Emerging Technologies

A brief history of technology

Old unused computers and monitors sit in the main hall of the Shanghai Stock Exchange August 18, 2009. China's stock market showed signs of stability on Tuesday morning after tumbling 5.8 percent on Monday, its biggest daily percentage drop in nine months, hit mainly by profit-taking after a 90-percent stock market rally earlier this year got far ahead of China's economic recovery.  REUTERS/Nir Elias (CHINA BUSINESS)

The rate of technological adoption is increasing in the United States. Image: REUTERS/Nir Elias

Jeff Desjardins
Founder and editor, Visual Capitalist
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Emerging Technologies?
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Emerging Technologies

Technological progress is not the only thing rising at an exponential rate.

The rate at which newly commercialized technologies get adopted by consumers is also getting faster, too.

In the modern world, through increased connectivity, instant communication, and established infrastructure systems, new ideas and products can spread at speeds never seen before – and this enables a new product to get in the hands of consumers in the blink of an eye.

Visualizing Technological Adoption

Today’s dynamic chart comes to us from Our World in Data, and it allows you to compare the adoption rates of new technologies over the period of more than a century.

In addition to the technologies you’ll find embedded on the initial chart above, you can also use the “Add technology” tab of the chart (bottom left) to list up to 40 tech data series on the chart in total. This allows you to gauge adoption rates for everything from color televisions to washing machines, while giving you an idea of the trajectory of many common technologies today.

A Blast From the Past

To get the full impact of the chart, it’s worth removing more modern technologies like smartphones, social media, tablets, cellular phones, and the internet from the list.

Here’s a look at adoption rates for the household appliances and products today that we would consider pretty essential, over a period of more than 120 years:

Appliances we might today consider essential Image: Our World in Data via Visual Capitalist

The telephone was invented in 1876, but it wasn’t until a century later that landlines reached a saturation point in households.

For this to happen, massive amounts of infrastructure had to be built and network effects also needed to accumulate to make the product worthwhile for consumers. Further, the telephone suffered from the “last-mile problem”, in which the logistics get tougher and more expensive as end-users get hooked up to a network.

As a result, it wasn’t until the 1960s that 80% of U.S. households had landlines in them.

New Adoption Speeds

Now, here’s a chart with many older technologies removed – keep in mind that the x axis has changed to a much shorter timespan (~65 years):

Technological adoption with older technologies removed Image: Our World in Data via Visual Capitalist

Microwaves, cell phones, smartphones, social media, tablets, and other inventions from the modern era all show fast-rising adoption rates. Standing out most on the chart is the tablet computer, which went from nearly 0% to 50% adoption in five years or so.

Have you read?

Why do newer technologies get adopted so quickly? It seems partly because modern tech needs less infrastructure in contrast with the water pipes, cable lines, electricity grids, and telephone wires that had to be installed throughout the 20th century.

However, it also says something else about today’s consumers – which is that they are connected, fast-acting, and not afraid to adopt the new technologies that can quickly impact their lives for the better.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Why integrated data is critical to personalizing healthcare

Gloria Seibert

February 23, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum