|Chillicothe, Missouri, paved and tidy for the automobile,|
was also home of the first sliced bread in 1928
Sometimes it's 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. That’s very rapid growth for a capital item in the first half of the twentieth century. Likewise, U.S. smartphone penetration in 2005 was 20.2% and in 2014 was 50.1%, another technological blur.
Speed, penetration, and adoption are a function of numbers and can be charted. What’s harder to measure is the speed at which technology changes our behavior, or our ideas about how the world should work. 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 twentieth 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 to one of the big ideas of the modern world.