Historical adoption curves

Cristian Ispir
2 min readNov 27, 2023

We know almost nothing about the adoption curve of ancient and medieval technologies.

We have some understanding of the adoption curve of early-modern technologies, and we know a fair amount of modern innovations. We know every little detail of 20th and 21st century innovative technologies.

The innovation adoption curve, often attributed to Everett Rogers, illustrates the process by which new ideas, products, or technologies are embraced by a population over time. The curve is typically divided into five segments: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Innovators, constituting a small percentage, are the first to embrace a new concept. Early adopters follow, driven by a willingness to take risks. The early majority represents the pragmatists who adopt once the innovation has proven its value, while the late majority and laggards are more cautious, adopting only when the majority has done so.

Before the 18th century, it was almost impossible to draw an adoption curve for any new technology.

If we take the example of the printing press (and you know how much I love this), then we can speculate about the curve, but we can’t get close enough to the evidence.

We know there were early adopters following the first-wave of innovators, Johannes Gutenberg and his close associates. They were the ones to experiment with the novel invention, taking the risk to invest time and resources.

As the technology matured, the early adopters emerged, including scholars, religious institutions and most remarkably local thought leaders and reformers that recognized the potential for disseminating knowledge and political and religious ideas more widely and efficiently.

The early majority consisted of educational institutions, as well as professionals like lawyers and doctors, who embraced the printing press as a means to reproduce legal documents and medical texts.

Then came the late majority comprising a broader segment of society, including merchants and individuals engaged in various trades, who saw the practical advantages of printed materials for their businesses. Laggards, like scribes, religious institutions and chanceries were reluctant to abandon traditional methods, clinging to their ancestral trade for as long as they could.

In the end, everyone got onboard.