In 1994 I had the chance to travel in rural western China. I was fascinated to see how distinct each local dialects was, changing dramatically from one valley to the next. Many of the villages were just getting electricity, or just about to get electricity, for the first time. I was also fascinated to find that the first thing that was plugged in was not a refrigerator, not electric lights, but a television. After thinking about this, it made some sense: they had been managing to feed themselves, and had systems in place for feeding themselves, without refrigeration. Lights were probably desirable, but again, they had been managing without them and had lives organized around not having lights. But TV, that was a different matter. A window to the world outside their town; places, people, things they had never seen. The desire for access to this information had never been solved and TV, finally, gave them access. To me, it seems just like our current enthusiasm for messaging and social networking, revealing our hunger for social knowledge.
So. How have various technologies been adopted? How quickly have they become ubiquitous? How ubiquitous? Horace Dediu has made one of his phenomenal charts showing adoption rates and timing for a selection of products. I find it fascinating. I note that radio, TV, cell phones, and “smart” phones are among the fastest to be adopted, and also most completely adopted. All can be seen as feeding our desire for social knowledge and communication.
Horace’s chart tells many stories of wars and depressions and human nature. And, as he says, the biggest mistake would be to imagine that the chart ends here.