Then & now: communication through the ages


In 2015, getting in contact with someone is hardly ever a problem. From calling, text message and email to Snapchat, Skype and Facebook, there are a multitude of ways to chat. This generation is known for being in a constant state of interaction, but it wasnt always this easy.

Think about Romeo and Juliet. If only they had iMessage, then maybe they wouldnt have found themselves in such a pickle. Granted, weve come a long way from counting on messengers on horseback to deliver the memo.

There’s been a lot of advancement in how we stay connected. Its strange to think that there was once a time without even telephones — when the only way to talk to old friends was with pen and paper. Yet, it was once a reality.

Heres a look back at what it looked like, and the evolution of how we communicate.

Smoke signals
Used by Indigenous tribes in the 1500s

Smoke signals are actually one of the oldest forms of long-distance communication. Native tribes had their own signalling systems and soldiers in Ancient China would send smoke off the Great Wall during war.Even today, nothing quite says “help” like sending up some smoulder.

Pigeon post
Used by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago

These squawking birds werent always just an accessory to cobblestone streets and street meat stands. Thousands of years ago, pigeons were used as a means of communication. Pigeons would carry messages on tiny pieces of rolled up paper in a metal canister attached to their feet. They would be sent to their desired destination, sometimes by train, where they could then be given a response to fly back with.

Fun fact: pigeons actually have an internal compass that allows them to find their way home from thousands of kilometres away.

Snail mail
Earliest surviving piece of mail from 255 B.C.

Postal services have been around since humans learned how to write. Through the ages, transportation of snail mail has included dogsleds, donkeys, balloons and submarines. In 2006, Canada Post delivered about five billion pieces of mail, though annual volume has since dropped to below four billion. Nowadays, mail is usually junk, but it makes receiving the rare handwritten letter all the more special.

Electrical telegraph
First American electrical telegraph invented in 1836

Telegraphy revolutionized communication by bidding goodbye to physically transported messages. First formally introduced in the 1830s and  1840s, electrical telegraphy used electrical currents sent through long wire — sometimes spanning across an ocean — to deliver messages across long  distances. Morse code was developed by assigning dots and dashes to certain letters to spell out messages.

Another fun fact: Nokias original text message — or rather, short message service — tone was actually “SMS” in morse code.

First telephone patented in 1876

Ah, the telephone — a Canadian legacy. The first long-distance phone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson, on Aug. 10, 1876, from Brantford to Paris, Ontario. Watson would also receive the first transcontinental phone call in 1915, where Bell said the same thing he said in 1876: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” When Bell died in 1922, around 14 million telephones in the U.S. and Canada stopped ringing for one minute in his memory.

Text messaging
First text message sent in 1992

The first person to receive a text message was simply wished a “Merry Christmas”.

The concept of sending short, quick messages was first proposed by a man named Friedhelm Hillebrand in 1984. His idea that most sentences and questions fit within 160 characters lives on in todays 160-character text length and 140-character tweet length.

A study by Experian Marketing Services estimated that 18 to 25 year olds today send an average of 1,914 texts a month, but that may not even account for the tons of messages sent through WiFi rather than cellphone carriers. Now, a mobile phone isnt a necessary part of sending a text message. Text messaging over the internet is gaining ground with services like iMessage, WhatsApp and even Facebook messenger, which allow texts to be sent over devices such as tablets and iPods.

Video messaging
First camera phone sold in 1996 in Japan

The introduction of video calling changed the way people interact. Skype, for example, has probably salvaged many long-distance relationships. But apart from conference calling and video-chatting, apps like Snapchat and Periscope are changing the communication game. People can now rapidly interact face-to-face in small snippets, whether it be a single moment or emotion. They can also add elements to communication that don’t exist in real life — who doesnt love a good Snapchat filter?

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