Computers, the greatest media tool? Adoption rates suggest otherwise.

Even if we give computer usership the benefit of the (statistical) doubt, 15 to 30 percent of the population still doesn’t even bother to use the most important and powerful communication tool since the telephone. And the PC’s been around for more than 30 years! Televisions, by contrast, were in 70 percent of U.S. homes within 10 years, and now have an adoption rate of 98 percent (according to the CEA). DVD players were in 82 percent of households within nine years of introduction. There’s a conclusion to be drawn here, perhaps, about the (lazy) priorities of some Americans: that they’d rather sit back on the couch and watch The Chronicles of Riddick than clean up the grammar in the Wikipedia entry on the Boxer Rebellion. But I think that there is more going on here than just a battle between passive entertainment and active engagement with cyberspace….The computer has always been an awkward consumer electronics device. Unlike televisions, telephones and DVD players, PCs require constant updates and regular maintenance. And they have a failure rate that is astoundingly high. Furthermore, until recently, objects like TVs didn’t change that much. If you bought a color television in 1975, you could pretty much be assured that it wasn’t going to be rendered obsolete in five years. And if some new television technology came along, it was going to deliver a noticeable improvement from what you already had (if you liked “I Love Lucy” on your black and white TV, you were going to love “The Flintstones” in color). Computer users, on the other hand, must constantly upgrade their hardware just to keep pace with software and services. What’s more, because of their inherent complexity, personal computers still have a steep learning curve, even though they are at a relatively mature stage of their evolution.

Read Computer Adoption: Buzzword from Popular Mechanics

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Filed under History of New Media, Media Evolution, Technology, our Mirror, When New Meets Old

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