Guess What's the Fastest-Adopted Gadget of the Last 50 Years

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When we think about the great consumer electronics technologies of our time, the cellular phone probably springs to mind. If we go farther back, perhaps we'd pick the color television or the digital camera. But none of those products were adopted as fast by the American people as the boom box.

That factoid is a sidenote in a 2011 paper that I stumbled on from the Journal of Management and Marketing Research. Author Tarique Hossain included data from the Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Association on the "observed penetration rate at the end of the 7th year" for all the technologies listed above. Hossain's data didn't include the starting years for these seven-year periods, but I'm assuming they mark the introduction of the boom box in the mid-1970s. That would mean that by the early 1980s, more than 60 percent of American households owned some kind of portable cassette player with speakers attached to it. 

It's worth noting that all five of the fastest-adopted technologies were for the consumption of entertainment not communication or production of media.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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