The Speed of Technological Diffusion

There are many different forms of measuring technological change and diffusion. A couple are Moore’s Law — named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore — which states that the number of circuits in a microchip doubles every two years. Another is the Bass Curve, which describes an S-curve taking into account the effects of word-of-mouth and advertising into how fast new products penetrate the market.

When I want to remember how fast technology moves, nothing stuns me more than reminding myself of these three facts:

  1. A ten year old who might have read about the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 would have very possibly watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969 — as a 76 year old.
  2. Their first flight went a distance of 120 feet. A Boeing 747 is almost twice as long as Orville’s first flight, at about 230 feet.
  3. The speed of their first flight was about 6 miles per hour. When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier (about 807 miles per hour) in 1947, Orville Wright, who piloted that first flight was alive to see it.


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