Digital Disruption Isn’t Digital Adoption
The French painter Paul Delaroche (1797 – 1856), upon seeing a Daguerreotype photograph for the first time, famously said, “From today, painting is dead.” Hmm, didn’t quite work out that way mon pote, did it?
In 1894, Lord Kelvin (the guy who came up with the temperature scale that now bears his name) made a speech where, amongst other things, he predicted that radio “had no future.” Five years later, the first factory to manufacture radios on a commercial scale was opened. Just eight years after that, a radio could be found in 50% of homes in the USA.
Zero to 50% adoption in eight years.
Clearly, Lord Kelvin screwed up big time. But then the guy ended up having a bit of a track record of not seeing the bigger picture. Yes, he came up with an important refinement to Carnot’s Second Law Of Thermodynamics. But he’s also the guy who maintained heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible, X-rays were a hoax, and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was scientifically impossible since the Earth couldn’t possibly be as old as Darwin said it was.
History is littered with similar quotes from notable figures of the day. But there have been as many feet inserted into mouths with the advent of new technologies. The biggest recent example I can think of was a TV interview by the then-CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, who laughed at the launch of Apple’s iPhone. “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” Oh dear…
“Rapid Adoption” Might Not Be All That Rapid
But let’s go back to those early 20th century technologies – the telephone, radio, TV, cars, planes, and so on. We’re often led to believe that today’s digital technologies are being adopted by the masses faster than any other. Yet some of those earlier technologies reached 50% penetration (the generally-accepted measurement yardstick for this kind of stuff) quicker than things like personal computers, or smartphones.
“Not true!” I hear you cry. “Smartphones are the fastest adopted piece of technology in human history! It’s true!”
The problem with all those bar charts showing (for example) TV taking 30 years to reach 50% adoption, is that most of them are using the wrong starting-point. The date something was invented is usually very different from the date you and I could buy it. The first public demonstration of television was by John Logie Baird in 1926, but the first commercially manufactured electronic TVs didn’t appear until 1934. If you want to compare like with like, then you need to say that the internet was invented in 1969 and the cell phone in 1973.
But regardless of whether the naysayers have their dates right or wrong, there’s a bigger conversation at hand. The issue is less about the simple adoption of technology and more about how the technology pervades into our daily lives.
Technology Adoption Isn’t Speeding-up. It’s Go to the full article.