Written by: on August 4, 2020 @ 6:00 am

Today we take for granted that we have access to the entire world’s information at the tip of our fingers. We can be reading a breaking news article taking place across the world, video calling our vacation mothers, and texting your best friend at the same time. It is hard for many of us to remember times before we had our smartphones glued to our hands, but for most of the human history, communication was far from instant. People communication to pass information to each other, and for as long as humans have communicated, messages have needed to be delivered.

The earliest form of sending messages across long distances can be traced back to Ancient China. Smoke signals could be seen 500 miles away, used to warn allies of enemy attacks farther down the Great Wall. The use of smoke signals can be dated back to 200 B.C.E. in China, but this form of communication was also used by Native Americans. Using a wet blanket, a fire would be covered then released to create large puffs of black smoke. Each tribe had their own pattern of messages, but generally one smoke puff was to attract attention, two puffs meant things were well, and three puffs indicated danger. Today, the Vatican still uses smoke signals to indicate the selection of a new pope!

Pigeon delivery is probably the oddest part of message sending history. Bred to find their way home after traveling large distance, these birds could carry a message a far distance away. Often during battle, a short message was written on paper and inserted into a canister attached to the homing pigeon’s leg. The pigeons would travel to a location, release the message, and return home. Scientists are still unsure of how pigeons accomplish this mission. It is believed they may use Earth’s magnetic fields to direct themselves. Genghis Khan communicated with the most distant points of his empire using pigeons, the Greeks used pigeons to announce Olympian winners, and pigeons saved countless lives during World War I. After years of domesticating pigeons for our message carrying, pigeons have lingered to eat your bread scraps!

Inventors William Cooke, Charles Wheatstone, and Samuel Morse simultaneously developed the electric telegraph, revolutionizing the sending of messages. The telegraph connected and disconnected the electric circuit, creating pulses of electric current. A signaling alphabet of dots and dashes was created to write messages in this pulsating current, this alphabet is Morse Code. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, used the established telegraph lines to send audible sound in 1876. Flash forward almost 100 years to 1973, and technology company Motorola created the very first cellphone. This giant phone looks nothing like the sleek smartphones we have today, weighting 4.4 pounds!

Instant messaging or “IM’ing” launched by AOL in 1997 became a popular way to contact your friends at the computer screen. As our fascination with instant messaging advanced, so did the popularization of text messaging. The cellphone went from being a device to make calls, to a device predominantly used to send texts. The average American spends 6 minutes making phone calls, and an aver 26 minutes sending text messages.

Today getting a message from person to person is easier than ever. Now, text messaging or SMS is the most popular application in the world with over 81% of cell phone users utilizing it. Social media and video chat platforms like Facetime and Skype make it more possible than ever to communicate exciting news, track finances, and get business accomplished. The history of messaging is a long one, and we can look forward to many advancements in the future!

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