With the development of civilisation and written languages came the need for more frequent and reliable methods of communication allowing messages to reach longer distances. This was essential to the control of trade and other affairs between nations and empires.
Early man used cave walls as the media on which messages could be transcribed, this was common for many years, until the Egyptians discovered a special kind of rush (Papyrus) that could be woven to form a portable writing material. In about 105AD the Chinese discovered a way to make a similar substance from wood pulp.
Over the next few centuries printing techniques advanced rapidly, especially through the use of steam power. The first typesetting machine, the Linotype, was patented in 1884 by the German-American Ottmar Mergenthaler.
In the meantime, postal services and moved from being privately to nationally owned, and long distance postal services became an affordable option. For the first time, an ordinary person could correspond with people in other countries. A visual semaphore system was also implemented in both Europe and the United States, providing a way of 'echoing' messages nationally via large towers placed in strategic positions; however this proved slow as each method had to be verified to ensure message accuracy.
Following the discovery and partial understanding of electricity in the 18th Century scientists looked towards a way of relaying messages electronically. This attracted great interest because of the speed and efficiency such a system would bring, nevertheless it was not until 1837 that the first practical telegraph system was produced. In the years that followed various offshoots were announced, modern telex systems are an improved version of this basic concept.
Now that the basic frontiers of electronics had been broken, telecommunications moved into a new era, in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the worlds first true speech telephone. Research into magnetism had also revealed the relationship between magnetic fields and electric currents, thus laying the technical foundation for wireless telegraphy. Twenty five years later the Italian inventor Marchese Guglielmo Marconi sent a wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean, opening up new possibilities for communication systems.
Satellite technology had been steadily increasing, with several already launched. America was the leader in this technology, with satellites programs such as the COMSAT and INTELSAT systems. These networks of geostationary satellites covered the entire globe, handling approximately 50000 voice/data/video lines. Global communication was now relatively cheap.
From 1985 onwards the major growth area in technology has been with Personal Computers. Bringing with it new uses for old technology. The Internet has received so much media hype that the number of subscribers is increasing exponentially. Electronic mail is not a new concept, however it is only recently that people have started to use it on a large scale. Large computer networks spanning the entire globe allow communication between tens of millions of people. As the main form of communication is text based and transfer speeds are slow e-mail is not a dependable form of communication - but with the increase in cable networks it could be a viable solution in the future.
These increases in communication have effected commercial and industrial markets, companies specialising in communications have emerged and thrived. The technology has a strategic role to play in the military, allowing soldiers, aircraft, and base units to communicate freely without the need for landlines. News agencies have also benefited from this technology, it is now commonplace to see live pictures from a particular news-story with the reporter using satellite technology to transmit the broadcast. SKY television provides around 100 video channels, and a handful of audio channels. This can be received in almost any part of the world and hence has a huge audience. SKY is currently owned by an American, Rupert Murdoch, who also has control over many other media companies including many American and British newspapers. Ultimately he has so much influence over what appears in the British media it would not be a challenge to exploit this power to sway public opinion.
As we move into the next millennium communication systems are still under rapid improvement. Fibre optic phone lines are being installed throughout the country, and will allow faster digital communication expanding the possibilities of computer communication. Internet 'Phones' are under development allowing full duplex conversations between people over different countries and continents. With advances in satellite transmission it is now possible to purchase satellite phones from which you can also check your e-mail. They operate from anywhere in the world and are no larger than an average laptop computer.
National and international boundaries are becoming more and more obsolete, it may be that in the future we are not run from London, but Europe is governed as one large country from a central point. In the words of Bill Wiley (vice president of PTT Telecom) "That long Distance feeling is finally disappearing".