“The great myth of our times is that technology is communication.” is a famous quote by Libby Larsen, a Grammy award-winning American composer. In today’s world, it’s easy to forget that people communicate with each other. Technologies are tools that make communication possible. Still, all the remarkable communication inventions have changed humankind. We wouldn’t be here without them.
The history of communication-related inventions is as long as the history of humans. Communication is a fundamental part of the human race. Our ability to share knowledge and communicate has made us so dominant as compared to other species. Let’s go through some of the greatest inventions related to communication.
Writing made it possible to communicate without personal interactions. A written message didn’t require that the participants existed at the same time. Not even in the same place if the message was on a portable item. The oldest written messages which still exist are thousands of years old. Those messages exist on stones. Probably, other materials were also used but those have disappeared over time.
Paper is light-weight. Papers can be piled into books, so the messages can be longer. As compared to stones or ceramics, it is easy and fast to write on paper. Paper can be made of many plant-sourced fibers and the production process is simple. Papers could be made by hand without any advanced resources. Writing became more available and easier for people.
The printing press enabled copying messages to wider audiences. The volumes of written text grew fast to unbelievably high. Communicating and delivering knowledge became cheaper. The printing press created mass communication and enabled the born of the press. When there were more written texts available, more and more people learned to read. Knowledge is power, and now the knowledge spread to the mass.
The electrical telegraph helped people to communicate rapidly. Even when they were located far away from each other. This early text messaging technology was the beginning of an electrically connected world. The almost real-time communication became intercontinental for the first time. As the number of telegraph offices increased also the public started sending telegraphs. Yet, the electrical telegraph wasn’t a mass medium on a large scale.
The telephone made spoken communication location independent. Talking to someone located elsewhere made long-distance communication conversational. Both parties could easily react and respond. It was easier to ensure that messages were delivered and understood correctly. The telephone got popular slowly but steadily as technology and equipment developed.
The radio made it possible to communicate verbally in distance in real-time. While a telephone needed wires to work, radio communication was wireless and portable. The technology also enabled radio broadcasting. It was an instant way to deliver a message to a large group of people efficiently.
Television brought vivid visuality to everyday communication. Photographs on newspapers and moving pictures (i.e. movies) in theaters were already familiar to many. The television brought moving images to people’s homes. Both radio and television broadcasting have had dual roles right from the start. They both provided the latest news and entertained.
Mobile phones removed location restrictions from the telephone. A mobile phone is personal, while all the people on the location shared a traditional landline telephone. It’s estimated that half of the world’s population have a mobile phone. Combining written and spoken communication, a mobile phone enable versatile communication between individuals.
The internet connects people, both strangers, and friends. For the first time, you could send a message to many people at the same time. Texts, documents, files, voice, images, videos, and all the combinations move online. Communication can be instant or eternal, public or private. First, the internet was tied to a computer. Then a smartphone was created by combining the internet with a mobile phone. This removed even the location restriction. The growth in the number of smartphones has been staggering. Close to half of the world’s population already has a smartphone.
Social media removed invisible country borders from the internet. Before social media, most internet users talked only to people in their country. Or they interacted only with foreign people they already had some connection to. Social media gathers people around the world. Everyone uses the same online services and platforms. International social media connects individuals, brands, and organizations. The communication can be private or public.
So, what’s next? Still, social media tend to enhance communication within a language silo. All the great communication innovations have been language-dependent. Before all the participants must have had a common language. It doesn’t matter how fantastic communication technologies we have if we can’t understand. Language barriers prevent understanding the messages and conversations.
The next great communication invention is already happening. Machine translation has been developed for decades already. The translation quality is becoming very good. Today automatic translation technologies are close to breaking language barriers. Smartphones, the internet, and machine translation is a powerful combination. You can communicate with all the online people – anywhere and anytime.
In history, people often have felt that everything has been invented. Humankind has come a long way and communication inventions are amazing, but the world will never be ready. Our ancestors would never have been able to imagine how we communicate today. Can you imagine how people will communicate in the future?
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, an English science-fiction writer, futurist, and inventor, once said: “No communication technology has ever disappeared, but instead becomes increasingly less important as the technological horizon widens.”
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