The Evolution of Communication
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
Just as the speed of information has evolved into something completely unimaginable by our ancestors (or even grandparents), so too has the number of ways in which we can communicate expanded.
How Human Communication Has Evolved
In the past 100 years, human communication has come farther than it did in the first eon of human existence. Thanks to modern technology, our species has taken such a massive leap into the future that we’re able to send messages into deep space – though we don’t yet know who, if anyone, might be receiving these messages. Since the time of cave paintings (our earliest found paintings, in France, date back to 30,000 BCE), communication has evolved from crudely drawn, rudimentarily conveyed information into (literal) lightning fast internet capabilities via fiber optic cables. And, just as the speed of information has evolved into something completely unimaginable by our ancestors (or even grandparents), so too has the number of ways in which we can communicate expanded.
Want to tell your mom about the new podcast you just started? You could send a DM, instant message, or text message (across at least a few dozen social media platforms and messaging apps); you can call her, Skype her, or FaceTime her. You can even send her the link on a potato – more than 3 companies currently offer spud-based messages.
How far has communication come? Check out the evolution of communication below:
Paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France date back to about 30,000 BCE. Other early paintings have been found in Indonesia, Romania, and South Sulawesi.
Around 200 BCE, the Chinese used smoke signals to send messages between guard stations along The Great Wall of China. Fifty years later, Polybius (a Greek historian), created an alphabet using smoke signals.
Having discovered that pigeons separated from their mates will fly any distance back home to their mate, the Romans began using carrier pigeons over 2,000 years ago. They continued to be used to convey messages (primarily between soldiers) through both World Wars.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany in 1440, allowing communication to take a giant leap forward. By the 16th century, newspapers had begun to spread across Europe.
The development of radio followed a few key discoveries in the field of electromagnetism – starting with wireless waves research in the 1830s, Hertzian waves in 1888, and wireless power by Tesla in 1893. The invention of the radio is generally attributed to Italian inventor and electrical engineer, Guglielmo Marconi in the 1890s.
American artist, Samuel F. B. Morse, started developing what would become the code named after him in 1837. Morse code is used to send messages via a sequence of dots and dashes (transmitted as either tones or lights). With Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail, they were able to produce an electric telegraph system using the code and received a patent in England the same year.
Not too long after the invention of the telegraph, communication evolved again with the
invention of the telephone in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell (he later founded AT&T in
1885). While Bell wasn’t the only inventor working on transmitting audio via electronic signals, his immortal words, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” are consecrated into telephone history. Interesting, research into video conferencing began almost immediately at AT&T, who would include it in their Picturephone service in the 1970s.
Preceded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency’s ARPANET in the 1960s (a network connecting four university computers), the interconnected network (i.e. the internet) of IPs we know today is a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, advanced by a number of individual researchers and governments around the globe. The World Wide Web we use today was first developed by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in the 1980s at the CERN research center in Switzerland.
Technically, email (ahem, e-mail) preceded ARPANET – albeit offline – and was invented by Ray Tomlinson in 1972. He’s also responsible for our use of the @ [at] symbol. The first electronic mail software was developed by John Vittal in 1975. Yahoo and Hotmail were among the first companies offering email services on the World Wide Web.
On December 3, 1992, 22-year-old Neil Papworth was the first to send a text message to a mobile phone. Using a personal computer in the UK, he sent a “Merry Christmas” to his friend via the Vodafone network, who was at a party to celebrate the momentous occasion. The first telecommunications company to offer short message service (SMS) was Finnish service provider, Radiolinja, in 1994.
Our newest form of communication is also our most popular: social media. According to Nielsen data, we spend an average of 14 minutes per day texting or emailing, compared to
the over 2 hours we spend daily on various social media platforms. Six Degrees, created in 1997, is often recognized as the first social media site, allowing users to create a profile and connect with friends. MySpace and Photobucket were popular in the early 2000s, but the development of Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006) soon took over. Today, Facebook remains the most-used social platform, followed by YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter.