It is not the voice that commands the story; it is the ear.Italo Calvino
We witness the birth of something new in every century, every era, and every decade. So much has evolved in the last 5 years for instance; imagine the proportion of change that we have witnessed, as a collective race, in almost every area of our lives. One important area that has been talked about the most, and that too, for obvious reasons, is the evolution of Communication.
Speaking from the point of view of an evolutionary spectrum, one of the main reasons humans have moved further with time is because they have the ability to communicate with one another better than the other species.
Since time immemorial, we have invented and constantly reformed several forms and means of communication. The range goes from drawing smoke signals in the wild to just saying things out loud today and having machines do our jobs for us. Here’s a gist of what the evolution looks like.:
Purpose and meaning of communication
Before we dissect how it’s evolved, it’s important to understand the significance of communication.
In a nutshell, communication is the process of delivering a desired piece of information to the intended party in the manner that it’s supposed to reach them.
Here’s an article we wrote that might help you get an insight into why communication is important in life.
When it comes to the purpose of communication, there’s more than one.
History has been witness to a lot. Part of the purpose of communication is to preserve the experiences we’ve had as a species in order to grow. Now, this can happen through several means like written and oral.
Most families have tales or traditions that have been passed down orally through generations. More importantly, a lot of scientific, historic, political, economic progress has been documented for us to strive for a better future.
All of this documentation is fruitful because our ancestors figured out a way to communicate them to us.
Not entirely disconnected from the last point, the archives of information we’ve stored through centuries with the process of communication can solve a massive proportion of our problems.
Imagine if the discovery of gravity remained relevant to its own century. Imagine the loss the scientific community would have had to bear.
Besides, open communication today also solves a lot of other problems like disagreements in personal and professional relationships. People talking about how they feel to resolve their self-concepts has given rise to the institution of psychological therapy.
Communication enables understanding. Be it a business-related deal you’re cracking with another party, or whether you’re trying to have an honest conversation with your partner.
Because part of communication is having conversations. We all have had to go through some pretty tough conversations in our life. However, don’t you think you’re much better off communicating things as opposed to not communicating?
Communicating leads us to understand the opposite party and their perspective, and vice versa.
Wanna know the difference between communication and conversation? Check out this article we wrote about it.
We often use metaphors in our daily language in order to communicate meaning. These metaphors are analogous to an already existing system of knowledge that we hold with us.
In order for the concept of metaphors to make sense, this ‘system’ has to stay in place. This is how communication also serves the purpose of making references.
Evolution of Communication
Communication has taken different forms since the beginning of time, rather than since the concept of communication took birth, in whatever little capacity. From cave paintings and murals to social media messaging, the act of passing on information has been the foundation of humanity; it’s what keeps us going.
Not only did these different “forms” serve their purpose in their times, but they also have been proving to be, time and again, an undying source of inspiration for the newer mediums of communication that the human race has been working on in the 21st Century.
It is noteworthy to remember that language is one of the most amazing discoveries of our kind. It’s a means through which communication happens. In ancient times, before the discovery of language, cave paintings served their role.
The evolution of communication took place through many stages, they are listed below in a progressive order.
Cave paintings, in fact, are the oldest record of human communication to have been known. Can you imagine, paintings and sculptures on walls and ceilings of caves are how people used to talk?
The original purpose of cave paintings was to mark territory or to document records. And when we say they’re the oldest record of communication found, we mean the last traced form goes back to 30,000 BC.
Apart from visual communication through paintings and carvings, ancient people started to communicate using symbols and other elements of nature. Fire and smoke being the primary ones. Smoke signal communication is known to have been primarily used in China around.
There’s evidence that indicates that guards in 200 BC used to use smoke signals to communicate messages along The Great Wall of China.
Pigeon post, the act of using homing pigeons to send across messages over long distances isn’t something that was only practiced in ancient times; we resorted to that medium of communication again during the World War.
This brings forth the obvious reasons to incorporate this practice again, that being lack of suspicion from the enemy, faster delivery, and saving human lives.
It also highlights the essence of how the messages were formulated and delivered using this medium; due to limited space on the pigeon’s body and due to other logistic concerns, the scope of delivering long paragraph messages was next to impossible.
Next came a slightly more organized form of communication, the postal system. It is said that in 2400 B.C. Egyptians used to send out decrees using courier services.
A postal system basically involves delivering written documents or small packages to its desired receivers. Till date, the postal system in place avails its services to people across the world.
Ever since a written medium of communication was established, it didn’t take long for newspapers to be the next radical thing. The German-language publication of Johann Carolus in Strasbourg in 1605 was the first newspaper. The first English-language newspaper was published in Amsterdam in 1620.
The impact and importance of newspapers became diminishingly low at the turn of the 21st century. However, it doesn’t excuse the power it held through some of the toughest social times so many countries across the world have faced.
Newspapers served a vital role in spreading political agenda and strengthening campaigns even during the Indian Independence struggle. They were used as means to spread social awareness and enlightening the masses to prepare for freedom from the shackles of the British government.
All in all, they were a great source of information and probably the fastest way to spread social reforms and political agendas to a wide audience at the same time. However, they do not hold the same importance today. Keep reading to find out the reasons.
A slightly more modern medium whose first transmitters were developed by Italian Guglielmo Marconi is Radio. It makes use of electrical signals and transfers information using radio waves. It was discovered in the late 19th century and quickly picked up enormous commercial value. It came to be used on a large scale for commercial purposes in 1900.
Like a newspaper, radio also became a medium to quickly deliver news or any sort of information for that matter, to a large audience at one time. It became a convenient source for political vendetta and reforms. The one thing about radio that made it an ‘evolved’ means was its conversation-based medium.
It soon evolved into a two-way communication process where radio was not just used to deliver entertainment/information to its users, but also incorporate them into the process by having listeners call the studio and have an on-air experience themselves.
Next came the telephone. By far, the most personalized form of a communication device. Scottish Alexander Graham Bell invented it in 1876. It converted human audio signals into electrical signals and then transmitted via cables.
In the old days, when this invention was still in its primitive stages, there were a lot of technical challenges that came with its use. Early telephones were locally powered. They were leased in pairs to a subscriber, who had to arrange for a telegraph contractor to construct a line between the caller and the receiver.
The process was so tedious that people had to wait for hours sometimes to make long-distance calls. Not to mention the big hole it burnt in their pockets. Making calls was a privileged and expensive affair after the discovery of telephones. Even after making calls, they had to restrict themselves to limited words and time because of the prices per minute.
In the olden days, people invented pseudo languages, secret codes, complex symbols just for the sake of ease of deliverance and reduction in the risk of getting caught.
Today, we too have similar patterns of delivering messages, wherein we resort to using shortcuts and abbreviated versions of long words or phrases such as PFA for “Please find attached” or ASAP for “As soon as possible”.
Although our reasons for doing this are very different from those of the earlier times, the fact that we do invent and use short forms of various sorts and abbreviations on a very large scale says a lot about our roots and priorities.
Speaking of priorities, these days, rather, since the last five years, our pattern of prioritizing and attending to information has changed to a very large extent.
I am referring to our attention spans here. An attention span is a period of time for which you can focus on a particular stimulus before your mind wanders off.
We have reached a point in the commercial market where marketers actually dread anything that’s more; more in terms of paragraphs for a product’s description or a general message to send out to the masses; more is considered unhealthy for marketing and promoting something because people can’t handle “more” anymore.
Complicated? Let me make it simple for you: According to scientists, the attention span of an average human is equivalent to that of a goldfish. More so, some say that it is even less than the attention span of a goldfish!
All this leads to the most recent form of communication: Digital communication
But before that, here’s a recap of the graph of communication’s evolution:
The role of technology in communication
Digitalization has not only modified the methods of communication, but it has proven to be a revolution in the ways we connect. It has completely changed the definition of communication in the last few decades.
It started with the invention of the telephone in the 19th century, however, that seems like a distant, primitive discovery from where we stand today.
From a time when people used to wait days for a telephonic line to connect to another one and be able to talk to their loved ones, we now live in a time where making gestures in the air or simply saying the words “call” can connect us to people across the world.
Conclusion and the future of communication
It is truly fascinating to think of how utterly instant communication has become. Tools like Alexa and Google assistant today help us with the minutest tasks. Right from making a haircut appointment to getting your groceries delivered to your doorstep, it’s all machines.
Science is working on aspirations that have already given rise to a generation of AI, we use robots every single day without knowing it. Moreover, we have come to DEPEND on it.
While technology has surely brought accessibility to our lives, it has certainly taken away something precious. The ‘human’ element of communication. It has made life easier, but at what cost? There is something so intimate about writing a letter to your loved ones in your own handwriting, but I barely see people holding a pen today. Even signatures have become digital for heaven’s sake.
This evolution has robbed us of some humble ways of communication. The question remains then, will this course of evolution lead to a complete wipeout of human existence? Where communication remains, but the means become the communicators themselves?