For as long as humans have been on this planet, we’ve invented forms of communication—from smoke signals and messenger pigeons to the telephone and email—that have constantly evolved how we interact with each other.
One of the biggest developments in communication came in 1831 when the Electric Telegraph was invented. While post existed as a form of communication before this date, it was electrical engineering in the 19th century which had a revolutionary impact.
Now, digital methods have superseded almost all other forms of communication, especially in business. I can’t remember the last time I hand wrote a letter, rather than an email at work, even my signature is digital these days. Picking up the phone is a rare occurrence too— instead, I FaceTime, Zoom, or join a Google Hangout.
When I look back at how communication has advanced over the years, it really is quite incredible…
In 1849, the telephone was invented and within 50 years it was an essential item for homes and offices, but tethering impacted the flexibility and privacy of the device. Then, came the mobile phone. In 1973, Motorola created a mobile phone which kick-started a chain of developments that transformed communication forever.
Early smartphones were primarily aimed towards the enterprise market, bridging the gap between telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), but they were bulky and had short battery lives. By 1996, Nokia was releasing phones with QWERTY keyboards and by 2010, the majority of Android phones were touchscreen-only.
In 2007, Steve Jobs revealed the first iPhone to the world and Apple paved the way for the aesthetics of modern smartphones. Before the iPhone, “flip phones”, and phones with a split keyboard and screen were the norm. A year later, a central application store with an initial 500 downloadable ‘apps’ was launched. Currently, there are over two million apps available in the Apple App Store.
Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on communication, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, two-way interactive video calls, discussion forums, blogs, and social networking.
The internet has made communication easier and faster, it’s allowed us to stay in contact with people regardless of time and location. It’s accelerated the pace of business and widened the possibilities within the enterprise space. It’s allowed people to find their voice and express themselves through social media, YouTube and memes. The internet has connected and divided us like nothing before.
As a byproduct of the World Wide Web, email was introduced to the world in 1991 (although it had been operating years before) and it has vastly changed our lives—whether for better or worse depends on your viewpoint. The first users of the messaging platform were educational systems and the military who used email to exchange information. In 2018, there were more than 3.8 billion email users—that’s more than half the planet. By 2022, it’s expected that we will be sending 333 billion personal and business emails each day.
While email is invaluable and we can’t imagine a world without it, there are tools that are springing up that are giving email a run for its money. Take Slack (an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge”) for example, the company which launched in 2014 has often been described as an email killer. However, while Slack has become the most popular chat and productivity tool in the world used by 10 million people every day, email is still going strong. In recognition of this, Slack’s upgrades have ensured that people who still rely heavily on email are not excluded from collaboratory work.
The first instance of wearable technology was a handsfree mobile headset launched in 1999, which became a piece of tech synonymous with city workers. It gave businesspeople the ability to answer calls on the go, most importantly, while driving.
Ten years ago, the idea that you could make a video call from an item other than a phone would have been a sci-fi dream. Now, with smartwatches, audio sunglasses, and other emerging wearable technology, these capabilities are a part of our daily lives.
Virtual Reality (VR)
The next generation of VR has only been around since 2016, but it’s already shaking up communications. The beauty of VR—presence—means you can connect to someone in the same space at the same time, without the time sink and cost of travel, even if participants are on different continents.
VR also helps to facilitate better communication. In a typical discussion, a lot of information is non-verbal communication which can be transcribed in VR. Voice tone, hesitations, head and hand movements greatly improve the understanding of the participants’ emotions and intents. Plus in VR, all distractions are removed and people can be fully focused on what is happening around them. In fact, MeetinVR claims that there is a 25% increase in attention span when meeting in virtual reality compared to video conferencing.
In addition, research suggests we retain more information and can better apply what we have learned after participating in virtual reality. 3D is a natural communication language overcoming linguistic barriers as well as technical jargon.
5G, the 5th generation of mobile network, promises much faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage, and more stable connections. These benefits will bring about significant improvements in communication. Instantaneous communication will be possible and those patchy frustrating video calls will be a thing of the past.
The average 4G transmission speed currently available for our smartphones is around the 21 Mbps mark. 5G will be 100 to 1000 times faster. The Consumer Technology Association notes that at this speed, you could download a two-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds, versus 6 minutes on 4G or 26 hours on 3G. The impact of 5G will go far beyond our smartphones as it will allow millions of devices to be connected simultaneously.
Looking ahead, there is already buzz about 6G. Although it’s still in basic research and around 15-20 years away, it’s interesting from an innovation point of view. 6G will form the framework of the connected utopia we aspire towards, and with it will come untold improvements in the speed and consistency of our communication.