Communication

I. Introduction

Communication, the process of sharing ideas, information, and messages with others in a particular time and place. Communication includes writing and talking, as well as nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions, body language, or gestures), visual communication (the use of images or pictures, such as painting, photography, video, or film), and electronic communication (telephone calls, electronic mail, cable television, or satellite broadcasts). Communication is a vital part of personal life and is also important in business, education, and any other situation where people encounter each other.

Businesses are concerned with communication in several special ways. Some businesses build and install communication equipment, such as fax (facsimile) machines, video cameras, CD players, printing presses, personal computers, and telephones. Other companies create some of the messages or content that those technologies carry, such as movies, books, and software. These companies are part of the media or telecommunications industries. Organizational communication is important in every business. People in organizations need to communicate to coordinate their work and to inform others outside the business about their products and services (these kinds of communication are called advertising or public relations).

II. Origins

Communication between two people is an outgrowth of methods developed over centuries of expression. Gestures, the development of language, and the necessity to engage in joint action all played a part.

A. Communication Among Animals

Humans are not the only creatures that communicate; many other animals exchange signals and signs that help them find food, migrate, or reproduce. The 19th-century biologist Charles Darwin showed that the ability of a species to exchange information or signals about its environment is an important factor in its biological survival. For example, honey bees dance in specific patterns that tell other members of the hive where to find food. Insects regularly use pheromones, a special kind of hormone, to attract mates. Elephants emit very low-pitched sounds, below the level of human hearing, that call other members of the herd over many miles. Chimpanzees use facial expressions and body language to express dominance or affection with each other. Whales and dolphins make vocal clicks, squeals, or sing songs to exchange information about feeding and migration, and to locate each other (see Animal Behavior).

B. Language

While other animals use a limited range of sounds or signals to communicate, humans have developed complex systems of language that are used to ensure survival, to express ideas and emotions, to tell stories and remember the past, and to negotiate with one another. Oral (spoken) language is a feature of every human society or culture. Anthropologists studying ancient cultures have several theories about how human language began and developed. The earliest language systems probably combined vocal sounds with hand or body signals to express messages. Some words may be imitative of natural sounds. Others may have come from expressions of emotion, such as laughter or crying. Language, some theorists believe, is an outgrowth of group activities, such as working together or dancing.

Over 6000 languages and major dialects are spoken in the world today. As some languages grow, others disappear. Languages that grow also evolve and change due to class, gender, profession, age group, and other social forces. The Latin language is no longer spoken but survives in written form. Hebrew is an ancient language that became extinct, but has now been brought back to life and is spoken today. Others, such as the ancient languages of native peoples in Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, and some of the Native American peoples of North America, which had no written form, have been lost as the speakers died. Today anthropologists are trying to record and preserve ancient languages that are still spoken in remote areas or by the last remaining people in a culture.

C. Symbols and Alphabets

Most languages also have a written form. The oldest records of written language are about 5000 years old. However, written communication began much earlier in the form of drawings or marks made to indicate meaningful information about the natural world. The earliest artificially created visual images that have been discovered to date are paintings of bears, mammoths, woolly rhinos, and other Ice Age animals on cave walls near Avignon, France. These paintings are over 30,000 years old. The oldest known animal carving, of a horse made from mammoth ivory, dates from approximately 30,000 years BC and was found in present-day Vogelhard, Germany (see Paleolithic Art). Other ancient symbol-recording systems have been discovered. For example, a 30,000-year-old Cro-Magnon bone plaque discovered in France is engraved with a series of 29 marks; some researchers believe the plaque records phases of the moon. A piece of reindeer antler approximately 15,000 years old was also found in France, carved with both animal images and "counting" marks. The ancient Incas in Peru, who lived from about the 11th century to the 15th century AD, used a system of knotted and colored strings called quipu to keep track of population, food inventories, and the production of gold mines. Perhaps the earliest forerunner of writing is a system of clay counting tokens used in the ancient Middle East. The tokens date from 8000 to 3000 BC and are shaped like disks, cones, spheres and other shapes. They were stored in clay containers marked with an early version of cuneiform writing, to indicate what tokens were inside. Cuneiform was one of the first forms of writing and was pictographic, with symbols representing objects. It developed as a written language in Assyria (an ancient Asian country in present-day Iraq) from 3000 to 1000 BC. Cuneiform eventually acquired ideographic elements–that is, the symbol came to represent not only the object but also ideas and qualities associated with it. The oldest known examples of script-style writing date from about 3000 BC; papyrus sheets (a kind of early paper made from reeds) from about 2700 to 2500 BC have been found in the Nile Delta in Egypt bearing written hieroglyphs, another pictographic-ideographic form of writing. Chinese began as a pictographic-ideographic written language perhaps as early as the 15th century BC. Today written Chinese includes some phonetic elements (symbols indicating pronunciation) as well. The Chinese writing system is called logographic because the full symbols, or characters, each represent a word. Cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyph eventually incorporated phonetic elements. In syllabic systems, such as Japanese and Korean, written symbols stand for spoken syllable sounds. The alphabet, invented in the Middle East, was carried by the Phoenicians (people from a territory on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, located largely in modern Lebanon) to Greece, where vowel sounds were added to it. Alphabet characters stand for phonetic sounds and can be combined in an almost infinite variety of words. Many modern languages, such as English, German, French, and Russian, are alphabetic languages.

III. Interpersonal Communication

In every society, humans have developed spoken and written language as a means of sharing messages and meanings. The most common form of daily communication is interpersonal–that is, face-to-face, at the same time and in the same place.

The most basic form of interpersonal communication is a dyad (an encounter or conversation between two people). Some dyads exist over a long period of time, as in a marriage or partnership. Communicating well in a dyad requires good conversational skills. Communicators must know how to start and end the conversation, how to make themselves understood, how to respond to the partner's statements, how to be sensitive to their partner's concerns, how to take turns, and how to listen. Together, these abilities are called communication competence. Shyness or reluctance to interact is called communication apprehension. Persuasion is the process of convincing others that one's ideas or views are valuable or important.

Communication may also occur in small groups, such as families, clubs, religious groups, friendship groups, or work groups. Most small-group interaction involves fewer than ten people, and the communicators need the same communication skills as in a dyadic conversation. However, additional factors called group dynamics come into play in a small group. A group may try to work toward a consensus, a general sense of understanding or agreement with others in the group. Groupthink may occur, in which a group reaches consensus so quickly that its members mistakenly ignore other good ideas. Small-group members may experience disagreement or even conflict. Some members may be more persuasive than others and form sides, or cliques, within the group.

A special case of small-group interaction occurs in organizations where there is work to do or a task for the group to perform. Or several small groups may need to interact among each other within a single organization. In these cases, the groups must communicate well, both among themselves and with other groups, so that their members can perform their work effectively and make good decisions. Problems sometimes arise in organizational communication between supervisors and workers, or between different groups of workers who are responsible for different parts of a task. Therefore, small-group communication skills can be as necessary as conversation skills in the workplace or other organizational activities.

Interpersonal communication occurs with larger groups as well, such as when a speaker gives a talk to a large crowd (a political candidate giving a speech at a campaign rally, or a teacher lecturing to a large class). However, the audience can respond in only limited ways (such as with applause, nodding, whistles, boos, or silence). The speaker usually wants to be persuasive or informative, so the words chosen and the style of delivery or performance are very important. A speaker who wants to reach an even larger audience than the people who can physically hear the speech in one place must use communication technology or media to get the message across distance and even time.

IV. Communication at a Distance

From the earliest times, people have needed to communicate across distance or over time. Since the beginnings of writing, communication media have allowed messages to travel over distance and time. A communication medium is a means for recording and transporting a message or information. The word medium comes from the Latin word medius, meaning middle or between. It is a channel or path for sending a message between communicators. A single channel–such as radio, or a book, or the telephone–is called a medium; media is plural, meaning more than one medium.

A. Early Methods

Early societies developed systems for sending simple messages or signals that could be seen or heard over a short distance, such as drumbeats, fire and smoke signals, or lantern beacons. Messages were attached to the legs of carrier pigeons that were released to fly home (this system was used until World War I, which started in 1914). Semaphore systems (visual codes) of flags or flashing lights were employed to send messages over relatively short but difficult-to-cross distances, such as from hilltop to hilltop, or between ships at sea. In the early 1790s the French scientist and engineer Claude Chappe persuaded the French government to install a system of towers that used semaphore signals to send visual telegraphs along approved routes throughout the country. The system was copied in Great Britain and the United States.

Some ancient societies, such as the Roman or Byzantine empires, expanded their territorial control far beyond their original boundaries, and traded with distant neighbors. To hold on to their far-flung territories, they needed two technologies that have remained closely tied ever since: transportation and the ability to record information. Recorded messages had to be carried easily; therefore, lightweight forms of recording (such as papyrus or animal skins) were desirable.

B. Paper and Printing

The first lightweight medium was papyrus, an early form of paper used by the Egyptians that was made from grasses called reeds. Later, in the 2nd century AD, the Chinese wrote on silk fabric instead of wood, and developed paper made from silk fibers. (Today paper made from cotton or linen fibers is still called rag paper.) From as early as the 2nd century BC, Europeans wrote on thin layers of tanned and scraped animal skins called parchment or vellum, with quill pens made from bird feathers. Parchment is not as light as papyrus but is very durable; many parchment manuscripts and books from the Middle Ages still exist. The Arabs brought papermaking to Europe from China in the 11th century AD. Paper gave European merchants, who traveled across the continent, a portable and inexpensive way to keep records.

Until the 1400s in Europe, all documents were handwritten. Copyists and editors called scribes recorded commercial transactions, legal decisions and pronouncements, and manuscript copies of religious books–many scribes were monks working in monasteries. By the 15th century, however, the need arose for an easier way to duplicate documents. In Asia, block printing had already been developed by Buddhist monks in China in about the 8th century (see Prints and Printmaking). A similar technique was later used in the 15th century by Europeans to make illustrations for printed books.

An early version of movable type was first developed in China around 1045, and was independently developed by Koreans in the 13th century AD. In 1450 the German printer Johannes Gutenberg perfected movable metal type and introduced the first reliable system of typesetting, a key invention in the development of printing. With movable type, a raised, reversed image of each letter can be hand-set, word by word, into a frame that holds the pieces together. The raised letters are inked, a sheet of paper laid over them and pressed down on the letters with a screw-driven press, creating a correct image of the text. When enough copies are printed, the letters can be taken apart and reused. The technique made printing numerous copies of textual material much easier, and the number of printing shops grew dramatically over the next century.

As more books became available, more people learned to read. Books were printed in the local, or vernacular, languages as well as classical Greek and Latin. With literacy came exposure to new ideas; some historians believe that the 16th-century Protestant Reformation (a revolution in the Christian church that divided it into factions) might not have occurred if European thought had not been prepared by ideas introduced and circulated in printed books. Printers published other things besides books, including newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides (sheets of paper printed on one or both sides). These cheaper works helped spread news throughout Europe and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, throughout the British colonies in America (see Journalism).

During the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, printing technologies evolved rapidly. The steam-powered press was invented in Germany in the 19th century, and the rotary press, which prints images onto a continuous sheet of paper from a rotating drum, was introduced in the United States in 1846. The Linotype typesetting machine was patented by the German-born American inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884. It permitted typesetters to set text by typing on a keyboard rather than hand-setting each letter individually. Together, the Linotype machine and the rotary press transformed the speed of printing. These so-called hot-metal or letterpress printing technologies dominated the industry until the 1950s, when phototypesetting and photo-offset printing were introduced (see Typesetting Equipment).

Photocopying was another technology that made document duplication easier. Invented by American physicist and inventor Edwin Land in the 1950s, photocopying transfers an image from one sheet of paper to another very rapidly (see Office Systems). A more recent advance is computer typesetting and printing. Computers and word-processing and graphics software are used today to set type and compose pages on the screen just as they will look in the final print, in either black and white or color. Page layouts can also be transmitted digitally (numerically coded into electronic pulses) via fax machines, computer modems, telephone networks, and satellite systems to other locations for editing, redesign, or printing.

The spread of computer-based word processing and graphic design has led to the growth of desktop publishing. Today almost anyone can publish newsletters, newspapers, or magazines for medium-sized audiences. Business communication has been transformed by computer and information technologies: letters, memos, reports, or other documents can be transmitted almost anywhere at the speed of light. Early advocates of business computers predicted the paperless office, an office where paper would be made obsolete by computer technology. Experience, however, has shown that the ease of copying, printing, and document transmission made possible by computer technology has produced more demand for paper, not less.

C. Postal Services

Different societies have also devised systems for transporting messages from place to place and from person to person. The earliest were courier-type services; messengers carried memorized or written messages from one person to another, and returned with the reply. The Persian and Roman empires and some Asian societies sent couriers regularly along planned routes to retrieve reliable and timely information about trade and military affairs from distant areas.

In Europe, similar systems were established by commercial concerns and merchants who needed to exchange information about trade routes and goods. The ruling aristocracy used trusted messengers to carry confidential or sensitive information from capital to capital or kingdom to kingdom, but they were typically soldiers or servants. Over time, these arrangements evolved into government-operated systems for any citizen or subject to post messages to any other, financed by charging users a tax or fee for postage (verified by postage stamps).

In the United States, the postal service was established by the government in 1789, and the postmaster general's office was created to supervise the mail service. The first postmaster general of the United States was Benjamin Franklin. In the late 19th century, as the United States expanded its territory west beyond reliable roads or rail lines, the U.S. Post Office started the Pony Express, reviving courier-style services in the new territories. Pony Express riders carried sacks of mail through rugged and remote territory, relaying their loads from one rider to the next. The Pony Express quickly became renowned for its speed of delivery.

Over time, the U.S. Post Office took advantage of new transportation systems. Huge volumes of mail were sent across the country on trains, and the Post Office started its own postal security force to prevent the mail from being stolen in railroad holdups. They were also the first postal service to hire pilots to fly mail to distant or rural locations within the United States and overseas. By the 1930s every small town and rural route had carrier service; in many places, deliveries were made twice a day. As demand for postal services grew, the U.S. Post Office developed systems for coding and sorting the mail more quickly, notably the neighborhood ZIP Code system in the 1960s.

The U.S. Post Office became a private operation in the 1970s under the supervision of the U.S. federal government, and was renamed the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Today the USPS is self-supporting, and is exploring a number of new technologies that will allow it to offer better service at lower cost, including electronic document delivery services and new electronic sorting systems.

D. Telegraphy

The first truly electronic medium was the telegraph, which sent and received electrical signals over long-distance wires. The first practical commercial systems were developed by the physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone and the inventor Sir William F. Cooke in Great Britain, and by the artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse in the United States. Morse demonstrated the first telegraph system in New York in 1837. But regular telegraph service, relaying Morse code (system of code using on and off signals), was not established until 1844. Telegraphers would translate the letters of the alphabet into Morse code, tapping on an electrical switch, or key. The telegrapher at the other end of the line would decode the tapping as it came in, write down the message, and send it to the recipient by messenger.

Telegraph systems were immediately useful for businesses that needed to transmit messages quickly over long distances, such as newspapers and railroads. A telegraph room installed in the United States Capitol in 1844 was the center of a sensation when news of the nomination of James K. Polk as the Democratic presidential candidate was conveyed by telegraph between the convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. In cities, thousands of telegraph lines suspended on poles webbed the streets by the latter half of the 1800s. Telegraph cable was first laid under the Atlantic Ocean in 1858, and regular transatlantic telegraph service began in 1866.

The telegraph made it possible for many companies to conduct their business globally for the first time. Because price changes could be communicated almost instantaneously, the telegraph also prompted the reorganization of American commodities markets. Prices became uniform from city to city, and futures (agreements to buy a commodity at a fixed price on a fixed date in the future) markets were established. In addition, standard time zones across the United States were established so that railroads could set regular and consistent schedules as trains moved across the country, enabling the railroads to check on schedules, passengers, and freight via telegraph.

Telegraph technology became more sophisticated, especially after its competitor, the telephone, was introduced in the 1890s. Telegraph systems evolved into telex systems, in which machines eliminated the need for coding and decoding the messages. Users could type in a message, and the identical message would appear at the recipient's end, carried over telegraph and telephone lines (and eventually satellite systems) to telex machines anywhere in the world. In remote areas where long-distance telephone service was unavailable or impractical, telex machines were widely used (much like an early version of electronic mail). Telegraph and telephone lines were also used to transmit pictures via an early version of facsimile called telefacsimile or Wirephoto service; newspapers used Wirephoto to transmit photographs as early as the 1930s.

E. Telephone

In 1876 Scottish-born American inventor Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent and produce a telephone. His patent was titled Improvement in Telegraphy, and contained the design of a device that would transmit the human voice over wires instead of electrical clicks or other signals, like the telegraph. Originally, Bell thought that the telephone would be used to transmit musical concerts, lectures, or sermons. The American inventor Elisha Gray filed an intent to patent at the same time, but after many court battles, Bell was given the rights to the invention.

Bell and his financial backers established the Bell Telephone Company. In an extraordinary business move, Bell decided to lease telephones rather than sell them. His next step would be to build the connecting networks and sell services on those networks to customers. Bell began by leasing pairs of telephones that would connect two locations, such as a businessman's home and office, or between two partners' offices. However, the real appeal of telephone service emerged with the opening of the first telephone exchange–a switchboard connecting any member of a group of subscribers to any other member–in 1878.

The Bell Telephone Company established as many exchanges as possible, especially high-quality voice lines for wealthy city customers. Some customers resisted using the telephone at first because it did not leave a written record of transactions or orders; however, others saw this feature as an advantage. By 1894 roughly 260,000 Bell telephones were in use in the United States, about one for every 250 people.

After Bell's patents expired in 1893 and 1894, other companies began manufacturing telephones, wiring new networks, and installing exchanges. The new exchanges connected people in rural communities and residential households. Some were rural cooperatives owned and operated by the customers. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which bought the Bell Telephone Company in 1900, developed switching systems to connect calls between exchanges, and eventually began experimenting with long-distance connections.

Between the 1880s and the 1980s the telephone system in the United States had an enormous effect on the quality of life and work. In rural communities, telephone service meant an end to the isolation and loneliness experienced by many farm and ranch families. Families whose members moved away to school or new jobs could stay in contact with each other over the phone. For ill or disabled people, the telephone became an indispensable link to the outside world. Telephone service also enabled immediate contact with emergency services, such as the police, fire department, or emergency medical services. By the 1960s the telephone was considered so essential that telephone companies provided basic services at reduced rates to elderly and disabled people.

The telephone network has also provided the electronic network for new computer-based systems like the Internet (a worldwide interconnection of computers and computer networks), facsimile transmissions (copies sent electronically by fax machines through telephone lines), and the World Wide Web (library of resources stored on computers and accessed through the Internet). The memory and data-processing power of individual computers can be linked together and data transmitted over telephone lines, even internationally via satellite, by connecting computers to the telephone network through telephonelike devices called modems (modulator-demodulators). The telephone network itself now relies extensively on computer-based switches and exchanges that have made all kinds of new telephone-related services possible, such as call waiting, call forwarding, call return, voice-mail services, and caller ID. The relationship today between computers and the telephone system is inseparable.

F. Radio

The telegraph and telephone were systems for distance communication that sent electrical signals through wires. The earliest system for sending electrical signals through the air via electromagnetic waves was called wireless, and later radio. Radio technology was based on the discoveries of James Clerk Maxwell. In 1864 he proposed a theory that electromagnetic signals did not need wires to be transmitted, but could be carried on electromagnetic waves. He demonstrated that light, electricity, and heat are all part of a band of radiant energy we now call the radio or electromagnetic spectrum (see Electromagnetic Radiation).

The Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi was the first person to invent a true wireless radio. In 1895 he built a system that could send and receive a signal at a distance of close to 3 km (close to 2 mi). He moved to England, and by 1899 the British Marconi Company had sent signals across the English Channel. In 1901 Marconi received the Morse code signal for the letter S sent across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada.

Marconi's radio system used a spark-gap technology that could transmit only simple on-off signals–so radio signaling used an on-off system like Morse code. This type of radio technology is called radiotelegraphy. Wireless was especially valuable for ships in distress, so that other ships could be dispatched to save their passengers and crews in times of emergency.

In 1901 the Canadian-born American physicist Reginald Fessenden patented an alternator that would use continuous waves instead of on-off spark-gap signals. This system could also send signals much farther and with much less background noise, so it could carry the sound of the human voice. This new approach to radio was called radiotelephony. On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in 1906, Fessenden produced the first radio broadcasts from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, which were picked up as far away as New York and by ships in the Atlantic. Another American, Lee De Forest, is best known for his invention of the triode vacuum tube, called the Audion, which amplified radio signals so that musical concerts, dramatic performances, and speeches could be heard clearly over the radio.

Radio technology improved rapidly throughout the 20th century. The first breakthrough was the invention of the cat's-whisker receiver, or crystal set, which used a silicon crystal and a small metal wire to detect radio waves clearly. Later improvements were made in the valves, or tubes, such as De Forest's Audion, which amplified the signal once it was received. Radio transmissions initially used amplitude modulation (AM) to superimpose audio signals onto radio waves. The invention of frequency modulation (FM) radio provided much more sensitive and clear radio transmission and reception. Tuners became more sensitive, and more broadcast signals were sent over the air at different frequencies. In the 1950s and 1960s radio manufacturers began replacing the bulky and heat-generating vacuum tubes in radios with transistors, and radios became smaller.

In the United States, the first regularly scheduled public broadcasts were made in 1920 from station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Other stations were soon established across the country, and companies like the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Westinghouse, which owned many stations, formed radio networks that would produce and share programming. Radio programming soon filled the airwaves. Competitors using the same frequencies jammed each other's signals.

Eventually the radio industry asked the federal government to intervene in their disputes over frequencies and signal power. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was created in 1927 and was given the task of allocating frequencies to different users. However, the FRC was a somewhat ineffective body until the Communications Act of 1934, when it was renamed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and given a budget and a staff. FCC rulings had the power of law, and the agency was responsible for issuing licenses to radio broadcasters for particular bandwidths, frequencies, and signal powers. License holders had to demonstrate that they operated their radio stations "in the public interest, convenience, and necessity" (see Radio and Television Broadcasting).

Most large cities and many small towns have a number of local radio stations, on both the AM and the FM frequencies. Other radio frequencies are used for other purposes, especially television. Certain frequencies are used to relay wireless telephone calls across small defined geographic areas called "cells" (see Cellular Radio). In the United States, some frequencies are dedicated to citizens-band (CB) radio, which long-distance truck drivers use to check on road conditions, report problems, or just to chat. Special frequencies are devoted to emergency use, such as police, fire, or emergency medical dispatching, or to aviation radio. An important part of the radio spectrum is shortwave, which can carry radio signals around the world. International shortwave broadcasts are very popular.

G. Television

Just as inventors had sought ways to transmit sound using electromagnetic waves, they worked to develop similar methods for transmitting pictures. By the first decade of the 20th century, the basic ideas of television technology were understood, although it took several more decades to work out the necessary improvements in existing technology.

Two pioneers independently created the first workable television systems–American inventor Philo T. Farnsworth and Russian-born American engineer Vladimir K. Zworykin. Farnsworth used an electronic camera he called an image dissector to transmit a picture of a dollar sign in 1927. He patented aspects of his system, and developed his television further in the 1930s, but lost his financial backing when World War II (1939-1945) began.

In 1923 Zworykin first demonstrated an electronic television camera he called the iconoscope. At the time, he was working for Westinghouse Electronic Corporation, but Zworykin moved to RCA when David Sarnoff, vice president of RCA, became interested in his invention. Sarnoff supported the development of the iconoscope when RCA obtained the rights to Westinghouse's radio research projects in 1930.

In 1932 RCA was transmitting 120-line pictures, and by 1935 had a 343-line image. The first television sets were offered for sale in the United States in 1938, although they had been available in England for two years before that. Standards for television broadcasting and television receivers were put in place by the FCC in 1939; in 1941 the commission accepted industry recommendations for television technology standards that are still in place today. RCA started the first regularly scheduled television programming on July 1, 1941, in New York City.

World War II put television technology on "hold." After the war, however, technical improvements and American prosperity created a great demand for radio and television systems. At the end of the war, only six television stations were broadcasting in the United States (in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Schenectady, New York; and Los Angeles, California), and for only a few hours each day. By 1948, 34 stations were broadcasting television signals in 21 major cities, and about 1 million television sets had been sold. By the end of the 1950s television was on the air almost everywhere in the country. The FCC set aside channels for public or educational television to ensure quality programming and to reach remote communities. Three national television networks emerged–NBC, then owned by RCA; CBS; and ABC.

Since the 1950s many improvements have been made in television technology, particularly the introduction of color television in the 1960s. Image reception has become clearer, and screens have become larger. Most televisions can now receive stereo sound. The widespread growth of cable television since the 1960s has introduced many new channels and types of programming into American homes. And today direct-broadcast-satellite (DBS) services allow individual households to receive hundreds of channels carried by satellites directly into their homes.

There is no doubt that television has been one of the most important communication technologies in history. Televisions are switched on an average of seven hours a day in American households. Debates continue about the medium's effects on children, culture, education, politics, and community life. Critics say that television feeds a constant stream of simplified ideas and sensationalistic images, that it has a negative effect on political campaigns and voting patterns, that it destroys local cultures in favor of a bland national culture, and that it has encouraged the growth of an uncritical and passive audience. Defenders say that television provides a great deal of high-quality educational and cultural programming, and that it is the major source of national and international news and information for most U.S. citizens. Television can be a very effective teaching tool in the classroom and at home. And, as the Canadian writer Marshall McLuhan pointed out, perhaps nothing has been more responsible for creating the global village–the sense that we can see and hear events anywhere in the world as they happen, and so can feel more connected to other places.

H. Computers

The earliest computers were machines built to make repetitive numerical calculations that had previously been done by hand. By the 1890s calculating machines were used to tabulate the U.S. Census with a punched-card system invented by Herman Hollerith. Electromechanical calculators were being built by the 1930s, especially by a new company called the International Business Machines Company (IBM). The first truly electronic memory and processors were built by John Vincent Atanasoff in 1939 at the Iowa State College, and the first fully functioning electronic computers, a series of ten called Colossus, were built by the British Secret Service during World War II to help them crack the Germans' secret military codes. The first general-purpose electronic computer in America, called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), was built at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Two of its inventors, American engineers J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, moved on to build the first electronic computer for commercial use, the UNIVAC, at the Remington Rand Corporation.

While computers continued to improve, they were used primarily for mathematical and scientific calculations, and for encoding and deciphering encoded messages. Computer technology was finally applied to printed communication in the 1970s when the first word processors were created. These machines had a single purpose and were not what would be considered full computers, but they added computer processing to typewriters to make writing and changing text significantly easier.

In 1975 the first microcomputer was introduced, which had the power of many larger machines but could fit onto a desktop. This miniaturization was accomplished by using new microprocessor technologies, which compressed the memory and processing power of many hundreds and then thousands of circuits onto tiny chips of materials called semiconductors. The invention was soon followed by the introduction of the first word-processing software in 1978, which enabled people to use the computer to write and change text and graphics.

At the same time that computers were becoming faster, more-powerful, and smaller, networks developed for interconnecting computers. In the 1960s the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, along with researchers working on military projects at research centers and universities across the country, developed a network called the ARPANET for sharing data and mainframe computer processing time over specially equipped telephone lines and satellite links. The network was designed to survive the attack or destruction of some of its parts and continue to work.

Soon, however, scientists using the ARPANET realized that they could send and receive messages as well as data and programs over the network. The ARPANET became the first major electronic-mail network; soon thousands of researchers all over the world used it. Later the National Science Foundation (NSF) helped connect more universities and nonmilitary research sites to the ARPANET, and renamed it the Internet because it was a network of networks among many different organizations.

Today the Internet is the foundation of computer networks in the United States. It is interconnected by both wire and over-the-air microwave and satellite telephone lines. Commercial online service providers–such as America Online, CompuServe, and the Microsoft Network–sell Internet access to individual computer users and companies. Smaller networks of computers, called Local Area Networks (LANs), can be installed in a single building or for a whole organization. Wide Area Networks (WANs) can be used to span a large geographical area. LANs and WANs use telephone lines, computer cables, and microwave and laser beams to carry digital information around a smaller area, such as a single college campus. In turn, they can interconnect to the Internet. Computer networks can carry any digital signals, including video images, sounds, graphics, animations, and text.

Since the 1970s personal computers have transformed American business, education, and entertainment. The typical home or business computer today has many times the computing power of a single early mainframe. People can use computers to design graphics and full-motion video, compose music, send electronic mail, make airline or hotel reservations, or search the Library of Congress over the World Wide Web. They can play games and even visit electronic rooms or parties to talk to other people. These activities are made possible by multimedia computer programs that employ still and motion pictures, sounds, graphics, and text together.

Computers are used in all aspects of business and education. Self-instructional computer programs help people learn new information or skills (see Computer-Aided Instruction). Some programs are simulations, which imitate tasks that require the learner to perform in certain ways, and give the learner feedback about that performance. For example, airline pilots sharpen their flying skills in computer-generated flight simulators, which exactly duplicate the experience of flying in different types of aircraft.

V. Communication and Disabilities

One of the most important uses of communication systems and technologies has been to assist people with disabilities. In 1838 the Frenchman Louis Braille demonstrated a system of imprinting raised dots on paper standing for letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation. With this system, blind people could read by running their fingers across the dots, and could write by impressing the raised dots into paper using a frame called a Braille slate, or a typewriterlike Braille writer. Sign language–a system of making signs for letters, words, and groups of words using fingered signs and body gestures–was formally developed in the 18th century in Paris, France, as a system of communication for deaf people. Alexander Graham Bell originally began work on the telephone as a way to help hearing-impaired people to hear more clearly.

Today many new systems assist people with disabilities. The Kurzweil Reading Machine, for example, electronically scans printed text and speaks the words aloud using speech-synthesis software. Some personal computers can now read typed-in text aloud for blind or visually impaired people. Personal computers can also show text on the screen large enough for visually impaired people to read, or can be equipped with touch-sensitive screens or pointers for people whose physical disabilities make them unable to type (see User Interface). Computers can also recognize a person's voice, and with special software can turn lights on and off, engage security systems, or make emergency medical, police, or fire calls. This technology is especially helpful for people who need to use a wheelchair or who have limited use of their limbs.

Several new technologies have been developed to help deaf people use the telephone and watch television. Instead of communicating by voice, deaf telephone customers and their families and friends can communicate with TTYs, named for the original device called a teletypewriter (they are now also known as TDDs–telecommunications devices for the deaf). The TTY is a device with a display that allows customers to type in a message, and to read it on another TTY at the other end. TTY users can call any other phone user in the United States by calling a relay service; a trained operator takes down the message, and then calls the other person and relays the message. Or TTY users can call other people who have personal computers, modems, and the right software to decode the TTY message.

Televisions in the United States today are equipped with closed-captioning devices. Most broadcast and cable television signals are sent out with closed captions, the text of the words that are being spoken or descriptions of music or sound effects, encoded into part of the video signal. Some programs are broadcast (or recorded onto videotape) with additional sound tracks, so that blind people can hear not only the dialogue, music, and sound effects of a program, but also an announcer quietly describing the pictures.

VI. Communication and Law

Societies have attempted to regulate communication through customs and laws since ancient times (see Censorship). Today many societies regard freedom of communication as a basic human right and have enacted laws to protect this right. In the United States, freedom of verbal speech and print communication is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution (see Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press). The government may only censor material that constitutes libel, slander, obscenity, perjury, sedition, or criminal conduct.

The United States government has also enacted laws to help regulate and govern the growth of communications industries. As radio and telephone technologies developed in the early 1900s, the potential for these media to interconnect rural areas and cities and to promote safety became apparent. To ensure that telephone wire systems and radio airwave systems were set up and run in the most efficient way, Congress passed the Communications Act in 1934 and created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This independent government agency regulates wire, cable, and airwave communication through such activities as assigning portions of the radio frequency band to radio stations and inspecting transmitting equipment.

As new communication media have developed, such as television and cellular telephony, the FCC has grown to supervise and regulate those industries as well. In an attempt to keep pace with advances made in communications technology and changes in the industry, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a rewritten and radically different version of the Communications Act of 1934. One goal of the act was to increase competition by reducing previous regulations and making it easier for new businesses to enter communications industries. The act also contained a section called the Communications Decency Act, a controversial measure designed to restrict access by minors to indecent material, especially over the Internet. In 1997 the United States Supreme Court declared this section to be unconstitutional because it violated 1st Amendment rights to free speech.

To avoid regulation or censorship of content by the government, the film industry in the United States agreed to become self-regulating in the 1920s. A rating system based on content was eventually established in 1968 and has been modified several times since. A film's rating indicates whether the film is suitable for young viewers, or whether they must be accompanied by an adult. In 1996 the television industry in the United Stated agreed to develop a similar rating system for television programs.

VII. Communication and Cultural Change

Since the time of writing, communication technologies have had a major influence on society. The Canadian historian Harold Innis wrote that communication technologies were the key elements in the development of all the great ancient societies: Egypt was transformed by papyrus and written hieroglyphics; ancient Babylonia used cuneiform writing, impressed indelibly into clay tablets to develop a great economic system; the ancient Greeks' love of the spoken word led them to perfect public speaking, persuasive rhetoric, drama, and philosophy; for administering their empire, the Romans developed an unparalleled system of government that depended on the Roman alphabet; and of course paper and the printing press extended new ways of thinking across Europe and paved the way for the European Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation.

Later Marshall McLuhan (a student of Innis's) argued that radio, movies, and television had just as much impact, if not more, on modern society as printing. The difference between these media is that while printing encourages logical thinking that lays out ideas one step at a time, electronic media disrupt logical, linear thinking. Electronic media create the sense of experiencing everything at once, in no particular order and disconnected from the sources of the messages.

Most observers agree that communication media and technologies have contributed to a society that is changing very rapidly. Three key issues have arisen in the tide of this rapid change: individual privacy, coverage of politics in the media, and the availability of information.

A. Privacy

New communication and information technologies have enabled many organizations and people to collect, organize, and sell information about other people and organizations, both quickly and cheaply. The easy availability of personal information makes banking, education, health care, and sales much more convenient for both consumers and sellers. Credit card and automated teller machine (ATM) systems would be impossible without large databases of information available on demand. Scanners in the supermarket rapidly and accurately record every item that passes over them, making grocery checkouts faster and error free. Companies maintain huge mailing lists of customers that record not only their names, addresses, and phone numbers, but also major recent purchases, credit ratings, and demographic information (such as sex, age, income, and educational level) that helps the companies identify target markets for specific products.

The negative side to all this shared information is that there is little control over who sees or uses this personal information. Medical records are shared not only by doctors' offices and hospitals but are regularly made available to insurance companies as well. Auto insurance companies obtain information about traffic violations from state and local police departments. Credit report errors occur often and can be very damaging to a person's financial situation. Many Americans worry that having so much of their personal information available to so many others may hurt their privacy.

B. Coverage of Politics

Some researchers believe that media news coverage of campaigning has hurt the political process in the United States. They cite the declining rates of voter participation and negative public opinions about politics and politicians as evidence that despite the coverage, Americans know less about politics, and therefore are more susceptible to political manipulation than ever before. Other researchers think that the media, especially newspapers and television, have helped educate Americans about the political process, and have made them more critical and careful voters.

The penny press (the first newspapers available to mass audiences because they cost just a penny), public education, and public libraries are uniquely American inventions that were meant to ensure that Americans could educate themselves about important issues and events, and so be able to make political decisions. Today, however, most cities have only one newspaper (and therefore no competing points of view in the press); public education is experiencing unprecedented financial difficulties and lack of public confidence, and governments are cutting library budgets to the minimum. In this climate, many researchers are concerned that Americans may not have access to reliable information, although some believe that more citizens will turn to the Internet and the World Wide Web as sources of information about key issues.

C. Information Equity

Another concern among researchers studying changes in society is the growing gap between the information rich (people with easy access to information) and the information poor (people with less access to information). As new technologies and communication services emerge, the service companies would like to find receptive–and paying–audiences. Newspapers, radio, and television were for many years the major sources of day-to-day information, and they were very inexpensive for the audience. Broadcast signals could be received free of charge, and daily newspapers supported themselves mainly with advertising so that per-copy prices stayed low. AT&T provided "universal service at affordable prices" so that most people could afford local telephone service.

The media today, however, are charging more than ever for their products and services. More households pay for cable television than settle for over-the-air, or free, television. Local telephone rates have gone up since the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s (although long-distance services, with many competing providers, have become cheaper). Newspaper circulation has declined, and magazine subscriptions and book prices have increased sharply. On-line services (Internet service providers) charge customers by the hour to connect to their networks. Communication equipment is more sophisticated, and costs more, than in the past; even the prices of computers, which have become vastly more powerful in the past few years, have stayed about level. In short, people who can afford more and better services may become more informed than people who cannot afford them. Some researchers think that the differences between the information rich and poor may have negative social consequences.

Contributed By:

Leah A. Lievrouw, B.J., M.A., Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Library and Information Science, University of California, Los Angeles. Associate Professor, Department of Telecommunication and Film, College of Communication, University of Alabama.

HOW TO CITE THIS ARTICLE

"Communication," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000

http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

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