Hey. We’re communicating! Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything on the internet came from somewhere. When you read something online, you’re receiving thoughts and ideas from thousands of miles away.
The internet and social media have revolutionized the world. But the history of telecommunication doesn’t begin there. They’re the perfect example of the way technology evolves to fill our needs.
So keep staring at your chosen communication device as we take a look at the evolution of communication.
Since the invention of language, we’ve tried to relay messages over long distances. You can even think of spoken language as the world’s first complex communications system. It allows us to transmit thoughts and ideas between each other over distance.
We’ve used various tools to communicate across long distances over the centuries, from smoke signals to reflective mirrors. Eventually, we developed more codified systems like semaphores.
But lacking much beyond some very loud voices and visual signals, telecommunications remained at the same level of tech for millennia. Though pivotal, its use remained confined primarily to the military. It was impractical to relay more than a few simplified messages, restricting its use to crisis situations.
It took electricity to bring telecommunications into a new, accessible age.
“What Hath God Wrought?”
Early telegraph systems were limited in scope, unsuitable for mass communication. At first, they were manual devices, with later experiments into chemical-based solutions.
With the increasing uptake in electricity, inventors soon devised the electromagnetic telegraph. This was much easier to use and more practical for mass production. They opened the door on the kind of potential electrical communication could unleash.
Like many methods of telecommunications before them, telegraphs and the telegrams they sent went on to provide a vital service in military situations.
For many, they had the unfortunate distinction of carrying messages of death and loss, as they were used to inform families of fathers, sons, and brothers killed in action during the world wars.
Thought groundbreaking, telegrams remained limited in practical use. They could only send short messages, and two-way communication was slow.
“Mr. Watson, Come Here”
Take a moment to remember that no new technology will survive if it doesn’t offer something truly new. While telegrams iterated on the potential for relaying messages over long distances, the telephone achieved something the world had never seen before.
Telephones offered normal, everyday people the chance to have real-time conversations over any distance. This was revolutionary, moving us from an era of letter-writing into true connectivity — for the first time in human history.
Though awkward to use at first, the consumer market soon worked its magic. Telephones continued to advance in a feedback loop of popular demand and improving tech.
The telephone is now so ubiquitous that most of us carry one in our pocket. Endorsements for a new technology don’t come much stronger than that.
“Is It Snowing Where You Are?”
Like the telephone, radio also brought something new to everyday people. It enabled anyone to receive news and entertainment directly into their homes. Combined with the phone, this gave us our first glimpse of a world where questions like “What is the speed of social media?” have become relevant.
Radio also represented the largest platform for transmitting ideas since the printing press. And, as listeners didn’t need literacy skill, it was also more accessible.
Radio still plays a key role in our daily lives today. Among other things, it has evolved into the Bluetooth technology that remains popular today.
The internet has proved to be one of the most powerful communications technologies ever developed. Unlike telephony, it can carry visual, textual, and audio information in almost any desired format. Information on the internet is also persistent, so anyone can access and use it any time.
Smartphones placed all of that communicational power into our pockets, creating an always-on, connected world. It’s now trivial to talk to someone on the other side of the world, where once it was unimaginable.
Faster internet speeds and wireless technology has evolved to make the internet a fact of life.
Phones had been around for a while before the internet came along. But as the internet evolved, so did they. Their evolution into mobile devices marked another step toward a connected world.
Cell phones saw their first text message in 1992, marking the rapid growth and uptake of both cell phones and internet-based communication throughout the 90s.
The advent of the smartphone changed them still further. These brought desktop-style operating systems to handheld devices, opening the way for complex apps. They expanded the phone from a text and call device into a kind of digital communications multitool.
Faxes also came about as an extension of telephony. They helped to plug the gap between the physical and digital. However, most of the functions of a fax machine have since been replaced by newer technology.
The independent inventions of the cell phone, the internet, and other digital technologies only tell half the story. Our age of communication goes much further. Its secret lies in connecting the dots to form a joined-up telecommunications network.
SIP trunking and other VOIP protocols are one example. They route telecommunications through the internet (you can ask these experts more about it). Many businesses now run all their phones in this way. Many businesses also use apps and mobile devices in place of desktop functions.
Apps take many everyday problems and solve them by applying communications technology, changing the way we live our lives.
In many ways, the evolution of communication has been toward a kind of telecommunications singularity. With our homes now becoming communication hubs via smart home devices, the trend looks set to continue.
The Evolution of Communication Explained
The evolution of communication is long and storied — we’ve only scratched the surface here. But this should give you some idea of how far we’ve come and even where we’re likely to end up next.
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