Evolution of Communication

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By: Danielle O’Dwyer

The earliest humans communicated by talking, hand gestures, or drawing on cave walls. But as our need to venture to more remote places, along with our ever growing hunger to know more grew, other means of communication were created. Smoke signals, drum beats or town criers (who stood in town squares to shout out important news), could carry information over short distances. Family events were passed on through stories retold by an elder or ballads and songs. Written messages and letters could be sent over long distances, but they could only travel as fast as a horse could gallop or a ship could sail.

News-sheets were also another mean to communicate with people; they were handwritten and posted in public places. The earliest known daily news-sheet was Acta Duirna (Daily Events) which was believed to have started in Rome. The first printed newspaper was a Chinese circular called Dibao. The Chinese began printing Dibao from carved wooden blocks around 700 A.D. In England the printed news book or news pamphlet usually related to a single topical event such as a battle, disaster or public celebration. By the 1640’s the news book had taken the form of a newspaper.

Over time the need for faster means to carry information over any distance grew. The Telegraph which was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1940’s answered this need; Morse code was tapped out on a key and a switch opened and closed an electric circuit. It used short and long sounds to represent letters, numerals and other characters. By 1866 telegraph cables under the Atlantic Ocean linked North America and Europe, but the telegraph was an impersonal way to convey information that required the sender to have access to a telegraph office. But then Alexander Bell invented the telephone in 1876; like the telegraph, the telephone allowed people to communicate over long distances through linked wires from their homes. But unlike the telegraph, the telephone could send human voices for the first time. Not everybody was able to read or able to afford a telephone though, this created a need to be able to share information in other ways, the invention of the wireless telegraph, or radio, in the 1890’s by Guglielmo Marconi made this possible. Radio didn’t become popular though until 1906 when Lee De Forest created a way to send music and speech over radio waves – Which then created spoken news reports and radio serials (soaps).

The telephone took the place of the telegraph and television begun to take the place of radios. By the 1930’s people could send pictures and sound by radio waves. In 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started the first regular television broadcast. Radio and television signals could only travel over short distances though and could be blocked by mountains and buildings, so the 1960’s saw the invention of communication satellites that orbited the earth; these could receive and send radio and television signals over varying distances. The telephone also underwent changes in the 1970’s from a unit that needed cables to a portable unit called a cellular phone, able to transmit voices via radio waves. Also in the 1980’s many businesses were using facsimile (fax) machines, to send documents over telephone lines.

Even faster ways to communicate and send messages were still sought after though. This inspired the invention of a digital computer, which was constructed in 1939 by John Atanasoff. By the late 1960’s computer technology had improved and by the 80’s there was colour and animation. The U.S government developed the internet in the late 70’s to early 80’s, and at about the same time scientists developed fibre-optic cables which carried telephone signals as rays of light. The internet allowed people in distant places to communicate through computers. The public application of the internet called the ‘World Wide Web’ was invented by a British programmer Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990’s. The web was designed as a way of sharing text documents and pictures.

The computer brought about advancements in cellular phones by adding memory chips. This enabled people to send and receive text files, pictures and instant messages.

Communication and the many ways we can communicate may be something we take for granted. But this need to share information has been the birth place for many great inventions in the past and I am sure it will be for many more in the future.

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