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Speed of Technological Adoption in US
Old 11-30-2008, 08:38 PM   #1
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Speed of Technological Adoption in US

Image below is at this link, but no backup data or commentary. Still, the info seems about right.



Some observations:
1) Obviously, new technology is getting adopted across the US population at a much higher rate than in the past. It's interesting that it took 25 years from the initial market debut for 80% of American households to get something as basic as a refrigerator.
2) Many people say that the income gap between the rich and the poor is growing. This chart may not refute that, but it sure doesn't look, across a span of several decades, as though poor people in America are having to wait as long as they used to to live as well as the wealthy.
3) Look at the things that are new advances. Sure, I love our microwave and our color TV and having a cel phone. But there's no way I could call these things "life changing" in the same way as having electricity or a telephone was. Maybe the Internet (and all the stuff that comes with it) comes close.
4) It's interesting to see the impact of the Great Depression and WW-II. I'm sure without the TVA, electrification rates and other things depending on electricity would have slumped during the depression. Autos were hit hard: The % of American households with cars peaked at 60% in about 1928 and didn't reach that level again until about 1951.
5) The last item added to the chart was "the internet," which came into homes starting in 1991. It's been 17 years since then, which is quite a dry spell. I can't think of anything that's just hit the shelves or in development that really qualifies as "new", most are just refinements of stuff already here (hybrid cars are still cars. HDTV is still color TV. High-speed internet is still internet). What will be the next "new thing?"

No particular ER point to this post, just sharing.
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Old 11-30-2008, 09:23 PM   #2
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Thanks for posting, very interesting.

Actually, I was kinda surprised that the differences in rates of adoption were not starker. Things like electricity, phones and autos and planes have sped up our world, so I expect things to move faster today.

The telephone was "life changing", but not as much as the telegraph, which was the first time that information could routinely move faster (much faster!) than a horse. That is pretty mind-boggling for me to think about. But of course, the telephone brought that capability into most businesses and homes.

Before refrigerators, they had ice boxes - so convenient yes, but not really life changing. Same with washers, dryers, even autos. Radios, autos, and refrigerators hit 50% pretty quick. I think cell phones count as pretty "life changing" - sure we had phones, but to be able to do it from anywhere at a price most can afford is pretty amazing, and really wound into the fabric of today's society. It seems odd now to see a movie from the 70's or early 80's and the people seem 'modern' to us, but are suddenly in a situation where we would just pull out our phone - and they cannot.

I find the internet to be just absolutely amazing. I'll never forget the early days and the first time I was looking around for some Christmas music to play on my midi-enabled synthesizers, and after a few clicks I was on some individuals site in Norway, and I'm downloading files from half-way around the world, from someone I never met, that happens to have share an interest in this. I think what was so mind boggling to me was how simple it was, and what a trivial little task it was, yet is was available to anyone with a computer and access. Well, that's not always a good thing either

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Old 11-30-2008, 09:58 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting, very interesting.

Actually, I was kinda surprised that the differences in rates of adoption were not starker. Things like electricity, phones and autos and planes have sped up our world, so I expect things to move faster today.
The slow rate of refrigerator penetration was in part because a fair amount of rural America did not have electricity until after WW2. Also, they were expensive! Buying one might take a very large portion of a farm family's annual income. Ditto cars, only moreso. I believe that these expersive appliances also gave a big push to the American concept of revolving finance. Without this , there might still be people without cars.

Quote:
I think cell phones count as pretty "life changing" - sure we had phones, but to be able to do it from anywhere at a price most can afford is pretty amazing, and really wound into the fabric of today's society. It seems odd now to see a movie from the 70's or early 80's and the people seem 'modern' to us, but are suddenly in a situation where we would just pull out our phone - and they cannot.
Unless I have misunderstood posters on this site, many of us do not have cell phones. Or if so, it may be just a pre-paid phone for emergencies. In other words, some may have a number, but if you call to say you are going to be delayed, they are not going to pick up.

Quote:
I find the internet to be just absolutely amazing. I'll never forget the early days and the first time I was looking around for some Christmas music to play on my midi-enabled synthesizers, and after a few clicks I was on some individuals site in Norway, and I'm downloading files from half-way around the world, from someone I never met, that happens to have share an interest in this. I think what was so mind boggling to me was how simple it was, and what a trivial little task it was, yet is was available to anyone with a computer and access. Well, that's not always a good thing either -ERD50
Agree completely. The internet and browsers allowing non-techies to get around on it is revolutionizing life.

Ha
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Old 11-30-2008, 10:27 PM   #4
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Maybe it's just a function of statistical error, but the chart shows that from 1935 to 1950, a (slightly) greater number of households had a radio than had electricity. That doesn't sound right--I think battery-operated tube radios were few and far between. Maybe a simple unpowered crystal radio (heard through an earpiece, and faintly at that) counted as a radio.
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Old 12-01-2008, 12:19 AM   #5
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It's been 17 years since then, which is quite a dry spell. I can't think of anything that's just hit the shelves or in development that really qualifies as "new", most are just refinements of stuff already here (hybrid cars are still cars. HDTV is still color TV. High-speed internet is still internet). What will be the next "new thing?"
Our Series 2 TiVo has replaced six VHS VCRs and a bunch of manual programming. It's given me back an hour/week of my life and it's dramatically changed the viewing habits of my spouse. I think it's an "incremental improvement" in the way that transistors were "slightly better" than vacuum tubes.

Wii and Wii Fit.

Speaking of the Internet, I think we're seeing a wave of Internet appliances-- not just dedicated desktop/laptop computer systems but iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry, ASUS Eee & their ilk, iTunes, Kindle, gaming systems, WiMax, YouTube, video on demand, Slingbox, Hulu...
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Old 12-01-2008, 01:08 AM   #6
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Samclem, thanks for a very informative and interesting graph.

Look closely, and you will see that in 2005, there are more households with cellphones, color TVs, VCRs, and microwaves than with clothes dryers and gasp, washers.

I can understand dryers -- many forum members hang clothes -- but how can you not have a washer? And who would use a washboard while yaking on a cell phone?
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Old 12-01-2008, 01:14 AM   #7
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apartment dwellers come to mind
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Old 12-01-2008, 02:28 AM   #8
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Ah hah! But those apartment dwellers use laundromats, not washboards and clothes lines.

So, the statistics can be misleading (as they often are). People in big cities who do not have cars still make use of modern motorized public transportation. The stats may make you think there are more Amish in the US than there really are!
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Old 12-01-2008, 03:15 AM   #9
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Interesting post. Thanks.

We are quick to adopt technology.
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Old 12-01-2008, 04:49 AM   #10
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Ah hah! But those apartment dwellers use laundromats, not washboards and clothes lines.

So, the statistics can be misleading (as they often are). !
My parents always lived in the big city and as far back as i remember a wringer type washing machine was used and the clothes were then hung out on the line.
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Old 12-01-2008, 10:31 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Maybe it's just a function of statistical error, but the chart shows that from 1935 to 1950, a (slightly) greater number of households had a radio than had electricity. That doesn't sound right--I think battery-operated tube radios were few and far between. Maybe a simple unpowered crystal radio (heard through an earpiece, and faintly at that) counted as a radio.
It could well be correct. The early tube radios were battery powered (A and B batteries - one low voltage one for the tube heaters, one high voltage (90V or 45V) for the tube plates). If you had a car or tractor, you could recharge radio batteries with an adapter.

So, just like today with our wireless in-home networks, it may be difficult/expensive to run wires somewhere, but radio waves travel far through thin air. So those rural homes w/o electricity might even be more inclined to have a radio, as it was a piece of modern life that they could use.

No one has addressed your second part - the next big thing? Interesting, I will ponder that a while.

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Old 12-01-2008, 10:37 AM   #12
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Ah hah! But those apartment dwellers use laundromats, not washboards and clothes lines.

So, the statistics can be misleading (as they often are). People in big cities who do not have cars still make use of modern motorized public transportation. The stats may make you think there are more Amish in the US than there really are!
Many city apartments where I live do not have in-unit washer and dryer, but do have a laundry room. My apartment is this way. When I lived on the east Coast I used Chinese Laundry for 8 years.

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Old 12-01-2008, 08:12 PM   #13
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It could well be correct. The early tube radios were battery powered (A and B batteries - one low voltage one for the tube heaters, one high voltage (90V or 45V) for the tube plates).
Wow, I had no idea. The small "A" batteries were of fairly normal size, but the "B" batteries could be monsters. Apparently rural folks with access to a generator often bought lead acid versions that they could recharge themselves, but most people used disposable (expensive) zinc carbon batteries that might only last 4-5 hours. And, apparently the "B" batteries weren't standardized: radios needed either 22.5v, 45v, or 90v.

In the early days, apparently most cabinet radios were battery powered. Plug-in models were considered an advance.

Thanks!
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Old 12-01-2008, 08:18 PM   #14
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Wow, I had no idea. The small "A" batteries were of fairly normal size, but the "B" batteries could be monsters. Apparently rural folks with access to a generator often bought lead acid versions that they could recharge themselves, but most people used disposable (expensive) zinc carbon batteries that might only last 4-5 hours. And, apparently the "B" batteries weren't standardized: radios needed either 22.5v, 45v, or 90v.

In the early days, apparently most cabinet radios were battery powered. Plug-in models were considered an advance.

Thanks!
I am reminded of an anecdote from a coworker: Back in the '40s someone brought a radio to his mother's house, and she declared it 'of the devil'.
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Old 12-02-2008, 12:17 PM   #15
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I am reminded of an anecdote from a coworker: Back in the '40s someone brought a radio to his mother's house, and she declared it 'of the devil'.
My mother used to say that TV was the ruination of the country. Coincidently, my dad sold and repaired TV's for a living.

That ruination thing could also apply to many genre of music, video and computer games, mobile phones, the internet, motorcycles, skydiving, and a lot of things that have not been invented yet.
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Old 12-02-2008, 01:08 PM   #16
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I am not sure this chart shows adoption rate of new tech is that much higher.
Looking at the Electricity line you see it's rate of adoption is about the same as Radio and Refrigerator. This makes since as infrastructure must come first.

Compare the slope of the line of the Radio with the A/C, Microwave, Cell phone, and Internet. Very close. The upper section of all these lines depend on need, and infrastructure.

The interesting part is the cloths dryer, washing machine and dishwasher, all home appliances, are at such a lesser slope. Maybe it is because Men don't use these?
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Old 12-02-2008, 01:17 PM   #17
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Just got back from Best Buys. I was looking for a simple radio with a digital tuner instead of an analog tuning wheel. I have found the analog wheel makes in extremely difficult to tune in a weak signal. I listen to NPR, and they must cut the signal way back at night. It's frustrating to try to tune it on the correct station. I could have carried out all of their common radios in a wheelbarrow! The vast majority of wake up devices had something to do with integrating iPods, which I don't even own. Where does that put me on the curve?
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:27 PM   #18
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Wow, I had no idea. The small "A" batteries were of fairly normal size, but the "B" batteries could be monsters. Apparently rural folks with access to a generator often bought lead acid versions that they could recharge themselves, but most people used disposable (expensive) zinc carbon batteries that might only last 4-5 hours. And, apparently the "B" batteries weren't standardized: radios needed either 22.5v, 45v, or 90v.

In the early days, apparently most cabinet radios were battery powered. Plug-in models were considered an advance.

Thanks!
Interesting about the old battery powered radios. I remember when I was a kid in the 50's there were big glass "battery jars" behind my grandmother's garage. My granddad used them to cover plants in case of frost in the spring. I guess you built your own batteries.

I still have my granddads crystal set headphones from the 20's. I remember my mom saying if more than one person wanted to listen to the radio they would put the head phones in a large mixing bowl and all sit around the table.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:36 PM   #19
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I'm not sure I buy the premise. In many cases this isn't faster adoption of new tech, it's faster adoption of new uses of the same old tech. Once you've gotten past getting electric lights, radio, and a fridge, it's easy to move to tv, air conditioning, and a washing machine. Once you've gotten used to a computer, it's easy to get into internet, ipods, and video games.

I suspect that with truly new tech, the early adoption curves would be similar. Not that I can imagine the future accurately, but I suspect nanomachines doing medical repairs on your body, matter transmission, and cryogenic time-outs to extend life over a longer number of years will face similarly long term acceptance levels. And if not, it will be thanks to Star Trek getting us prepared ahead of time.
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Old 12-03-2008, 12:37 AM   #20
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Hmm... Come to think of it, the "adoption" speed is really the "cost reduction" speed.

Technology advances now take very little time to go from the labs to the production lines in the Orient. Given a particular technology, most people would try it if it is cheap enough.

Never being involved in high-volume production lines, I truly don't know how they can make some electronics gadgets so cheap. I often joke that they are really free, and the buyers only pay for shipping cost! How else do you explain a $70 microwave oven?
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