Smoke Signal to Social Media: A Brief History of Communication & Digital Media Technologies

Today social media and media apps have become the standard way to communicate with people. Over time, technology has changed how and who we interact with — both informally and formally. In this post, we will look at the brief history of communication & digital media technologies and technological disruption led by the social media storm and internet wave.

A Brief History of Communication & Digital Media Technologies

The first means of communication was the human voice but about 3,200 BC writing was invented in Iraq and Egypt. It was invented about 1,500 BC in China. However, the only American civilization to invent a true system of writing was the Mayans.

In ancient days, the tradition was using smoke fire and pigeons to communicate with others. With time, letters (postal services), telegram, telephone, email, and IM-DM took over.

Later, with the explosion of Internet technologies, Email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter et al took over. Nowadays, people and even a vast majority of businesses use WhatsApp, TeamViewer, GoToMeeting, Slack etc. for internal and external communications, with more digital media companies blossoming every day.

Digital platforms like Facebook Live and other video platforms have become the hottest trends to communicate and engage with the customers.

A Brief History of the Communication Technologies

Communicating over long distances is something that people once struggled with. Effective communication is essential for a variety of reasons. It serves to inform, motivate, establish authority and control, and allows for emotive expression.

Humans have communicated with one another in some shape or form ever since time immemorial. But to understand the history of communication, all we have to go by are written records that date as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.

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Image Credit: Bucklol

During the 1800s, there was a rush among inventors to develop newer and better ways to allow long distance and mass communication. Some of the ways are mentioned below.


Writing a letter is a form of communication that has persisted despite all of the high-speed technologies available today. However, the way it is delivered has changed a great deal over the years. As far back as the early 1800s, letters were delivered by messengers on foot for shorter distances. Longer distances were conquered by sending a messenger on horseback. By 1837, a British schoolteacher named Rowland Hill came up with the idea of postage stamps, and this gave birth to the postal system. Today we can even send letters by air or by sea within a few days, where without modern sorting and shipping techniques, it would have otherwise taken months.

Morse Code and the Telegraph

Letter writing was still the exclusive mean of written communication well into the first few decades of the 1800s, although by that time a few inventors had started dabbling with primitive prototypes of the telegraph. One man named Samuel Morse worked hard on developing an electromagnetic telegraph system. More importantly, he also developed a system of communicating through this machine. It was known as Morse code and consisted of a series of coded dots and dashes that corresponded with the alphabet. After patenting his invention, telegrams soon became quite popular as a way of delivering short amounts of information quickly and across long distances. The telegraph became even more important when it was heavily used during the Second World War.

Printing Press

The history of the printing press dates back to the 1400s when Johannes Gutenberg created a model based on primitive versions already in use. His printing press used removable metal letters that could be rearranged to create blocks of text. The printing press allowed people to access books and pamphlets for far lower prices, helping to educate them and introduce them to new ideas. Johannes Gutenberg’s first creation using his new press was a copy of the Bible; an extremely famous version that is known as the Gutenberg Bible. Since his time, printing presses have evolved into more sophisticated versions, but they are still used for the same reasons to distribute news and literature on a mass scale.


After the telegraph was invented, others continued to experiment with electromagnets and their potential in telecommunication devices. With so many active inventors sharing ideas and developing machines with overlapping concepts, there is some dispute as to the original inventor of the telephone. However, in 1876 one man named Alexander Graham Bell did succeed legally by securing a patent for his version of the telephone and so he is remembered best in association with this invention.


After the invention of the telegraph, some inventors started attempting ways to create a wireless version of the same machine. In doing so, they learned how to generate and use radio waves. In turn, this helped to develop the radio. It was a Serbian-American engineer named Nikola Tesla who first started publicly experimenting with radio frequencies and transmission. In 1897, he got a patent for his invention and explored ways to use radios for communication. Later, other companies and inventors came up with variations of the radio using different technology.


Before television, people relied on radio and live entertainment to amuse themselves. From the late 1800s, a few inventors had been experimenting with displaying images on a screen. It was a Scottish man named John Logie Baird who was successful in showing moving images on a screen in 1925. The cathode ray tube was used to create better output on screens. The first TV images were halftones, and then black and white before color were finally introduced in 1953. Television continues to rule many living rooms across the world and we have far more to choose from in terms of sizes, models, and even channels.


Even before the Internet was fully evolved, electronic mail had been developed in the 1970s as a way to send messages from one computer to another. In the early days, both users had to be online at the same time in order to send and receive messages through a central system. It was a computer network called ARPANET that largely contributed to the development of email. In 1971, the first email was sent by Ray Tomlinson, an American programmer. Instead of only being able to send text messages, we can also transfer multimedia and other attachments as well.

Cell Phone

In the 1970s, a researcher at Motorola named Martin Cooper began working on portable communication devices. In 1973, he developed a type of mobile phone. It was a large, clunky prototype, now colloquially referred to as “the brick” for its awkward size and shape. For the next couple of decades, the main aim of many cell phone manufacturers was to make phones that were smaller and sleeker. With digital cell phones, new options were added, such as the ability to store phone numbers, change ring tones and even play games. In recent years, this has given way to smartphones. These devices combine computing power into a cell phone, giving the user Internet access and basic computer functionality all in a pocket-sized cell phone.

A Brief History of Telecommunications [Infographic] - Conference Calls Unlimited
Infographic Credit: Conference Calls Unlimited

The Rise of the Digital Media Technologies

At present, it’s pretty acceptable to meet someone and connect with them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. It’s better than simply asking someone for their number. Social networking is a way to get to know and stay connected to that person.

Social media really took the whole world by storm. What was unorthodox 5 – 10 years ago, are now pretty much mainstream.

Facebook has got more than 2 billion users. More importantly, it hosts over 18 million Facebook Company Pages.

LinkedIn, world’s largest online professional networking platform caters more than 238 million worldwide LinkedIn members, with 84 million members in the United States. LinkedIn’s objective is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

YouTube, another extremely popular digital platform, “allows billions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos [and] provides a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire….”

This is the age of Smartphones, emails in rapid succession, texts, DMs, status updates, push updates, check-ins, and incessant email checking.

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Technology is evolving at an exponential pace. New platforms like Instagram, SnapChat or WhatsApp for Business are trending. There are too many social networking players to evaluate; each of whom is remodeling their platforms and pivoting their business models to keep up with technological disruptions, business growth, and various social demands.

So, it would be pretty interesting to see which platforms will have a larger role and which ones will see a decline.

Evolution of Communication Infographic
Infographic Credit: Mikogo & Viral Blog

But, one thing is for sure – you can like or dislike social media and other digital media technologies. But, as an individual – job seeker or business owner, and more importantly, as the modern social human being, you can’t ignore it. Otherwise, chances are high that you will become a dinosaur surrounded by humans.

Read: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Jobs in India and Abroad

Importance of Digital Media & Communications Technologies
Image Credit: Media Group Online

Problems and Challenges with the Social Media & Digital Technologies in the Modern Era

Communication and media have come a long way since the grunts of the early cavemen, but every new innovation can bring its own problems.

Our early generations didn’t really know what ‘media and communications’ was, but they spoke to each other, they read the newspaper, they listened to the radio and they watched the television. They were in a constant state of media and communications and didn’t even know that they were doing it.

For years, digital media and internet technologies have contributed substantially to our general knowledge of international conditions and processes.

At present, the social media is at the heart of cultural, social, political and economic events throughout the world. The social media has taken on a whole new life and have posed unique challenges. One of the recent examples is the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica debacle.

We love social media, smartphones and daily digital rituals. It is currently our key to both education and entertainment (not to mention news, our networks, and our social calendars).

Read: Digital Marketing Careers & Jobs in India


Social media has affected family life, business, religion, education, recreation, international relations across the globe. So, there is some responsibility for the businesses and marketers to use communication and digital media technologies ethically and responsibly. At the same time, it’s also up to the users to consume information intelligently.

The ultimate goal of communication and media technologies is to stay connected.

Acknowledgment: This article has been co-authored by Sujoy Sengupta. Read his previous guest blog.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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