I was fiddling around some more with n-grams, and I came across a surprising result. So surprising, in fact, that I am deeply suspicious of it. As you can see from the graph, I searched for "radio," "television," "computer" from 1920 to 2000. The oddity is the powerful surge of "computer" in the 1950s and 60s. If n-grams are supposed to be a tool for the quantitative study of culture, surely there is something badly off here.
As I'm sure most of you know, late least year Google announced a new research tool known as the Ngram Viewer. (An n-gram is any sequence of items--in this case words--of length n; so a 2-gram would be any word pair). The tool was released in conjunction with the publication of a paper in Science that made use of it to explore the history of culture.