|Chillicothe, Missouri, paved and tidy for the automobile,|
was also home of the first sliced bread in 1928
It’s relatively easy to measure the speed of technology adoption. We know, for instance, that there were 8,000 automobiles on American roads in 1900 and about 25 million in 1950. Both quantitatively and intuitively, that’s rapid growth. Likewise, U.S. smartphone penetration in 2005 was 20.2% and in 2014 was 50.1%, another technological blur.
What’s harder to measure is the speed at which technology changes our behavior, or our ideas about how the world should work. Speed, penetration and adoption are a function of numbers and can be charted. Behavior is a function of opinion and emotion, and for that we need narrative.
In 1950 journalist Clyde Brion Davis (1894-1962) wrote a colorful biography, The Age of Indiscretion, about growing up at the turn of the 20th century in Chillicothe, Missouri. Davis’s folksy story of the coming of the automobile provides a textured narrative for how one small Midwestern town adapted.