How did we arrive here? I ask that question after pondering the thought of how communication has changed just in my lifetime. I was born in 1970 in a small Idaho town. Party lines were still being used by most of my neighbors along our rural gravel road, and touch tone dialing wasn’t even thought of – at least not in my county. Two black and white televisions were in our household…one 14” in my parents’ room and a larger 19” in our family room. Cable tv? Not a chance. Four channels was all that was available, one of which was PBS – so unless Sesame Street was on, that didn’t count. That was just forty three years ago. Ouch.
Writing that number makes it seem like a much longer time than it is, I still feel young. However looking back at all of the changes in the last four decades can be mind boggling. I watched new technology arrive and often thought “wow….this is it, they will never invent anything that can outdo this!”. The touch tone phone, it allowed us to call someone so much faster than before. Soon after the VCR was the next best thing to come into our household and although not a communication device it would eventually evolve into an interactive communication tool. Communicating with someone in another town, state, or country was limited to either telephone or postal mail, which my grandparents at the time still commented on how amazing it was to be able to speak with someone on the other side of the planet. But it was expensive, very expensive.
While brainstorming for this paper only a few methods of communication came to mind, oral, written, and electronic. During my research I found that communication technologies can be classified into eight different stages according to Walter Ong (Source: Theo 2011):
1. Orality (talking only) 2. Early Writing (pictorial writing then eventually phonetic alphabets, “craft literacy”, parchment). 3. Later Writing (scrolls then early bound books i.e. codices) 4. Early Print (Gutenberg and friends) 5. Later Print (the mass market begins) 6. Electric (Telegraph, Telephone) 7. Electronic (TV and radio) 8. Digital (Internet, cell phones) After initially reviewing this list I was astounded at how communication progress was extremely slow in the first five stages – consisting of tens of thousands of years between one stage to the next; however in my lifetime alone I have witnessed the last three stages evolve. I wonder, will this happen again? Will my son witness communication evolve three, four, five times in his lifetime? Or was this technology evolution an anomaly.
Fast forward to current day, we have so many choices available to communicate with others it is often difficult to choose which method we want to use. Should I eMail my friend in San Francisco, call him using my house or cell phone, send him a text with an attachment of my wife and I’s wedding, or would he prefer a hand written card sent via the US Postal Service? Not only am I faced with which method works best for me in these situations but I also need to consider my recipient. It is generally very easy for adults to choose the appropriate method of communication however teenagers struggle more than ever.
Often they will choose the simplest form of communication for their generation – texting. They even have their own new language while texting, SMS language or otherwise known as ‘textese’. This type of language is very similar to those used when the telegraph was in use over a hundred years earlier. The SMS language utilizes the fewest number of letters to produce words and sentiments in their correspondence, mostly driven by space, time and cost restraints.