Smoke Signals, Scribbles, Papyrus and Scrolls

We, humans, learnt to speak some­where between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago and writ­ing almost cer­tain­ly came soon after. There is, of course, much uncer­tain­ty about this exact time­line but one thing we can be cer­tain of, as a social species we have an over­rid­ing need to com­mu­ni­cate with our fel­low peo­ple, and it is pos­si­bly relat­ed to tool usage, pack hunt­ing, or per­haps the need to tell the sto­ry. Just how that com­mu­ni­ca­tion evolved from the clicks, screech­es, and howls of the ani­mal king­dom may also be uncer­tain but the why would have been dri­ven by the need to work together.

Writ­ten records are known to have exist­ed as ear­ly as 6,000 years ago in the Mediter­ranean, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Chi­na, and Mesoamer­i­ca and many were account­ing records but they are in many ways the pre­cur­sor to how we write today, albeit via much change and exper­i­men­ta­tion has occurred with let­ter forms, punc­tu­a­tion etc.

Egyptian hyrogliphic writing by Wiki Images CC0Public Domain PixabayCom­mu­ni­ca­tion via smoke sig­nals, hoots, bird calls, whis­tles etc. were like­ly to have been devel­oped a long time, but they have lim­it­ed use, intend­ed as a way of sig­nalling basic infor­ma­tion like dan­ger, or all clear, but these devices could not help peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate over long dis­tances, nor keep a per­ma­nent record. In Chi­na, they wrote on “bam­boo strips and wood­en tablets were employed as writ­ing mate­ri­als, fol­lowed by silk fab­rics” and were known to have made bam­boo books. All this hap­pened about the same time Mesopotami­ans and Egyp­tians used papyrus. Clay tablets, bark, leaves, and oth­er mate­ri­als were used in the place of paper, and the Egyp­tians are well known to have writ­ten on stone as a per­ma­nent means of record­ing his­to­ry mak­ing use of hieroglyphs.

Paper was believed to have been cre­at­ed by the Chi­nese in the first or sec­ond cen­tu­ry AD and has found its way to Europe by the 10th or 11th cen­tu­ry. The mod­ern print­ing press was invent­ed in 1440  and under­went sev­er­al enhance­ments over its life­time includ­ing mov­able type, lith­o­g­ra­phy, and most recent­ly digi­tised print­ing. The print­ing press pave the route for the print­ing of books and the cre­ation of the News­pa­per in 1605 “Rela­tion aller Fürnem­men und gedenck­würdi­gen His­to­rien” pub­lished in Stras­bourg, the first in Eng­lish being “Berrow’s Worces­ter Jour­nal” from 1690 which claims to be the world’s old­est sur­viv­ing pub­li­ca­tion with week­ly edi­tions that con­tin­ue today.

In the UK a new Post Office was intro­duced in 1842 which sought to improve the effi­cien­cy of deliv­er­ing let­ters with a stan­dard postage cost for all items deliv­ered, giv­ing us the postage stamp, used as a method of show­ing that postage had been paid.

At this point, the sto­ry of com­mu­ni­ca­tions becomes mul­ti-thread­ed with a myr­i­ad of new devel­op­ments that all impact being that we see, hear, and read things today. Effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions were essen­tial for colo­nial Euro­pean nations that required ways to spend mes­sages speed­i­ly and effec­tive­ly. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions relat­ed inven­tions included:

  • Smith Premier Virtical by Iynnea CC0 Public Domain Pixabay1744 the mail order catalogue
  • 1761 the glass har­mon­i­ca or glass har­mon­i­ca, a musi­cal instru­ment cre­at­ed by Ben­jamin Franklin.
  • 1795 the Wheel Cipher used for encrypt­ing messages
  • 1810 Fred­er­ick Koenig Improves the print­ing press
  • 1814 The first photograph
  • 1821 Charles Bab­bage invents the Dif­fer­ence Engine, the world’s first cal­cu­lat­ing machine.
  • 1825 William Stur­geon cre­ates the Electromagnet
  • 1827 the Microphone
  • 1829 Type­writer
  • Louis Braille invent­ed print­ing for the blind in 1829
  • 1834 Bab­bage Ana­lyt­i­cal Engine, the first pro­gram­ma­ble computer
  • 1837 Tele­graph based on Morse code, cre­at­ed in 1836, as a means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing effec­tive­ly by telegraph.
  • The cir­cuit break­er, cre­at­ed in 1836 to pro­tect elec­tric cir­cuits from damage
  • 1843, the rotary print­ing press rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the print­ing indus­try again.
  • 1843 Fac­sim­i­le
  • 1846 the Print­ing Telegraph
  • 1854 Fiber-optics
  • 1858 Pen­cil eraser
  • Pony Express by 1860 spurred on by the need for faster com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the West
  • 1861 the Post Card
  • 1866 the con­tin­u­ous feed rotary print­ing press
  • 1867 the paper clip
  • 1874 the Quadru­plex tele­graph to send four sig­nals in a sin­gle wire
  • 1874 The QWERTY keyboard
  • 1875 Mimeo­graph for sten­cil printing
  • 1875 Tele­phone
  • 1877 the Gramophone
  • 1884 East­man invents paper-strip pho­to­graph­ic film
  • 1884 Waterman’s foun­tain pen
  • 1886 the Tele­phone Directory
  • 1888 the Ball­point pen
  • 1891 Radio
  • 1895 Motion pic­ture cin­e­matog­ra­phy by the Lumiere Brothers
  • 1897 Cath­ode Ray Tube.

This is an impres­sive list of inven­tions that occurred dur­ing the course of the 19th cen­tu­ry, most of which act­ed as the foun­da­tions for mod­ern advance­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Of course, there may be com­mu­ni­ca­tions inven­tions that I have missed in this list but the point is that this should show how impor­tant com­mu­ni­ca­tions are to the human race. The tele­phone, radio, pho­to­graph and the abil­i­ty to send mes­sages of increas­ing com­plex­i­ty over vast dis­tances have dri­ven change dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry with the com­put­er encom­pass­ing any of these and lat­er inven­tions, espe­cial­ly the cre­ation of the Inter­net dur­ing the 1960s and each leap has in turn cre­at­ed new com­mu­ni­ca­tions oppor­tu­ni­ties for us and today we hard­ly think about it when chat­ting to a per­son on the oppo­site side of the plan­et. The future may hold many new advances in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, some eas­i­ly per­ceived, such as colour fonts for empha­sis but oth­ers are sim­ply await­ing invention.

This is an extract of part part of Peter Giblett’s Book “Is your Busi­ness Ready for the Social Media Rev­o­lu­tion?” which is avail­able on Amazon.



Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee as a thank you for pro­vid­ing this information.





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One Reply to “Smoke Signals, Scribbles, Papyrus and Scrolls”

  1. […] star­va­tion in the heart of Africa or by a politi­cian look­ing to win your vote and we have been telling sto­ries since the dawn of time. Accord­ing to Lim­berg “sto­ries engage a deep­er part of our brains than any logical […]

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