100 Years Graphed: Technology Adoption is Speeding Up

The last 112 years have been an avalanche of new discoveries, new advances in our understanding of how the world works and how to harness the energies around us to useful means. How far have we advanced? At the dawn of the 20th century less than 10% of households owned a stove, had access to a telephone or even electricity… and the automobile that dominates society today? It was hardly on the charts.

The graph below, created by Visual Economics, clearly shows one thing: the adoption of new technology is happening much faster today. Just why is that? From a quick glance at the graphic you will notice that the first half of the century mainly focused on large consumer items designed to make your house more livable, from refrigerators to clothes washers and dryers. Later in the century technology takes a noticeably different path towards small, consumer electronic items like microwaves, VCRs and cell phones. What makes these later items quicker to take hold of the market? For one, the infrastructure needed for their use was largely in place: that would be electricity. In the year 1900, there where few smooth roads and very few electrical lines to encourage purchasing automobiles and electronic items. One item that clearly broke the slow adoption trend early in the century was the radio. This item, like the television, took the world by storm, bringing entertainment and news into the average household like never before. Like todays smart phones, it was just too good to pass up.

Interested in more? For an older but highly detailed graphic by Karl Hartig in The Wall Street Journal, download the PDF here.

Click here or the graph below for a full-sized view:

The Atlantic
Image: The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, [image number, e.g., 00199], courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

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