There is an established narrative these days that runs along the lines of “Ooh. Isn’t everything happening much more quickly these days?” Looking at some of the numbers, I reckon the answer is “no”…

The chart above shows the adoption rates for various technologies.

The internet (red line) was first used as a term by Vint Cerf in 1974. By around 2003 about half of UK households were connected. By 2013, 83% of households had a fixed line connection.

The IBM PC (dark blue line) was first delivered back in 1981. It (and it’s compatibles) reached 50% penetration in around 2000. By 2012 81% of homes had (at least) one.

The first commercial mobile phone, the Motorola DynaTac, was brought to market in 1983. It reached 50% of homes by 1999, and 87% of homes by 2012 had (at least) one.

All those adoption lines look fairly similar – a long gestation followed by a period of faster growth taking us into the 80% bracket where things levelled off. Broadband (the murky brown line) was commercially available in 2000, and hit 50% by the middle of that decade, but could be regarded as just an evolution of the old dial-up services (similar, no doubt, to what we are now seeing with “superfast” fibre connections).

If we then look at social networks (green), smartphones (cyan) and tablets (light brown) they appear to be happening from a more immediate growth perspective. I’ve taken the year zero for each as being 2004 for social (LinkedIn and Facebook founded), 2007 for smartphones (the first iPhone) and 2010 for tablets (iPad 1).

The growth of these services and devices seems to be following a very similar trajectory to the adoption of mobile phones and the Internet. Like broadband, it then depends on a definition of a starting point… is the first smartphone the iPhone, an earlier Windows or Nokia device, or maybe even something like the PalmPilot or Apple Newton? With a tablet, should we start with the iPad, or the Windows Tablet PC that came 10 years before? Did social networks start with the BBSs of the 1980s? With those as inception points the adoption lines would be even more similar.

The point of all of this? When technology companies start to play the “you need us because it’s all happening so quickly” they are using scare tactics. When technology departments start caterwauling about how quickly everything is changing, they’ve been sleepwalking for the past two decades. When anyone talks about unending exponential growth potential, ask them when the “J” will turn into an “S”.

(All the data taken from ONS and OFCOM for UK adoption rates).

2 thoughts on “Is it really happening that quickly?

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