2. ‘But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.’
Evolution of Communication
As civilisation continues to evolve, so does the technology in which we use to communicate. What we have come to notice is that the most basic forms of communication are consistently progressing into the more advanced and complex systems we have today. Today we find ourselves living in what has become known as the information age as various communication and information technologies continue to invade our homes as well as schools, workplaces and even ourselves. This is true because if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be here accessing or reading this blog post! We are so caught up in these communication networks that we never really give much thought as to how they got here to begin with as well as why we are finding ourselves no longer relying on the more traditional forms.
The following essay will focus on firstly the history of communication along with a definition of traditional intermediaries before moving on to a detailed analysis of technical convergence and the impacts it has had and continues to have on the methods in which we communicate today, providing examples of two linked key innovators in the communications revolution, the iPhone and Twitter, and how exactly they have had an effect on the information age in which we are now living in.
To begin, let us define the term traditional intermediary. To be intermediate means to be in between two things, therefore in regards to communication, a traditional intermediary refers to an existing medium used to deliver a message from its sender to the recipient. Before the information age, without such mediums it was almost impossible to communicate. For example, without ancient mediums such as stones, plaques or tablets, words could not be written. Without a telephone, one could not communicate with another from a distance unless it was delivered by foot, however there were limitations of physical transportation such as speed, cost and time. Nathan Ensmenger stated here that “Only by eliminating this dependence on physical movement—by abstracting the informational content of a message from its physical medium—could communications networks truly transcend the limitations of time and space” (Ensmenger, N. 2006). It wasn’t long after this issue arose that solutions began coming into play. One of the first solutions to enable to movement of messages was through telegraphy in the 18th century. This medium involved the transmitting and movement of information via the form of visible light.
Telegraphy in the 18th Century
From this moment onwards, slight advancements continued to be created. Telegraphy became the electric telegraph. As the historian Steve Lubar has suggested here, “telegraphy was the high tech industry of the late 19th century, creating new industries, new wealth, and a new culture of innovation”. (Lubar, S. 1993).
By the end of the 19th Century, it was evident that the communications revolution was well underway as information was being mechanically transmitted from one medium to another, however it didn’t stop there and therefore it seemed as though the revolution had only just begun. Communication technology continued to develop and in 1870, the telegraph became the telephone whereby verbal speech was transformed into an electrical signal that was then transmitted to the recipient at the other end of the line. In the 1890’s the groundwork was laid for television, wireless telegraphy and radio as a result of the development of electromagnetic radiation.
Along with the 20th century came the digital revolution, which has taken this concept of communication and information to its very peak, converting almost all traditional forms of information such as text, image and sound from analogue to digital as a result of technological convergence. Writer Steven Wells defines technological convergence as “the tendency for different technological systems to evolve towards performing similar tasks” (Wells, S. 2009). The introduction and development of the Internet in 1969 was and continues to be perceived as a key milestone in the growth of information technology. On the October 29, 1969, computers at Stanford and UCLA connected for the first time on the Arpanet network. Following the establishment of the Arpanet network came the development of the email in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson. 1977 brought along with it the first PC modem by Dennis Hayes and in 1982 the emoticon was born and used after a joke was made. By 1987 there were around 30,000 hosts on the Internet, and in 1991 the very first World Wide Web page was created. It was from this moment on that the Internet became commercialized and as a result, the very first news story was broken online in 1988 rather than through traditional media. The 2000’s bought on the development of other major online innovators in communications including Google, Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter as well as the iPhone and the Mobile Web.
Before the Internet, people already had a medium that allowed for them to communicate and instantly get in touch – the telephone, and shortly after, the mobile phone. However, when the world went online, so did the mobile phone. This brings me to my first key innovator in the communications revolution, that is, the iPhone and it’s mobile web application. The iPhone has become an integral part of daily life since its introduction in 2007 as we are currently in the communication revolution; we are therefore seeking instant contact with others. This is where the iPhone comes into play as its delivers accessibility, mobility, technology and convenience for those wanting to remain in touch and has therefore had major impact on society. For example, 78% of business people are using their phones to check email. The ability of consumers to access their email via their mobile devices reveals that they no longer need to be at home using their PC as their medium for communicating or sending information through emails with others, let alone going to the post office and posting your mail. The iPhone also provides its users with instant messaging features therefore eliminating the need to use a telephone to engage with others and share information, especially if the sender requires a quick answer off the recipient. Face-to-face communication has also become digitized through the iPhone’s recent feature, Facetime. By using Facetime, users are able to engage in a video-based interactive call where each caller can see each other on their screens resulting in a more personal and intimate environment where the callers can feel almost as if they are in the presence of one another. The advantage of such a feature is that it enables users to communicate face to face without actually being at the same place. This has also eliminated and replaced the traditional intermediary of communication via physical movement mentioned earlier in this essay.
The iPhone additionally provides its users with various applications available for download. For example, the application for Channel 10 provide users with information regarding television shows including air-times, episode summaries, new season dates etc. By having this option, it seems almost unnecessary to pull out the old television guide and flick through the pages until you find information on the show you want. Not only can this process be time consuming, but the traditional print version of the television guide is now becoming almost outdated, in a sense, unless of course you do not own an iPhone or have access to the Internet. The application HeyTell also allows users to send instant voice messages to each other by holding down a button whilst speaking, almost like a walkie-talkie. Once you let go of the button, the voice message sends instantly. The benefit of this feature is that it is extremely quick especially if you want to say something urgently without having to dial the person and wait for the call to connect. These examples reveal that since the introduction of the iPhone, consumers no longer need to communicate via traditional mediums such as posting and sending written mail or watching the news on television as these can be done on the iPhone as it acts as a medium in itself which allows them to multitask and communicate in more ways than one
The video below is a quirky look at the evolution of communication dating back to the earliest days of mankind.
Twitter is another new form of online communication that arrived on the scene in 2006 and was basically introduced as a quicker and more convenient form of blogging. Blog posts are particularly lengthy at times, therefore, twitter provided online users with a medium in which they could break down there thoughts and opinions into much smaller chunks. What this medium enables is fast processing and delivery of these posts creating the interplay of speed and quality. By following these short abbreviated posts from friends, you get a glimpse of what exactly they are doing or their daily routine and therefore would not think to grab the phone and make a phonecall asking how their day is going as you have already read it. Alex Iskold made the following statement in his own blog, “People are collaborating on Twitter in real time. They are discovering news, watching each other and getting advice”. (Iskold, A. 2007) An example of this is the famous hashtag. A few weeks ago when the death of Osama Bin Laden was officially announced, the majority of the population reported to twitter to see in fact if the news was true. Within 5 minutes of the announcement, users had created various hash tags that was used to bring users together to discuss his death. Once users follow a certain hash tag, it allows them to track and watch things as they are occurring no matter where in the world they may be. People following the hash tag were posting and sharing live videos, links to articles, live statements, other websites and images related to the topic and so by the time the evening news had aired at 6:00pm, Osama Bin Laden’s death was pretty much perceived as ‘old news’. What this shows is that people no longer want to wait for the evening news to be informed in detail about what has occurred that same morning. Instead they want to know about it as soon as it happens and continue following it on twitter as live updates are constantly being made right then and there.
Journalist Steven Johnson made this very interesting statement on the changes over-time in the ways in which his colleagues would converse. “Twenty years ago, the ideas exchanged in [a] conversation would have been confined to the minds of the participants. Ten years ago, a transcript might have been published weeks or months later on the Web. Five years ago, a handful of participants might have blogged about their experiences…”. (S. Johnson, 2009) Today, its a conversation via single tweets. The full article can be read here.
In conclusion to this blog post, we can quite clearly see that the communication evolution continues to invade and change our lives. Earlier mobile phone models were used so people could check what was going on in their personal lives by checking and making calls, reading text messages and emails from others. Nowadays with the development of new communication technologies, we are using our phones to check on and distract ourselves with the lives of others by reading what they are doing or where they are. The internet – originally introduced as a platform that allowed for students to share documents, now you can share and watch television, watch the news, send instant chat messages,video call and even communicate with the other side of the world in the blink of an eye as a result of modern innovation. As Steven Johnson puts it, “here we are — millions of us — sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another”.(Johnson, S. 2007)
Information age definition – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age (accessed 3rd June, 2011)
Nathan Esmenger – ‘The History of Communication (April 4, 2006: accessed 3rd June, 2011)
‘Telegrapgy’ definition – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telegraphy (accessed 3rd June, 2011)
The Digital Revolution – http://www.designhistory.org/Digital_Revolution.html (accessed 3rd June, 2011)
Steven Wells – ‘What is Technical Convergence?’ – http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-technological-convergence.htm (accessed 4th June, 2011)
Twitter hashtags – http://twitter.pbworks.com/w/page/1779812/Hashtags (accessed 4th June, 2011)
Alex Iskold – Technology Blog: ‘Evolution of Communication: From Email to Twitter and Beyond” (May 30th, 2007: accessed 6th June, 2011)
Steven Johnson – “How Twitter will Change the way we live” (5th June, 2009: accessed 7th June, 2011)
Image: ‘Visualising Communication’ – http://www.pdviz.com/the-evolution-of-communication (accessed 7th June, 2011)
Youtube video: ‘Evolution of Communication’ by FiaTheGreek – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJjvsGBjy2U (1st May, 2010: accessed 9th June, 2011)