Communication is the key to understanding people, and it’s an important component of human civilization. Over the years, the ways that people communicate have changed a lot: Centuries ago, the only way that people could communicate was face to face, but now, we have lots of different ways to say things to people. With modern technology, we can even talk to people on the other side of the world in real time!
After talking and gesturing, the oldest form of communication is cave paintings, drawings made on the walls of caves more than 30,000 years ago. Symbols used to stand for words started popping up around 10,000 B.C.E., in the form of things like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese characters. A little after 2,000 B.C.E., the first alphabet was created, in which symbols stood for sounds, rather than whole words. Smoke signals were sometimes used as well, as these could be used to send messages over long distances quickly.
- Did Early Humans Communicate With Cave Signs?
- Facts About Hieroglyphics
- Egyptian Hieroglyphics
- Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Message
Written communication over distances began around 2,400 B.C. in Egypt, where government announcements were written down and carried across the country. Persia, China, Rome, and India all created organized postal systems around the same time, and in the coming centuries, the idea would spread all over the world. Sending messages in print became even easier in 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg developed the movable-type printing press. This made it much easier and faster to print multiple copies of things like books and newspapers. This led the newspaper industry to flourish.
- Early American Letter-Writing
- A Brief History of Newspapers
- The Historical Roots of Newspapers
- Postal History
The Telegraph and Radio Communication
Communication went electric in the 1830s, when the telegraph and Morse code were invented. This technology let people send messages over a wire, meaning that they could send a message quickly over a long distance. Meanwhile, scientists were hard at work studying radio waves and how they could be used to transmit sound. In the 1890s, Guglielmo Marconi created the first radio transmission system, which could send a message through the air over a distance of up to 2 miles. At first, radio became an important communication method used to send messages to and from boats at sea. But over time, it would also become a form of entertainment, as radio broadcasts began bringing music into people’s homes.
- Invention of the Telegraph
- The Development of Radio
- A Short History of Radio
- Radio and Congress: Connecting the House to the Home
- How Radio Works
- History of the Two-Way Radio
The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1870s. This technology let people send sounds through a wire over long distances, so that they could actually speak to each other instead of sending Morse code. Telephone services sprung up quickly all over the country.
Now that we could send sounds over a wire, scientists turned their attention to images. The first television broadcast came in 1936, though it would take a few years for the technology to catch on with the public. By the end of the 1930s, only a few hundred people owned a TV. Ten years later, that number had risen to more than two million.
The first computers were invented in the 1940s, but at this point, they weren’t connected to each other. If you wanted to share data that was on your computer, you’d need to make a copy of it and mail it to someone. In the 1960s, the United States government invented the ARPANET, a network that researchers could use to send and receive information. Over the next few decades, this technology would be improved and opened up to the public. This was the birth of the Internet.
At the time, the Internet only had text. You could send someone an email, meaning that you could now write someone a letter without paper or a stamp. But the Internet had no pictures, no videos, and no websites at all. That changed in 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
In the 1970s and 1980s, wireless phone technology was developed, and cellular phones evolved rapidly, from phones big enough to carry in a suitcase to ones you could hold in your hand. In the 1990s, phones got even smaller, and they also got more affordable, meaning that more people could now buy one. The text message was invented, just in case you wanted to use your telephone to send a few words instead of making a call. Soon, this novelty became a staple of everyday life, and phones with keyboards were introduced to make it easier to type in messages.
Then, in the early 2000s, one of the biggest developments in modern communication took place: Phones, text messages, and the Internet were combined to create the smartphone. Today, it seems like just about everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, putting a world of communication at their fingertips, from texting to TikTok.