This was a paper I wrote for my Sociology
class, I found it to be an interesting subject and decided to node my homework
Since the beginning of history, individuals have found a way to communicate with one another without actually being in the same general area. The first method of distance communication was obviously written notes delivered by a third party. Eventually this system evolved into the more complicated and regulated post offices, which would provide more reliable services and centralized the system of peer to peer information distribution. While written notes started the distance communications idea in motion, they were only the start of today's technology, which allows nearly instant communications all over the world.
The main point of communications is to get an ideafrom one place to another. Two forms of communication are peer to peer communications, in which a message goes from one person to another, and broadcast communication, where a message goes from one person to the masses. Most peer to peer communicaion methods can be adapted for broadcast use, and vice-versa. For example, the written note was transformed into the newspaper, a widely distributed medium where people could get the latest information written by reporters along with interesting stories and advice columns. However, not every adaptation is commercially sucessful, the combination of the television and telephone to make a video phone never became popular with consumers due to high cost and low quality of the transmitted image.
Driving factors in communications technology include speed, quality and cost. A hundred and fifty years ago, a person could only write a letter as a means of communication. Today, we have the choice between the telephone, e-mail systems as well as regular postal mail. While e-mail may be much less expensive than the telephone, especially for long distance use, many people still prefer the quality of a human voice and will pay the extra costs associated with it. Postal mail is becoming a rarity in business these days, with most documents being transmitted using e-mail or fax machines. However, people still prefer the quality of paper, and will often print out documents that have been electronically delivered simply because they are not comfortable with reading off a computer screen. While printing the documents raises the cost of e-mail slightly, it still is less expensive and quicker than traditional mail in most cases.
In the realm of broadcast communication, the information providers have been quick to adapt new methods of transmission of data. What started with newspapers later became radio news, where listeners could get up to the minute news and updates througout the day, which was far better than the newspaper in speed, which was only printed once per day. The newspaper still had an advantage over the radio however, things such as pictures and charts could not be represented over the radio, which left a hole for another medium to fill, television. The television provided all that radio did, and more, in addition to just sound, people now had a picture to go with it, which later became colorized and is now being taken to higher resolutions through technologies such as sattelite and HDTV.
While print, radio and television are still popular means of information dispersal, a new way of transmitting information has become popular in the past five years, the Internet. Originally starting as a project known as ARPANET, a military network with redundant connections in case of nuclear war, the Internet became a vast network of interconnected computers. Most of the original development of the Internet was done at universities, notably the University of California at Berkeley, where the TCP/IP protocol which runs the Internet as we know it today was developed during the early 1980s. Workstations designed by Sun Microsystems, one of many companies started out of Palo Alto, California made Internet access a commonplace in educational centers throughout the country in the mid to late 80s, which resulted in a snowball effect as far as usage went. Gradually, more consumers connected into the network and began adding content of their own. Today many homes and K-12 schools are connected to the Internet and high speed connections are becoming more commonplace.
While the Internet provides instantaneous communication of text, pictures, sound and video, television and radio still have a few advantages over it. The Internethas no real accountability for its user's actions, while radio and television must live up to certain standards set by the FCC. Pornography and false information are just several of the problems that the freedom and openness of the Internet creates. The Internet also has provided easy and semi-anonymous methods of transmitting copyrighted materials, which has resulted in several court cases against companies such as Napster, who provide information which aids in copyright infringment. The Internet has also created a new type of vandals, often termed 'script kiddies' due to their usualy young age and use of prewritten scripts to do damage to systems. These young and often anti-social hoodlums search about the Internet for vulnerable machines, and then take over using scripts and proceed to take over more machines using the machine who's security is compromised. After amassing a sizable amount of systems, they will have them all run attacks against a larger system, an example of this would be the Denial of Service attacks run against Yahoo! and eBay several months ago, which resulted in users being unable to access those sites for periods as long as several hours. Computer vandalism gives the thrill which would have been associated with breaking a window or spraypainting a wall, along with the anominity of the network, which helps to explain why it is all too common in today's connected world.
The future holds many interesting possibilities for communications. Wireless communications allows for instant communications anywhere, and is fast becoming the standard in foreign countries. In Europe a feature of their mobile phones known as SMS, allows users to send short text messages using their cellular phone handset, and in Japan, service known as iMode by NTT DoCoMo allows users to access Internet sites right on their phones, as well sending messages. Future wired growth will require faster connections to the end users, as well as faster backbone lines using fiber optics. Faster connections will allow a single Internet connection to be shared across an entire household, and will allow voice and video services to be transmitted along the same line as well, replacing standard local telephone service and cable television. Integration of networking with common appliances will make it possible for you to get recipies off a screen on your refrigerator door, or have new groceries delievered when a "smart" trashcan which keeps track of everything thrown away detects that you have no more milk or bread.
While the methods of communications have changed greatly in the past hundred years or so, from the first radio to new fiber and wireless networks, the purpose is still the same, bringing the content to the people. Advances in technology serve to make the information available quicker, easier and more inexpensivley. Consumers will continue to buy into new methods of information dispersal, while continuing to keep a hold on the old methods as well, the daily newspaper isn't going to be obsolete any time soon, despite the fact that the Internet provides the information faster and cheaper. The "Information Age" in which we live now is likely to be one of the most rapidly changing times in the history of mankind, and while it is exciting, it also has many social issues which had never been dealt with before, the outcomes of society's decisions of what technologies to adopt and which to reject, and court cases regarding issues such as Intelectual Property and computer crime are sure to shape our lives in the area of communication for years to come.