Wednesday, September 14, 2022

A Brief History of Communications

Many, many years ago, people used to scribble messages and stories on the walls of their caves. That was great, but you had to go to their cave to see what they had to say. That was inconvenient and dangerous, because without advanced notice of the visit, they were likely to kill you when you entered their cave, and there was no way to give advanced notice, because you couldn’t send your own cave wall over ahead of time.

People eventually started scribbling notes on rocks and throwing them to other people, but that was also problematic because of the concussions and rotator cuff injuries associated with the longer/larger messages.

Finally, someone got smart and invented paper, followed closely by the invention of the carrier pigeon. But the pigeons were hard to train and only batted about .500 on delivery because none of the streets were named, and also hawks. There was also a poop-on-the-messages issues until someone figured out the messages should ride of the top of the bird instead of underneath, but the poop-on-the-recipient problem remained, so that program was short-lived.

It wasn’t long before Alexander Graham Bell took credit for a lot of work done by an Italian guy and “invented” the telephone, famously uttering the first words ever to travel across phone lines, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to talk to you about your car’s extended warranty.”

Americans instantly fell in love with the telephone, but within hours of the first network being connected it was rendered completely useless by teenage girls clogging up all the lines.

Then along came World War II and all the teenage girls were sent to work in factories, finally freeing up the phone lines. Radio technology had been progressing side-by-side with the telephone, with Nicola Tesla first demonstrating wireless radio message transfer. He then went on to pioneer the self-driving electric car. The radio was later patented by Gugliemo Marconi who had already made a fortune in cheese-covered pasta.

Radio waves were vital during the war, but there was a problem. The crafty Germans had figured out how to jam our radio signals, rendering our entertainment systems, and possibly more importantly, our torpedo guidance systems, useless. Thankfully, Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr had escaped her arms-dealer husband and moved to Hollywood ahead of the war. She went on to star in many, many movies that no one has ever seen, and she was quite famous.

In addition to being smokin’ hot, Hedy was also a genius. During the war, she and a music composer friend took it upon themselves to solve the problem of the Nazis being able to jam our torpedo guidance signals. Those crazy kids invented a radio guidance system that used frequency hopping.

“Frequency hopping?” you ask.

Yes, I don’t know what it is either, but apparently it was later the foundation for the Bluetooth and WiFi technology we know and love. Enjoy your digital device lifestyle? You can thank Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. I am not making that up. We had to wait nearly five decades for something to come out of Hollywood that was even remotely as impressive, which, of course, was the movie Die Hard.

A few years prior to Hans Gruber falling out of Nakatomi Plaza, Al Gore invented the internet, and along with it, email. I first heard about “electronic mail” when I was in college in the early ‘90s, and I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of. Why wouldn’t you just call them, I thought. That is why I’m not a multi-millionaire.

Anyway, radio shows and my beloved phone calls enjoyed a long run of popularity until 2002, when Blackberry introduced the first phone that had a keyboard on it. Sure, the keys were far too small to actually use, but the idea was born. Finally, we could send emails from our phones! I mean, sure, you could use the Blackberry and the iPhones that followed as phones, but you could type on them!

The invention of the smartphone was the turning point in a communications timeline that has come full circle. We used to enjoy writing letters. Then we ditched that practice in favor of telephone calls until our telephones were able to write letters. The long letters known as emails gave way to texting as we grew more and more averse to actual phone calls.

Now, no one likes telephone calls anymore and everyone just writes short, incoherent texts to each other with atrocious grammar, zero punctuation, made-up words, a never-ending array of emojis, and no capital letters whatsoever.

We’re all the way back to basically texting each other cave painting scribbles.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why my wife and my children never answer my calls.

I’ll just leave them a quick voicemail…

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


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