The History of Human Communication by Chris Bowman


Estimated Birth of Human Speech, or sound communication

Approx. 200,000 BC

Historians and Archaeologists will be the first to admit that there is no hard evidence pointing to the exact date that humans began communicating with language. However, through the study of fossils around the world, Archaeologists and historians have gathered enough information to agree on an estimation starting point and place. Asia and Africa, by consensus, are the most popular choices for the origins of language.

The Visual and Symbolic – Cave Paintings

30,000 BC

Thirty radiocarbon datings made in the Chauvet cave located in the Ardeche valley in southern France, have shown that it was frequented at two different periods. Most of the images were drawn during the first period, between 30,000 and 32,000 BP in radiocarbon years. Some people came back between 25,000 to 27,000 and left torch marks and charcoal on the ground. Some human footprints belonging to a child may date back to the second period.

The Sumerians develop cuneiform writing – pictographs of accounts
written on clay tablets. The Egyptians develop hieroglyphic writing.
“Sumerian writing is the oldest full-fledged writing that archaeologists have discovered. The Ubaidians may have introduced the Sumerians to the rudiments of writing and numerical calculation, which the Sumerians used for calculating and to keep records of supplies and goods exchanged. The Sumerians wrote arithmetic based on units of ten – the number of fingers on both hands. Concerned about their star-gods, they mapped the stars and divided a circle into units of sixty” (Web).

“Hieroglyphs were called, by the Egyptians, “the words of God” and were used mainly by the priests. These painstakingly drawn symbols were great for decorating the walls of temples but for conducting day to day business there was another script, known as hieratic This was a handwriting in which the picture signs were abbreviated to the point of abstraction
Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and can be read from left to right or from right to left. You can distinguish the direction in which the text is to be read because the human or animal figures always face towards the beginning of the line. Also the upper symbols are read before the lower” (Web).

The Written Tradition

Approx. 3,500 BC - Approx. 2,900 BC

What follows are some of the most profound innovations in the field of writing.

Phoenicians develop the first alphabet and thus communicable and comorehensive language based on sound.

Approx. 1,050 BC

"The Phoenicians developed the alphabet circa 1400-1250 BC in order to communicate with the diverse cultures and tongues of their maritime trading partners. It was the Phoenician alphabet that was widely received and readily adapted in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean world, as it was only 22 letters based on sound, as opposed to the myriad of symbols in cuneiform and hieroglyphics prevalent at the time. The words phonic and phonetic have the same root as the word Phoenicia" (Web).

The very first postal service - for government use in China.

Approx. 900 BC

"Since good communications were clearly essential for governing the extensive empires of the ancient world, it is not surprising that among the earliest historical references to postal systems were those concerning Egypt about 2000 bc and China under the Chou dynasty 1,000 years later. It was probably in China that a posthouse relay system was first developed and was brought to a high state of development under the Mongol emperors. The great Persian Empire of Cyrus in the 6th century bc also employed relays of mounted messengers, served by posthouses. The system was favourably described by the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon. The admiration of the Greeks was natural since their political divisions inhibited the growth of a coherent postal system, although each city-state possessed its corps of messengers" (Web).

First recorded use of homing pigeons used to send message - the winner of the Olympic Games to the Athenians.

Approx. 776 BC

"In the ancient Greek religion, the white dove was sacred to Aphrodite, also known as Venus, Goddess of Love. The ancient Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, from 776 BC until 393 AD, when Christian Emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic Games as pagan. At the conclusion of the Olympic Games, held every four years, homing pigeons were sent to the villages to announce the winners to the villages, where the heroes were welcome with olive branches and celebrations" (Web).

First wooden printing presses invented in China - symbols carved on a wooden block.

Approx. 305

"Nearly 600 years before Gutenberg, Chinese monks were setting ink to paper using a method known as block printing, in which wooden blocks are coated with ink and pressed to sheets of paper. One of the earliest surviving books printed in this fashion — an ancient Buddhist text known as "The Diamond Sutra" — was created in 868 during the Tang (T'ang) Dynasty (618-909) in China. The book, which was sealed inside a cave near the city of Dunhuang, China, for nearly a thousand years before its discovery in 1900, is now housed in the British Library in London" (Web).

Newspapers appear in Europe.

Approx. 1450

"The history of newspapers is an often-dramatic chapter of the human experience going back some five centuries. In Renaissance Europe handwritten newsletters circulated privately among merchants, passing along information about everything from wars and economic conditions to social customs and "human interest" features. The first printed forerunners of the newspaper appeared in Germany in the late 1400's in the form of news pamphlets or broadsides, often highly sensationalized in content. Some of the most famous of these report the atrocities against Germans in Transylvania perpetrated by a sadistic veovod named Vlad Tsepes Drakul, who became the Count Dracula of later folklore" (Web).

Johannes Gutenberg invents a printing press with metal movable type.

Approx. 1455

"Like Bi Sheng, Wang Chen and Baegun before him, Gutenberg determined that to speed up the printing process, he would need to break the conventional wooden blocks down into their individual components — lower- and upper-case letters, punctuation marks, etc. He cast these movable blocks of letters and symbols out of various metals, including lead, antimony and tin. He also created his own ink using linseed oil and soot — a development that represented a major improvement over the water-based inks used in China.

But what really set Gutenberg apart from his predecessors in Asia was his development of a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Adapting the screw mechanisms found in wine presses, papermakers' presses and linen presses, Gutenberg developed a press perfectly suited for printing. The first printing press allowed for an assembly line-style production process that was much more efficient than pressing paper to ink by hand. For the first time in history, books could be mass-produced — and at a fraction of the cost of conventional printing methods" (Web).

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce achieves the first photographic image.

Approx. 1814

"Born in 1765 in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce enjoyed a comfortable, middle-class upbringing. After careers teaching and serving in the military, he returned home in 1801 to manage his family estate, Le Gras. Niépce developed an interest in science when he began working with his brother, Claude, on various experiments and inventions" (Web).

"When the craze for the newly invented art of lithography swept France in 1813, it attracted Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's attention. His trials with lithography led to what Niépce later termed heliography and resulted in the earliest known surviving photograph made in a camera, which he produced in 1826 or 1827" (Web).

Alexander Graham Bell patents the electric telephone.

Approx. 1876

"On March 7th, 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for his revolutionary new invention–the telephone.

The Scottish-born Bell worked in London with his father, Melville Bell, who developed Visible Speech, a written system used to teach speaking to the deaf. In the 1870s, the Bells moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where the younger Bell found work as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf. He later married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard.

While in Boston, Bell became very interested in the possibility of transmitting speech over wires. Samuel F.B. Morse’s invention of the telegraph in 1843 had made nearly instantaneous communication possible between two distant points. The drawback of the telegraph, however, was that it still required hand-delivery of messages between telegraph stations and recipients, and only one message could be transmitted at a time. Bell wanted to improve on this by creating a “harmonic telegraph,” a device that combined aspects of the telegraph and record player to allow individuals to speak to each other from a distance.

With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, Bell developed a prototype. In this first telephone, sound waves caused an electric current to vary in intensity and frequency, causing a thin, soft iron plate–called the diaphragm–to vibrate. These vibrations were transferred magnetically to another wire connected to a diaphragm in another, distant instrument. When that diaphragm vibrated, the original sound would be replicated in the ear of the receiving instrument. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message–the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you”–from Bell to his assistant" (Web).

Rise of radio and film.

Approx. 1920 - 1930

"In 1895, a young Italian named Gugliemo Marconi invented what he called “the wireless telegraph” while experimenting in his parents' attic. He used radio waves to transmit Morse code and the instrument he used became known as the radio in the 1920's" (Web).

"In 1889 or 1890, Dickson filmed his first experimental Kinetoscope trial film, Monkeyshines No. 1, the only surviving film from the cylinder kinetoscope, and apparently the first motion picture ever produced on photographic film in the United States" (Web).

"The history of film began in the 1890s, when motion picture cameras were invented and film production companies started to be established. Because of the limits of technology, films of the 1890s were under a minute long and until 1927 motion pictures were produced without sound" (Web).

"The first eleven years of motion pictures show the cinema moving from a novelty to an established large-scale entertainment industry. The films represent a movement from films consisting of one shot, completely made by one person with a few assistants, towards films several minutes long consisting of several shots, which were made by large companies in something like industrial conditions" (Web).

"The year 1900 conveniently marks the emergence of the first motion pictures that can be considered as 'films' - at this point, film-makers begin to introduce basic editing techniques and film narrative" (Web).

Rise of TV.

Approx. 1950

"Few inventions have had as much effect on contemporary American society as television. Before 1947 the number of U.S. homes with television sets could be measured in the thousands. By the late 1990s, 98 percent of U.S. homes had at least one television set, and those sets were on for an average of more than seven hours a day. The typical American spends (depending on the survey and the time of year) from two-and-a-half to almost five hours a day watching television. It is significant not only that this time is being spent with television but that it is not being spent engaging in other activities, such as reading or going out or socializing" (Web).

"Between 1953 and 1955, television programming began to take some steps away from radio formats. NBC television president Sylvester Weaver devised the "spectacular," a notable example of which was Peter Pan (1955), starring Mary Martin, which attracted 60 million viewers. Weaver also developed the magazine-format programs Today, which made its debut in 1952 with Dave Garroway as host (until 1961), and The Tonight Show, which began in 1953 hosted by Steve Allen (until 1957). The third network, ABC, turned its first profit with youth-oriented shows such as Disneyland, which debuted in 1954 (and has since been broadcast under different names), and The Mickey Mouse Club (1955Ð59; see Disney, Walt)" (Web).

The American government releases control of the Internet and WWW is born - making communication at light speed.

Approx. 1994

"Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989" (Web).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a British computer scientist. He was born in London, and his parents were early computer scientists, working on one of the earliest computers.

After graduating from Oxford University, Berners-Lee became a software engineer at CERN, the large particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists come from all over the world to use its accelerators, but Sir Tim noticed that they were having difficulty sharing information.

Tim thought he saw a way to solve this problem – one that he could see could also have much broader applications. Already, millions of computers were being connected together through the fast-developing Internet and Berners-Lee realised they could share information by exploiting an emerging technology called hypertext.

In March 1989, Tim laid out his vision for what would become the Web in a document called “Information Management: A Proposal”. Believe it or not, Tim’s initial proposal was not immediately accepted. In fact, his boss at the time, Mike Sendall, noted the words “Vague but exciting” on the cover. The Web was never an official CERN project, but Mike managed to give Tim time to work on it in September 1990. He began work using a NeXT computer, one of Steve Jobs’ early products. Mike Sendall ultimately gave the green light to an information revolution" (Web).

"The World Wide Web ("WWW" or simply the "Web") is a global information medium which users can read and write via computers connected to the Internet. The term is often mistakenly used as a synonym for the Internet itself, but the Web is a service that operates over the Internet, just as e-mail also does. The history of the Internet dates back significantly further than that of the World Wide Web" (Web).

In May 1994, the first International WWW Conference, organized by Robert Cailliau,[25][10] was held at CERN;[26] the conference has been held every year since. In April 1993, CERN had agreed that anyone could use the Web protocol and code royalty-free; this was in part a reaction to the perturbation caused by the University of Minnesota's announcement that it would begin charging license fees for its implementation of the Gopher protocol.

"In September 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the European Commission. It comprised various companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. Berners-Lee made the Web available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The W3C decided that its standards must be based on royalty-free technology, so they can be easily adopted by anyone" (Web).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, seen above, invented the World Wide Web in 1989.