World-Information City


  Report: Timeline of Communication Systems

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  More and more, faster and faster, but...

Since the invention of appropriate means and technologies, communication no longer requires face-to-face meetings.

From writing and reading to using computers, expanding and exhausting one's possibilities to communicate relies more and more on the application of skills we have to learn. With the increasing importance of communication technologies, learning to apply them properly becomes a kind of rite of passage.

A Small World

From the very beginning - the first Sumerian pictographs on clay tablets - to today's state of the art technologies - broadband communication via fiber-optic cables and satellites - the amount of information collected, processed and stored, the capabilities to do so, as well as the possible speed of information transmission exponentially accelerate.

Since the invention of the electrical telegraph, but especially with today's growing digital communication networks, every location on earth seems to be close, however distant it may be, and also time no longer remains a significant dimension.

Threatened Cultural Memory

More and more information is transmitted and produced faster and faster, but the shelf life of information becomes more and more fragile. For more than 4500 years Sumerian pictographs written on clay tablets remained intact, but newspapers and books, printed some decades ago, crumble into pieces; film reels, video tapes and cassettes corrode. Digitalization of information is not a cure; on the contrary it even intensifies the danger of destroying cultural heritage. Data increasingly requires specific software and hardware, but to regularly convert all available digitized information is an unexecutable task.

Compared to the longevity of pictographs on clay tablets, digitized information is produced for instant one-time use. The increasing production and processing of information causes a problem hitherto unknown: the loss of our cultural memory.

For further information see T. Matthew Ciolek, Global Networking Timeline.

For another history of communication systems see Friedrich Kittler, The History of Communication Media.

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Timeline of Communication Systems
    Timeline of Communication Systems: Introduction
-3   1800 - 1900 A.D.
-2   1900 - 2000 A.D.
-1   2000 A.D.
0   More and more, faster and faster, but...
Fiber-optic cable networks
Fiber-optic cable networks may become the dominant method for high-speed Internet connections. Since the first fiber-optic cable was laid across the Atlantic in 1988, the demand for faster Internet connections is growing, fuelled by the growing network traffic, partly due to increasing implementation of corporate networks spanning the globe and to the use of graphics-heavy contents on the World Wide Web.

Fiber-optic cables have not much more in common with copper wires than the capacity to transmit information. As copper wires, they can be terrestrial and submarine connections, but they allow much higher transmission rates. Copper wires allow 32 telephone calls at the same time, but fiber-optic cable can carry 40,000 calls at the same time. A capacity, Alexander Graham Bell might have not envisioned when he transmitted the first words - "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you" - over a copper wire.

Copper wires will not come out of use in the foreseeable future because of technologies as DSL that speed up access drastically. But with the technology to transmit signals at more than one wavelength on fiber-optic cables, there bandwidth is increasing, too.

For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica on telecommunication cables, click here. For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica focusing on fiber-optic cables, click here.

An entertaining report of the laying of the FLAG submarine cable, up to now the longest fiber-optic cable on earth, including detailed background information on the cable industry and its history, Neal Stephenson has written for Wired: Mother Earth Mother Board. Click here for reading.

Susan Dumett has written a short history of undersea cables for Pretext magazine, Evolution of a Wired World. Click here for reading.

A timeline history of submarine cables and a detailed list of seemingly all submarine cables of the world, operational, planned and out of service, can be found on the Web site of the International Cable Protection Committee.

For maps of fiber-optic cable networks see the website of Kessler Marketing Intelligence, Inc.