphones are an absolute marvel to your parents’ generation, but they are practically a necessity for these younger generations.

    1. TedHoward

      Semantics imo – part of their life vs their life is significantly effected by smartphonesWhich is I think the point of the title

  14. F G

    This is so true. When my 90+ year old mother-in-law goes to Florida, she does everything on her phone – calling, texting, banking, etc. And now when she’s home, she calls with her mobile phone at least half the time.One barrier not mentioned is the phone platform providers’ insistence on making UI and experience changes to enhance their offering. We had to help change things around for her when she went from a Galaxy Note 3 to a Galaxy S8. The only downside of the S8 – for a person with shaky hands, the pen in the Galaxy Notes are great.

  15. dgay07

    Yep. Experienced this with my 92 year old Grandpa. He has always been an early adapter of using a mobile phone and is an active texter, but his broader knowledge of what’s in the app store is limited. So when I showed him Instacart he was giddy with the idea that he no longer had to go into a Costco and could have it all delivered to his door. He is also a daily receiver of Amazon packages now.

  16. Joe Marchese

    I expect devices such as the Apple Watch/FitBit/Garmin will be boomers’ — desperately trying to avoid becoming geezers — alternative of choice to Medic Alert-type devices. We boomers are too vain to wear a pendant or wrist-mounted button, yet practical enough to acknowledge that we’re aging.

  17. Joe Lazarus

    Ha! My folks are the same. Mom is all in on mobile and the internet. Dad refuses to use a cell phone.

  18. Jeff Park

    You should install Bellhop app for her. She can compare prices Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing services on one app.

  19. Deryk Makgill

    My parents stopped using their landline a few years ago, but it’s basically ‘grandfathered-in’ and the whole family uses it for online orders, memberships, rewards programs—anything that requires a phone number but which doesn’t actively communicate with you by phone.It seems to help reduce the crazy number of robocalls and spam I was getting to my old cell number which I spread out in the online ether way too generously.

  20. TedHoward

    You are *VERY* correct that their generation is the first to find daily utility from smartphones. But I definitely think there is a significant part of that generation who will never adopt technology and will remain uneffected. But even in the youngest generations, there will be holdouts.Around 2000, I received my first and only email from my father, a psychiatrist. It ended with “This is tiring. I haven’t used a typewriter since 1964.” My father passed away in 2013, but I cannot fathom him adjusting to a smart phone though as a psychiatrist he was an early cell phone user. My father-in-law, much like my wife, only acquired a smartphone when their flipphone died and they discovered there are no more non-smart phones. In both cases, the main difference in using a smartphone is more texting. Otherwise, no change. (My wife uses Waze for commuting)

    1. TedHoward

      Also, next time my mom is visiting I’m installing Uber & Lyft so she has an account for whenever she can’t drive. Excellent tip.

  21. Mark Gavagan

    In addition to wonderful phone apps is the latest iWatch (series 4), with built-in tools to detect falls and call for help:

  22. Jim Grey

    My mom was born in the 1940s and uses her smartphone much like your mom does – Lyft and calls. Mom gave up her landline when she moved out of the family home in 2014 and doesn’t miss it.

  23. Diane Levitt

    Smartphone use is a different story for older adults with dementia and other forms of memory loss. We need to be thoughtful about creating inclusive technologies that enable a wider group of users to benefit. If my mother had been able to use a smartphone to get an Uber on her own, she wouldn’t have had to sell her home of 65 years. But the interface, and most others, are not well designed for those with cognitive impairment. And this is not an uncommon affliction for the old. There is a student in high school in NYC that has been working on an app for adults with dementia but I don’t think it includes Uber.

  24. Pete Griffiths

    Didn’t take long, did it?And the scale of the phone market and the associated supply chain has transformed the price performance of countless parts that have unanticipated applications.