One of the most interesting slides, I thought, in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2011 post was the eleventh – technology adoption curves in the twentieth-ish century in the US.
1. This chart makes it seem recessions have little to do with technology adoption in the US. Even though the technologies tracked on the chart seems incomplete – what about the 1970s? – adoption seems to keep on goin’ regardless of macro-level economic trends. Could this be because tech adoptions is “even more macro” than a macroeconomic condition?
2. Are we really to believe there was no “new” technology diffusion between 1950 and 1990? I thought this was the US’s Golden Age of Growth. (Should we include penicillin, nuclear power, or desktop computers on this chart?)
3. The fast rise of TV is even more striking when compared with the seemingly-slower rises of desktop internet and mobile internet.
4. We’re only at 80% (desktop) internet penetration after ~20 years. By contrast, radio twenty years in was probably around 82% and TV at 95%. It’s striking because it’s slow, and it’s striking because I’m myopic – I look around and see Facebook and Twitter icons and just assume everyone in the US has internet. In fact, one out of five people don’t have internet access.
5. There’s all sorts of feel-good reasons to protect public libraries in the US, but I increasingly believe their free internet access (shared desktops and wifi) might be the most important. I’d put money on shared desktops being the most heavily-used resource in any urban library; I’d put even more money on the most-accessed site being YouTube.
6. It’s been less than a decade, granted, but mobile internet penetration is a paltry ~58% – and this is when manufacturers seem to be giving away devices. The service layer still seems to matter.
7. Let’s say there are 312 million Americans today. That means there’s approximately 187 million mobile internet users and 250 million desktop internet users. Meeker’s presentation has all sorts of stats from countries beside the US – the crux, basically, is that while there’s many people online today, “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
8. Half the people who don’t have access to desktop internet don’t have access to mobile internet – okay, that’s credible perhaps – but there’s an equivalent number of people who don’t have access to mobile internet but do have access to the desktop internet. How many of these people do we think are under 18? Over 65? Or more concerning: how many are between the ages of 5 and 60 (very many), and how many will need to use the internet in the workforce (very very many, I’d assume)?
9. Why do we care so much about technology adoption? Well, it’s interesting for it’s own sake, and yes, large markets imply potential profits for entrepreneurs and investors. On a broader public-policy level, there’s some evidence of persistent effects: Diego Comin, Bill Easterly, and Erick Gong tried to show that technology adoption in 1500 explains some of the wealth of nations today. It’s an admittedly tall task, but there’s much that’s intuitive (but not inevitable) about the conclusion.
10. Despite the gloomy picture I painted above, Meeker’s chart actually makes me optimistic. We’re actually quite early in the internet technology adoption cycle, and there’s likely a whole lot more to come.