There are compelling reasons to be optimistic about access to information and technology. Until very recently in human history, access to information was scarce and primarily available only to a small elite. In contrast, Americans live in an era of information abundance. The average household has access to more news, research, music, and television than even the wealthiest households could access a mere generation before.
This chart uses government and industry data to display household penetration rates for various technologies reported from 1970 to 2012.
The chart shows that not only do new technologies regularly enter the mainstream, the rate of technology adoption has actually accelerated since the rise of digital and Internet distribution in the mid-1990s.
Many technologies, after achieving near-universal penetration rates, are even being supplanted by newer technologies. For example, cable television and VCRs peaked in the mid-1990s, as substitutes like Internet access, DVDs, and satellite television gained adoption. MP3 players didn’t even reach 50 percent adoption before being replaced with smartphone music storage and mobile streaming applications.
The US government has encouraged competition and the rapid deployment of technology by generally avoiding prescriptive regulations and trade protectionism. A “permissionless innovation” policy towards the Internet, in particular, enables the frequent adoption of new digital technology and media.