Arguably the most influential lifestyle change of the Information Age, the arrival of modern communication has ushered in a new era of ease and productivity. Although some of my articles contain gloomy tales of network breaches and malware, we must occasionally step back and appreciate the standard of living enjoyed today. Without it we would still be dropping envelopes in mailboxes, waiting days to pay bills and cash checks, and relying on the local newspaper for honest journalism.
Thank goodness those days are over! In the spirit of appreciation, join me in discussing these five primary categories. In order to more fully understand any given entity, we often must discern from whence it originated. This concept is no different with technology. Travel back in time with me for a moment to 1976, when a revolutionary invention was making major waves.
Origins of Email
Modern communication allows us to send mail instantly and globally. Whether from the office, straight through our commutes, and from the comfort of our homes, email servers are always available. Provisions include the sharing of data files, group messaging, and project collaboration. While we all loathe the amount of spam and advertising delivered to our inboxes, I highly doubt anyone wishes for a return to letters and stamps.
The creators of ARPANET, the DARPA-funded research project that would eventually birth the modern Internet, were using a new program to send data packets between unique digital addresses. The news spread like wildfire, and the marriage between computers and email services was rapidly consummated, growing stronger to this very day. Though we may roll our eyes at our unread email count, there should be no lack of appreciation for the modern mailbox.
Email & IM Services
File sharing, group messaging, and project collaboration.
Messaging friends and family, Expressing opinions, Sharing news, music, and videos.
Wikipedia & Blogs
News articles, user manuals, and research materials are now on websites and apps.
Podcasts and Webcasts
Reminiscent of radio talk shows, there is now a podcast for almost every conceivable topic.
Sites like YouTube and Netflix now have more users than cable television.
Fast forward to the new millennium and behold the rise of social networking, which has likely built more friendships and sparked more controversy than any other entity. It all began in 2002, when Friendster launched worldwide, followed in 2003 by LinkedIn and MySpace. Following limited success, these platforms were quickly steamrolled by Facebook, and by 2009 LinkedIn was the sole survivor.
This allowed Twitter to ride the wave of success, and it remains a heavyweight contender. Shortly thereafter, we watched Instagram, WeChat, and WhatsApp challenge Facebook in rapidfire succession, birthing a flood of modern communication. Claiming roughly 2 billion users worldwide, one might wonder what makes these networks so popular.
Obviously, instant communication with friends and family is a weighty benefit, presumably even the most treasured. Subconsciously, however, we were equally attracted by the “like” buttons and comment threads. For the first time, our voices and opinions could be heard round the globe. The concept was equal parts enchanting and empowering. Accompanied by homegrown news, music, and video content, social networking provides free speech and equality to all. Shame on anyone who would disregard this opportunity!
Extensive writ about the last three types of communication would likely lull you to sleep, so I will touch on the advent of online media collectively. Officially launched in 1994, the pioneers of the World Wide Web watched their brainchild reach 5% of the world’s population by the turn of the century. Seething with new content for another decade, the Internet brought another remarkable milestone in 2010. That year, the same amount of information created between the dawn of time and 2003 was produced in 48 hours. Wikipedia and written blogs took hold first, since people were still accustomed to reading books and magazines.
Thirsting for conquest, the Web next defeated traditional radio broadcasts with a flurry of podcasts and webcasts. Accessible 24/7 from any device and replayable infinitely, they became a crowd favorite. With books and radio stations heavily suppressed, streaming media sources dealt the final blow to traditional publishing. Spearheaded by YouTube, a limitless supply of video files were uploading seemingly overnight, and the Web claimed supreme sovereignty over modern communication.
It may be tempting at times to dread progress and the dangers that accompany it. Sometimes we long for the “good old days” when everything was simpler, lamenting the endless change. At times like these, however, I believe an objective viewpoint is in order. Our generation possesses uncensored access to more information than our entire ancestry combined. Rather than squander it aimlessly thumbing through our phones or reminiscing over memories of old, let us take decisive action.
We possess devices that grant constant access to the greatest gift known to mankind. Modern communication methods have forever changed the way we interact with others. With this blessing comes an unspoken responsibility to revolutionize the psyche of our respective nations, making our planet exponentially superior to anything ever before imagined. Let us never take it for granted.