“The telephone is of very limited use if only you and your best friend have one. If a whole town is on the system, it becomes much more useful. If the whole world is wired, the utility of the system is phenomenal. But in the predigital age, it could take many years for Metcalfe’s Law to bear fruit. It was not until 1931 that telephone companies put a dial on the instrument, finally cutting the tremendous cost of employing switchboard operators and extending the reach of the system. First, telephone use had to reach a critical mass, or number, of users. So it is with any technology.

Until a critical mass of users is reached, a change in technology only affects the technology. But once critical mass is attained, social, political, and economic systems change. This is what authors Downes and Mui call the Law of Disruption. It took about 10 years for radio to reach critical mass in the U.S.; television took longer. Each of these technologies transformed family, economic, and political structures once they reached critical mass. ”

Charles Boyd, Department of Management, South West Misouri State University