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Communication of ideas is as important as it is because it allows humanity to evolve, share experience, survive even. Communication of ideas had begun with gestures and noises and evolved into instant messages and live translations from all over the world. Although this progress would appear miraculous to scientists from previous centuries, it will evolve into something bigger that we can imagine. In this paper, the history of communication of ideas will be discussed using three various historical events that will help understand the change that happened to it throughout the history.
Communication of Ideas: Brief Pre-History
To understand how ideas were communicated in the era when human civilization could not yet speak, it is necessary to give a definition of the word “idea”. An idea is a thought, a suggestion, or a concept that is formed in the human consciousness; although the ideas do not always deliver new information, they are often expected to do so. The means of communication of ideas can be various: verbal, oral, written, nonverbal. Our ancient ancestors used nonverbal tools such as body language and facial expressions to communicate ideas and information. Later they were able to use what we could call a proto-language to communicate; symbols and drawings, as well as nonverbal communication, were also actively exploited to transmit information. At last, written communication was invented. Here, I would like to discuss a particular historical event that has significantly contributed to the communication of ideas.
Johannes Gutenberg’s famous printing press was a revolution in communication. The press was invented in Germany between the years 1446 and 1450 (Dittmar 2). As the technology diffused across the Europe, the price of books was falling, allowing those who could write communicate their ideas in a much cheaper way than ever before (Dittmar 2). Books were considered a luxury item, available only for the richest, but with the invention of the printing press, they became more accessible to different members of the society. Dittmar argues that print media has significantly influenced the development of numeracy, as well as business education (3).
The printing press brought changes into the life of intellectuals as well. It helped the humanism arise, and played a part in the development of scientific research. It is also stated that the printing press was one of the causes of the reformation that also fostered the intellectual development and critical thinking of the people (Dittmar 3). Forty years after Gutenberg’s invention over a hundred European cities owned printing presses. This event is labeled as revolutionary because it gave access to information to average citizens who were very limited in their knowledge before. Some even suggest that not only the Reformation but also the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were the consequences of this invention. The machine has helped citizens become literate, but it has also provided economic growth to the cities that used it (Dittmar 3).
However, if the invention itself was a positive event, it has lead to certain consequences that are marked as negative, either for particular individuals or entire nations. For example, the mentioned Reformation that led to war in Germany and split in the Church. Less manual labor was provided to the workers who were used to support themselves and their families with this type of work. As any revolutionary invention, the printing press has changed the world significantly, and not everyone approved it.
The inventions that followed were also of the greatest significance to the communication of ideas: pencils were invented about 1500 AD, the telegraph in 1838, the telephone in 1838, and the first computer was invented in 1897, almost one hundred years before the digital revolution that has transformed the humanity’s understanding of communication. Although all these inventions seem to differ from one another, their main aim was the same: to communicate ideas faster and more clearly than the previous inventions could. Both the telegraph and the telephone have had a major impact on the communication, but in this paper, I would like to focus on the latter.
Telephone: Then and Now
As opposition to the telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell created the first working prototype of a telephone in 1876. Although the telegraph was more popular then, the new invention quickly attracted customers and began competing with the Western Union, the nationwide telegraph network in the USA (Wu 16). The Western Union even hired Thomas Edison to design a better functioning device that would compete with Bell’s telephone. However, Bell’s company (AT&T) would eventually buy Western Union’s controlling interest (Wu 16). As it can be seen from this example, the new invention that was not perceived as a rival at first eventually attracted more attention of the consumers and replaced the telegraph.
The similar situation happened to the books that were not perceived as tools of communication. Modern telephones use a wider range of technologies, including the internet, satellites, GSM, and others, to communicate with other devices (Deepak and Pradeep 178). The invention of the telephone has changed the society, allowing direct communication between the individuals and helping create communities based on ideas that would spread these ideas to each other. Moreover, it made business and education communication easier. Distance communication used to depend on writing but now it was also oral, even if the participants of the conversation were from different cities or countries. Mobile telephones allowed our communication to become even faster and to reach people wherever they were. Eventually, smartphones would use the benefits of the Internet, providing the humanity with a perfect and handy tool for communication of ideas.
Although the next major revolution was the digital one, I would like to focus on the invention of television, an era that slowly fades away now, during the regimen of Web 2.0.
Television: Mass Media Revolution
Although the television of today does not have the same impact on the society as the Internet, it has still brought major change, especially in the 1960s. The television was invented in the 1920s but became the primary medium in the 1950s-1960s. It replaced newspapers and other print media, made globalization more possible, and changed the perception of local and foreign (Schneider, et al. 9). Television was able to spread information between the countries, but it also changed communication between families, communities, friends, and coworkers.
The ideas expressed on television were discussed and argued about; it provided new forms of entertainment such as reality shows, live broadcasts, political debates, etc. (Mee and Walker 21). The invention of cassettes and educational channels brought the first forms of distance education along. Ideas and news that were only available for a narrow group of people before quickly found their path to television. In its later, more modern form, television became transnational and took part in revolutions (e.g. the Arab Spring), together with the Internet. It was also proven to bring a sense of familiarity into the lives of immigrants, refugees, expatriates, etc. (Georgiou 17). Thus, the mass communication of ideas and news had become a new form that would later transform into the Internet.
Communication of ideas demands quick responsiveness and flexibility; at first, it only had written or oral forms but later transformed into a combination of those that could cover countries and continents.
Deepak, Gupta, and BS. Pradeep. “Challenging Issues and Limitations of Mobile Computing.” Computer Technology & Applications, vol. 3, no.1, 2012, pp. 177-181.
Dittmar, Jeremiah E. “Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 126, no. 3, 2011, pp. 1-49.
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Georgiou, Myria. “Seeking Ontological Security Beyond the Nation: The Role of Transnational Television.” Television & New Media, vol. 14, no.4, 2012, pp. 1-30.
Schneider, Irmela, et al. Media, Culture, and Mediality: New Insights Into the Current State of Research. Transcript Verlag, 2014.
Mee, Laura, and Johnny Walker. Cinema, Television and History: New Approaches. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.
Wu, Tim. The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Vintage, 2011.