I created an infographic that shows some key moments in time that significantly changed the way we communicate. Although undoubtedly incomplete, it does give a nice overview of the evolution of communication. What I found most remarkable when putting the list together, was that some techniques that I thought to be relatively new, appeared to be a lot older.
Communication is the first secondary need in life. At least, that’s my theory. Primary needs are what keeps you alive: oxygen, water, food and shelter. Secondary needs are what makes you live. Without communication, there wouldn’t be language, education, or expression of love. Even war is a form of communication, be it miscommunication if you’d ask me.
In the beginning…
Humans are believed to have started using a primitive form of language around two million years ago. For a very long time, our human voice was the main way to communicate, until Aboriginals started to paint on rocks some 60.000 years ago. Another ancient way of expression has been music. The oldest musical instrument ever found is a 43.000 year old flute.
The earliest form of writing is thought to be Jiahu, followed by cuneiform script like Egyptian hieroglyphs, that later became mobile when painted on clay tablets and papyrus scrolls. The Latin alphabet didn’t exist until 700 BC, and the codex (book) was introduced in 200 AD. Monks would hand-write them, until Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, marking the beginning of the Printing Revolution.
“Communication is the first secondary need in life.”
It is likely that nonverbal communication and forms of sign language have always existed, but the oldest reference to hand signs dates from 500 BC. In ancient China, smoke signs were used by soldiers stationed along the Great Wall. But in 150 BC, Greek historian Polybius came up with a true smoke alphabet, best known to be used by Indians. Julius Caesar was among the first to use encryption to exchange secret messages with his generals.
For a long time, foot messengers were sent to deliver important news. Greek soldier Pheidippides is probably the best known of all, dying from exhaustion during the Battle of Marathon. There are indications that Egyptians, Romans and Persians started to train homing pigeons to carry messages over vast distances, but they may not have been used effectively until the 12th century. This early form of airmail remained the world’s fastest communication system for centuries, until Samuel Morse invented the telegraph in 1844.
The printing age
Although the Romans already created news sheets, it wasn’t until 1605 before regular and dated issues on a variety of subjects marked the birth of the newspaper. In 1714, Henry Mill was the first to patent a typewriter. Mass printing took off during the Industrial Revolution, when steam power and rotating cylinders replaced the traditional screw press.
The first image to be permanently captured was in 1826, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented the photo camera. The motion picture camera followed in the 1880s, and in 1925 John Logie Baird invented the television. These developments truly changed the way we communicate, by adding real life pictures to a story.
Long distance communication
The first device that could record sounds was the phonautograph, developed in 1857. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the first electronic telephone, yet another device to have a major impact on communications. The first mobile phone call was made in 1946. The first mobile phone call from a handheld device was made in 1973, by Martin Cooper.
Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio in 1895, but the first audio radio broadcast took place in 1906. In 1843, Alexander Bain invented the fax machine. It only became popular in the 1980s, when smaller and cheaper models became available. Scientists had been experimenting with e-mail since the 1960s, and in 1971 Ray Tomlinson introduced the @ sign to separate user names from domain names.
The digital age
Computers as we know them had been under development for almost half a century, but the introduction of the personal computer by IBM in 1981 meant the greatest breakthrough since the Industrial Revolution. Ten years later, Tim Berners-Lee combined the internet protocol, hypertext and domain names to invent the World Wide Web. Things would never be the same again.
SixDegrees.com is generally recognized as the world’s first social media network, which allowed user profiles, friends listing and user generated content. Cloud computing entered the scene in 1999.
We’ve come a long way since our first conversations two million years ago. I could have added the laptop, Wifi, or smartphones, but I wanted to stick to the most important. If anything major is missing, just let me know!
It’s hard to tell what new technologies will evolve the next ten years, let alone the next two million!