Today, telecommunications technology affects lives to a greater degree than ever before. Communication has evolved over many years from the earliest attempts at verbal communication to the use of sophisticated technology to enhance the ability to communicate effectively with others. Every time a telephone call is made, a television is watched, or a personal computer is used, benefits of telecommunication technologies are being received.
The concept of telecommunications may be defined as the transmission of information from one location to another by electronic means. Telecommunications is using electronic systems to communicate. Life is changing constantly and has been changing faster since the rapid advancements in telecommunication. Because of continuing attempts to find better and more efficient ways to communicate, the process of communication has steadily improved.
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Many of these improvements were made without the use of electronic technology. Human beings’ earliest attempts at communication were through nonverbal means such as facial expressions and gestures. With the use of these nonverbal signs, prehistoric people were able to communicate emotions such as fear, anger, and happiness. More specific motions, such as pointing, allowed them to convey more information. Verbal communication probably started with a series of disorganized but meaningful sounds (grunts and snarls).
These sounds slowly developed into a system of organized, spoken language that truly allowed humans to share information (Croal 59). Writing, which is the use of symbols to represent language, began with early cave drawings, progressed to picture writings such as hieroglyphics, and finally evolved into the handwritten language we use today (Croal 61). As civilization developed, people found it necessary to communicate their ideas to one another over greater distances.
The earliest method of transporting information was to carry it from place to place; but as the development of commerce made speed an essential part, greater effort was expended to increase the rate at which ideas were transmitted (Croal62). The search for rapid transport of information led to the formation of the pony express in 1860 (Cozic 77).
Although the pony express required several weeks to carry mail from the East Coast to the West Coast, it was a vast improvement over the earlier methods. The pony express was not the only time humans teamed up with animals to attempt to improve communications. Dogs and pigeons were used to carry messages, especially during wartime. Most, if not all, of the early forms of communication, had two significant problems.
Both the speed at which information could be effectively communicated and the distance over which information could be sent was severely limited. With the advancements in the forms of electronic communication, these problems were solved. It was even before the pony express that a true technological breakthrough was made. In 1844, the first electronic transmission occurred when Samuel Morse developed a system of dots and dashes to symbolize letters of the alphabet. A transmission device called the telegraph was used to send the coded signals over wires. The telegraph was to become the primary method of reliable and rapid communication during the American Civil War.
It took quite a few years to link the major cities of America by telegraph wires, but by 1861 the pony express was replaced. Telegraphic communication became a major part of America’s business and military history. One of the early telegraph companies, the Western Union, became the dominant carrier. Today, Western Union, through the use of modern technology, transmits information twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Actual voice communication over distance finally became possible in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell held the first telephone conversation with his assistant, Thomas Watson.
This alternative to written communication rapidly helped the telephone become the world’s most important communication tool. By 1866 the first successful attempt to link Europe and America by undersea cable had been accomplished. This cable was capable of carrying telegraph data only . The telephone today remains a vital tool, and like the telegraph, the telephone is constantly being improved by modern technology.
By 1900, the goal of communication technologists was to find a method of transmitting messages over long distances without the need for wires. That dream became reality in 1901 when Guglielmo Marconi and two assistants stood on a hill in Newfoundland and listened carefully to their receiver. Faintly they heard the Morse code “dot-dot-dot,” the letter s. the signal had travelled 1,700 miles from Cornwall, England, and it represented the first successful wireless transmission. This success led Marconi to form Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company. It was not until the Titanic disaster in 1912, however, that wireless transmissions became commercially profitable. As the Titanic was sinking, the ship’s radio operator transmitted distress signals over his wireless telegraph.
A passing ship, the Carpathia, which sped to the Titanic’s location and rescued 700 of the 2,200 people aboard, picked up the signals. Shortly after this disaster, most maritime nations required wireless telegraphs on all large ships. The Marconi experiment eventually led to the development of the radio. On an evening in November 1920, radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, went on the air with the first live radio broadcast. By 1922, 564 radio stations were on the air. Today, thousands of radio stations broadcast our favourite music, news, weather, and sports information.
As important as it was, the impact of the transmission of sounds by wire and by wireless methods seems minor, when the effect of television, the device that permits the transmission of both sounds and images. In 1926 J.L. Baird, working with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), became the first person to transmit a television picture, and in 1936 the world’s first television service was introduced. By 1948, twenty television stations were on the air. The first color television service began in the United States in 1954. Sociologist James K. Martin believes “The impact of television is legendary and has totally changed the way American families live”.
Modern telecommunications rely on modern technology and one of the most important elements of that technology is the computer. Today’s computer industry is moving with great momentum. Most schools are equipped to teach computer skills, and it is no longer rare for a student to come to first grade with a basic understanding of computers gained from the family’s personal computer.
In 1930 an American electrical scientist, Vannevar Bush, constructed the first analog computer. However, the person credited with developing the first digital computer is Howard Aiken of Harvard University, who completed his project in 1944. Analog signals are a constant flow of information, whereas digital signals are a series of short bursts of information. Historian Mark Halls says, “Most historians point to ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) as the real beginning of computer technology”. Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania built this giant computer in 1946. ENIAC utilized vacuum tubes to control computer functions.
The concept of storing programs in a computer’s memory is credited to John van Neumann, an American mathematician. It was in 1951 that the developers of ENIAC constructed Univac I, which became the first computer to be mass-produced. The traditional U.S. postal service is not oriented to meet needs for instant information access; so many mailboxes have become electronic. Electronic messages can be sent any hour of the day or night using a computer, a modem, and a telephone. These electronic messages may be read, filed, stored, erased, printed, and rerouted. A computer used in conjunction with the telephone line and a television set allows homeowners to view merchandise, compare prices, and do electronic shopping. No longer are bank customers dependent on bankers’ hours to withdraw money or to obtain account information.
Many school libraries have a new reference resource, an electronic encyclopedia. Libraries connect to electronic encyclopedias with personal computers. Facts can be read on the screen or sent to the printer. Through the use of telecommunications, the opportunity to access vast amounts of information located in large commercial databases is beyond belief. Within a matter of seconds, a computer can access information and can appear on its screen.
Today, information services bring new learning opportunities and data into the home through telecommunications). The information age has already arrived, and telecommunication technology has played an important role in it. It has already had an impact on what have been considered traditional methods of transmitting information over distances. This new technology has also changed the methods by which information is manipulated and stored. Telecommunications is changing the way people work, play, live and think.
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