The invention of the electric telegraph in 1831 was one of the most significant advances in communication history. While posts existed prior to this date, it was electrical engineering in the nineteenth century that had a revolutionary impact.
Digital means have now surpassed practically all previous kinds of communication, particularly in business. I can’t remember the last time I sent a letter instead of an email at work; even my signature is now digital. Picking up the phone is also uncommon; instead, I FaceTime, Zoom, or participate in a Google Hangout.
When I think back on how far communication has come over the years, it’s quite amazing…
The telephone was introduced in 1849 and became a necessity in homes and offices within 50 years, but tethering limited the device’s flexibility and privacy. Then came the cell phone. Motorola invented the mobile phone in 1973, kicking off a series of advances that forever changed communication.
Early smartphones were largely geared at the enterprise sector, filling the void between phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), but they were heavy and had short battery lives. Nokia began producing phones with QWERTY keyboards in 1996, and by 2010, the majority of Android phones were touchscreen-only.
The Internet has had a revolutionary impact on communication since the mid-1990s, including the rise of near-instant communication through 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 simplified and accelerated communication, allowing us to stay in touch with individuals regardless of time or location. It has accelerated business and expanded the possibilities in the enterprise space. It has given people the opportunity to find their voice and express themselves through social media, YouTube, and memes. The internet has brought us together and divided us like nothing else.
The email was introduced to the world as a result of the World Wide Web in 1991 (though it had been operational for years prior), and it has significantly transformed our lives—for better or worse, depending on your point of view. The early users of the messaging platform were educational systems and the military, who exchanged information via email. In 2018, there were over 3.8 billion email users—more than half of the world’s population. We are predicted to send 333 billion personal and corporate emails per day by 2022.
While email is important and we cannot fathom life without it, new tools are emerging that are giving email a run for its money. Consider Slack (an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge”), a firm that began in 2014 and has been dubbed an “email killer.” While Slack has grown to become the most popular chat and productivity application in the world, with 10 million users per day, email is still going strong. As a result, Slack’s modifications have assured that users who still rely heavily on email are not excluded from collaborative work.
The first example of wearable technology was a hands-free mobile headset introduced in 1999, which became synonymous with city workers. It enabled businesspeople to answer calls on the go, most notably while driving.
Ten years ago, the concept of making a video call from something other than a phone would have seemed like a sci-fi fantasy. These skills are now a part of our daily lives, thanks to smartwatches, audio sunglasses, and other new wearable technology.
Virtual Reality (VR)
The next generation of virtual reality has only been available since 2016, but it is already upending communications. The beauty of VR—presence—is that it allows you to interact with someone in the same area at the same time, without the time and cost of travel, even if participants are on different continents.
VR also contributes to improved communication. A lot of information in a typical dialogue is nonverbal communication, which can be transcribed in VR. Voice tone, hesitations, and head and hand movements all help to better grasp the participants’ emotions and intentions. Furthermore, in VR, all distractions are removed, allowing people to fully focus on what is going on around them. In fact, MeetinVR says that meeting in virtual reality increases attention span by 25% when compared to video conferencing.
Furthermore, research reveals that after participating in virtual reality, we retain more information and can better apply what we have learned. 3D is a natural communication language that overcomes linguistic and technical jargon obstacles.
The fifth generation of mobile networks, 5G, promises substantially faster data download and upload rates, more coverage, and more consistent connections. These advantages will result in major improvements in communication. Instant communication will be feasible, and those frustratingly spotty video calls will be a thing of the past.
The current average 4G transmission speed available for our smartphones is roughly 21 Mbps. 5G will be 100 to 1000 times quicker than current technology. According to the Consumer Technology Association, with this speed, you could download a two-hour movie in 3.6 seconds, compared to 6 minutes on 4G or 26 hours on 3G. The influence of 5G will extend far beyond our smartphones, as it will enable millions of devices to connect at the same time.
There is already talk about 6G in the future. Although it is currently in basic research and will be available in 15-20 years, it is intriguing from an innovation standpoint. 6G will form the foundation of the linked utopia we want, bringing with it unfathomable increases in the speed and consistency of our communication.