March 17, 2010

New options add fun amid tasks of everyday life

KRISTINE MILLARD

— By

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Sunday, January 3, 2008...Drew and Susan Dubuque are Boomers, with kids, who use technology for fun, although Susan admits to being confused by all of the remotes to be found in the family room of their Cape Elizabeth home.

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Sunday, January 3, 2008...Drew and Susan Dubuque are Boomers, with kids, who use technology for fun. Drew enjoys playing computer golf in the family room of their Cape Elizabeth home.

For the Maine Sunday Telegram

Make no mistake about it. When it comes to using technology for entertainment, baby boomers are taking full advantage of their options. The savvy required for such use may have originated in their workplaces, but, these days, boomers are widely applying their skills away from the job in the name of fun.

Music, a boomer staple, comes these days from online streaming, downloads and top-quality at-home sound systems. Televisions are big and they're flat. Video games aren't just for kids. As for iPods, don't leave for the gym without one.

Melissa Libby, 51, a Portland nurse practitioner, works out at The Bay Club in downtown Portland. She said she wouldn't exercise without her music.

''Music is everything to me,'' Libby said. ''It makes the gym a lot more fun. I like to be in my own space. The iPod helps me tune out.'' Listening to artists like Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Modest Mouse makes that possible, she said.

''It's an escape. It's almost like silence,'' Libby said.

Heidi Michaels, general manager of Planet Fitness, knows firsthand how important technology is to members of the Portland and Westbrook facilities. Although some might argue that exercise itself is not fun, providing entertainment during a cardio workout definitely draws customers in, Michaels said.

''It appeals to members and to potential members,'' she said.

Planet Fitness provides individual television screens on each piece of equipment, including treadmills, stationary bikes and stair climbers. Members can plug in their personal headphones, listen to and watch a broad range of news, sports and entertainment channels.

''TV made me fat; now it's making me thin,'' said Susan Dubuque, 53, of Cape Elizabeth, who exercises at Planet Fitness in Westbrook.

Michaels, 51, is a self-described ''sports nut'' who uses the television when she exercises, and is also learning to use an iPod, complete with ''my own workout music.''

Just as more sophisticated technology has found its way into boomers' exercise routines, it is also transforming home entertainment. Music is just the beginning.

''Boomers are into it,'' said Terry Sullivan, general manager of Best Buy at the Maine Mall in South Portland. ''Their knowledge around technology is very good -- they've been educated (at work) over the last 20 years.''

That education translates into shopping and spending, Sullivan said.

In addition to purchasing everything from home theater systems to high-definition televisions, Boomers are paying for installation services by Best Buy's ''Geek Squad'' instead of taking the time to do the work themselves, Sullivan said.

''We're selling a lot,'' said Bryan Corliss, assistant store manager of South Portland's Circuit City. Boomers ''aren't shying away from it.''

But they're not necessarily breaking the bank to do it.

Just ask the Dubuques of Cape Elizabeth. While Susan Dubuque takes advantage of TV while she works out, she and her husband, Drew, 51, make full use of entertainment technology at home without major expense. Drew Dubuque acquired a TiVo for free from the Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop (an exchange at the town transfer station). He ordered the family's surround-sound system from a discount catalog for under $100. His iPod and Bose sound system? Fiftieth birthday gifts.

''I get everything cheap,'' said Dubuque. ''I'm not the first to get anything; I'm a little behind the curve. If you wait your time, you get good deals.''

He takes advantage of the Internet's offerings too.

''I love Pandora,'' he said. A part of the Music Genome Project, Pandora.com works like a jukebox. For every artist and/or song requested, Pandora gathers similar music for users' listening. By accepting and rejecting suggestions, consumers can hone their collection to specific tastes. And, in keeping with Drew Dubuque's low budget, it's free.

The Dubuques also go online for travel information. A look at Citysearch.com before a trip to Providence, R.I., ''took a lot of the 'hmm' out of planning for restaurants and entertainment,'' said Drew Dubuque. ''You get a better lay of the land.''

Spouses don't necessarily share the same approach to technology.

''I don't watch TV in our living room,'' said Susan Dubuque. ''There are about seven remotes, and I don't know what five of them do. I just stick with the TV in our room.''

That's not to say she doesn't enjoy watching DVDs, and the couple's TiVo is programmed to record episodes of ''The Office'' each time they come on.

Nonetheless, Susan Dubuque concedes that because she receives about 300 e-mails a day at work, technology off the clock has its limitations. ''Surfing the Internet is not what gets me excited. A lot of technology is a tether, not a tool.''

And when she does surf, it's about gardening, art and shopping.

''I have a digital camera. I don't know how to put the pictures on the computer,'' she said.

Ron Hall, 61, of South Portland also acknowledged a disparity between his and his wife's view of technology. As a result, the couple has a flat-screen high-definition television, but no surround-sound -- too many remotes, Hall said.

=Hall has an iPod, but his preferred use is listening to prose rather than music.

''Ninety percent of the time I use my iPod to listen to books,'' said Hall. An online subscription gives him access to thousands of titles; downloading each book costs about $10. Frequent travel for his work as a summer camp director gives Hall ample time in the car to catch up on his ''reading.''

An avid woodworker, Hall also uses the Internet to research tools and materials.

In addition, he uses a GPS in his car, enjoys digital photography, and wireless technology in their home supports the use of two laptops and a desktop computer.

''There's (no technology) out there that I want and don't have,'' said Hall.

While technology can provide an escape into music and books, it also offers boomers entertainment and distraction with video gaming.

Take Michele Lettiere, a 57-year old teacher who lives in Brunswick.

Lettiere is a fan of ''Myst,'' a series of interactive fantasy adventure games she discovered while living in France in 2000. Its appeal? ''It has nothing to do with work; it has nothing to do with anything,'' she said. ''It's incredibly addictive.''

The Internet offers her additional entertainment. Lettiere regularly watches ''Quarterlife,'' an online drama created by the makers of the once-popular television series 'Thirtysomething.''

She accesses photography through two different Web sites.

''I don't use the Internet for a lot of social stuff,'' she said. ''For me, it's 'where can I go to read or watch?'''

And that ís the idea. The technology is there. The boomers are there. They're getting along just fine.

Kristine Millard is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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