Communication is a vital aspect of human lives because people are naturally social beings. More importantly, long-distance communication posed a greater challenge to the early man but due to technological advancements in the field of communication, the threats have been overcome. Before major inventions in communication, people relied on smoke signals, drums messengers, and even carrier pigeons to convey their messages. Over the years, communication trends have changed and currently, people have instant feedback when they pass messages. During the nineteenth century there was a scramble among scientists to develop advanced ways to allow for fast and distant communication. Communication technology has therefore transformed history in many ways since the 1800s to the current world where almost everything depends on information.
One major contribution of communication technology to history is that it helped in replacing human beings who were previously acting as messengers. After the Italian scientist Alessandro Volta invented the battery cell in 1800, other technologists attempted to use voltaic currents to send messages (Headrick 103). The first practical systems were advanced in England and the United States (US). For instance, in 1837, two Englishmen, Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke installed a five-wire telegraph line along the Great Western Railway to avert cases of accidents (Headrick 103). In that year, the American technologist, Samuel Morse personalized his code which enabled the transmission of messages by sending electrical impulses in form of dashes and dots to represent alphabetical symbols (Headrick 104). Morse opened the first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore in 1844. The electric telegraph was such an achievement that many lines were built in different parts of North America and Europe. As evident, the use of the electric current in telegraph lines did remove humans as the conveyor of messages as was in prehistoric times.
Communication technology was developing and to curb constant breakdowns in telegraph lines, telephones were invented. In 1876, the telephone was patented by an American, Alexander Graham Bell, a teacher of those who was unable to hear and speak. Bell stated that he had called one Mr. Watson who was distant to go and see him over a mouthpiece gadget, and to his amazement, Watson was there declaring that he had understood Bell’s message (Headrick 115). Bell’s instrument was not sophisticated and what made it useful was the establishment of a network which various users would call each other. Undoubtedly, this needed enormous investments in wires and exchanges and therefore employing many individuals as switchboard operators. Starting in the early twentieth century, unmanned switches allowed customers to dial numbers without an operative’s assistance (Headrick 115). Through telephone invention, communication was completely revolutionized in Europe and also the difficulty that came with the laying of telegraph cables was vanquished.
Because of the need to share information from any part of the world, technological advancements in the communication field gave rise to a new enterprise, that was broadcasting. By the 1920s, point-to-point radio connected the world nations and sea-ships. In the 1930s, low-priced shortwave radios enabled the remote places to be equipped with transmitters and people could afford receivers capable of tuning in the world (Headrick 119). As such, broadcasting started in 1920 with station KDKA in Pittsburgh, constructed by the Westinghouse Company (Headrick 119). The mid-1920s witnessed many radio stations mushrooming first in the US, and then other parts of Europe, as manufacturers made cheap receivers and sold them to customers who were keen on sports, soap operas and music (Headrick 119). Further, broadcasting in the US was supported by the enterprises that sponsored programs in exchange for the right to intermix their programs with commercials for their products and services. In so doing, they encouraged the consumer culture of people spending money for advertised products. Broadcasting has therefore grown to its full potential because of communication devices such as receivers which were pioneered in the twentieth century.
Once radios became popular in the 1920s, scientists worked harder to invent ways through which pictures and sound could be transmitted. The main challenge that was faced by the inventors was that the transmission of pictures involved more information per second than was the case with sound (Headrick 138). However, the scientific investigation on television was stalled because the equipment and the expertise were directed at the manufacturing of radars, a period preceding Word War II (Headrick 138). After the war, broadcasting resumed in the US and therefore television became indispensable. Between 1949 and 1951, the number of television sets rose from 1 million to 10 million worldwide, and a hundred million in 1975, in the world (Headrick 138). Accordingly, television sets revolutionized information transmission by involving pictures and hence gaining an advantage over radios.
Technological inventions in the communication field continued to impact human lives in different ways. Indeed, after World War II great strides were made in the information technology sector in the developed nations such as the America and Britain, to mention a few. In particular, the year 1962 witnessed the launch of the first commercial telecommunication satellite, Telstar that began to transmit television broadcasts globally (Headrick 137). This brought transformation in many parts of the world because, in the 1990s, many countries in the world had joined the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), which operated satellites covering the globe (Headrick 137). From 1993, a system of global positioning satellites enables an inexpensive handheld gadget to determine an individual’s location within a couple of yards, an extraordinary precision in the land or water (Headrick 137). Without a doubt, the world had entered the era of instantaneous global telecommunications.
Innovations in any field need periodical improvements, and that is why despite having radios, telephones, television sets, scientists had to develop fiber-optic cables. This specific device had lasers that emit pulses of light that could carry information without obtrusion or blurring (Headrick 140). This technology spread quickly and in 1988, a union of AT & T, France Telecom, and British Telecom laid TAT-8, a fiber-optic across the Atlantic Ocean that could carry 40,000 simultaneous conversations (Headrick 140). During the 1990s fiber-optics linked various world nations and therefore reducing long-distance communication costs because of the enormous carrying capacity of the cables (Headrick 140). Notably, the fiber-optic cables have enabled sharing of information through the internet to be efficient since its inception.
In summary, communication technology has changed history in ways that affect human lives as an individual or as a nation. The first remarkable transformation is in the replacement of human, as a messenger, by wires and electric current to relay a message as was seen in the telegraph lines. Telegraph lines became more unreliable because of their constant breakdowns, therefore scientists invented telephones. In the early years of the 1920s, international trade had thrived and the need to create an advertisement for products was important, giving rise to broadcasting through radio receivers. Further, the inclusion of pictures alongside sound necessitated television invention in the 1940s, which boosted broadcasting in addition to radios. Telecommunication continued to grow further and providing real-time feedback by technological advancements such as satellites and fiber-optic cables. Technological inventions in the communication sector have therefore made the twenty-first century be called an information era.
Headrick, Daniel. Technology: A World History. Oxford University Press, 2009.