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The Telecommunication Revolution

amitie's picture

The history of telecommunication may have begun with smoke signals and drums beats, but today we seem to have become a high-tech civilization that forgets many of its most remarkable innovations throughout history.

Let us take a few minutes to reflect upon three revolutionary inventions which show how very important the history of telecommunication is as a part of our larger culture of communication.

"The human voice carries too far as it is… and now you fellows come along and seek to complicate matters..."  -Mark Twain on the invention of the telephone.

This complicated “carrying” of the human voice across space and time by means of technology goes largely (if not completely!) unnoticed in an age where we demand easy and quick information as well as communication.

Revisiting some of the technologies and platforms we celebrated a few years agocan show us just how far the telecommunication revolution has come.


The Telegraph – celebrating the Instant.

Eric Costin and Wireless Telegraph apparatus. Transmitting

           Photo courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of textual messages without the hassle of a physical exchange of a letter, for instance.

The invention of the telegraph highlights our need to stay in touch and get news despite geographic barriers.

American inventor Samuel F. B. Morse is to thank for conducting the first successful experiment with an electrical recording telegraph in 1837.

The use of Morse code allowed for signal pulses to travel down electrical wire and for messages to be decoded; forever changing the speed of long distance interaction to “Instant.”

The international use of the telegraph has sometimes been referred to as the "Victorian Internet".

And shouldn’t we all be grateful for the viability of communicating at a distance today!

While the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was completed in 1866, allowing the realisation of transatlantic telecommunication, these transatlantic telegraph cables have been replaced by transatlantic telecommunications cables.

And so our desire to communicate at a distance has revolutionised modern telecommunications technology as cellphones and IM continue to feed our need for the “Instant”.


Video-telephony – because we crave convergence

Firefox Meeting in Vidyo

      Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morrow

The video-telephony revolution involved the development of many different technologies, including electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television, which enabled the use of live video in addition to voice telecommunications.

Thanks, Alexander Graham Bell, for allowing us to speak to someone in another place in real time using one of the most useful inventions ever made…

But we also want to see who we are speaking to, despite the distance.

With the advent of powerful video codecs and high-speed broadband in late 20th century, video-telephony (or video-conferencing) became a practical technology for regular use.

And why should you care?

Today, many professionals have less need to travel and all the other Average-Joes can enjoy hearing and seeing others on the other end of a Skype call.

So before you dismiss the historical journey of your most-loved technological luxuries, consider life without advanced technological convergence for your every pleasure and need.


6Degrees – Searching for Social

3D Social Networking

     Photo courtesy of Stockmonkeys.

And finally,… Anyone heard of it?

Dating back to 1997, SixDegrees was named after the six degrees of separation concept and allowed its users to create profiles, connect with friends, and search for friends online; defining the social network niche market.

SixDegrees was followed by much more successful social networking models such as Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook, but should be remembered as one of the first instances of a social networking website.

Today, the plethora of social media networks and sites most of us would struggle to part with, even for a day, can be traced back to this long forgotten company.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what current technology will be forgotten in the near future; replace by a more evolved invention?

Our contemporary technological needs - including the desire to communicate instantly, send messages across geographical barriers, using more than just a single medium while also being highly social and networked - have their roots in the development of our culture of communication.

The mind boggles at what could come next!