Adoption Rates of Media Technologies Over Time

The Internet has, in some form or another, been in existence since the early 1970s, (Foerstel, 1998, p.42) though its capacity has since been modified to gratify consumer demands. As the advantages associated with this technology are conveyed to the public, many are electing to replace or complement traditional methods of communication with this. As an example of its increasing acceptance by the early majority, email usage has grown from insignificance in 1990 to 80 million in 1997, (Tapscott, 1998, p.23) with industry experts predicting that 50 per cent of the U.S. population will use email as a communications tool by 2001. (Figure from Effective Email Marketing Conference, as appearing in the Online Advertising Discussion List - http://www.o-a.com) When these figures are plotted onto a graph, an S-curve emerges, which is a trend that highlights many innovation take-up models, such as the diffusion of television or radio throughout society.

Don Tapscott observed a similar pattern of growth, stating that "The Net is permeating US households almost as fast as television did in the 50s", (Tapscott, 1998, p.22) while predicting that 40 per cent of U.S. households will be online by 2000. This indicated that while the technology certainly hasn't reached relative total uptake, its growth has recently surpassed the point of critical mass in most western nations, thus establishing a significant new media form.

What is interesting about the Net as a technology is that it has the potential to become not a distinct new medium, but a tool of media and technological convergence. As a result of this fact, information industrialists whose specialties are grounded in potentially competing traditional media act as change agents in projecting the relative advantages associated with this new form of communication. Its rapid diffusion through community facilities, such as public libraries, has reduced hindrances involved with trialability and observability, leaving only compatibility and complexity as limiting factors, which affect underdeveloped and ideologically-conflicting societies most prevalently.

Irving Fang's Timeline of Communications History, reveals a particularly poignant trend in regards to its scaling, with fewer notable innovations developed in the 3000 years B.C. than in the past decade. Books, for example, took some 2000 years to move from conception to critical mass. As the timeline progresses, this stage can be seen to contract.

This global trend of innovation development, if graphed, would in itself form an S-curve similar to those used to model the uptake of individual innovations. The concentration of recent technological development and its continuing exponential growth is directly attributable to the fact that prior communications technologies enable the exchange of ideas, needs and feedback to take place between various members of society. Without effective communications methods in place, the ancient Greek, Chinese and Phoenician civilisations obviously faced greater adversity in communicating the benefits and needs associated with the adoption of various technologies.

The current age of information hunger has established a situation whereby the smallest technological development can create ripples throughout the 'early adopters' of the world. Since prior developments have also paved the way for newer modifications, complexity becomes a less threatening factor, and relative advantages of technology adoption are easier to convey to a media and technology-literate public.

Written by Joshua Smith. © 1998

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