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...
Communications satellites are relay stations for radio signals and provide reliable and distance-independent high-speed connections even at remote locations without high-bandwidth infrastructure.

On point-to-point transmission, the transmission method originally employed on, satellites face increasing competition from fiber optic cables, so point-to-multipoint transmission increasingly becomes the ruling satellite technology. Point-to-multipoint transmission enables the quick implementation of private networks consisting of very small aperture terminals (VSAT). Such networks are independent and make mobile access possible.

In the future, satellites will become stronger, cheaper and their orbits will be lower; their services might become as common as satellite TV is today.

For more information about satellites, see How Satellites Work ( and the Tech Museum's satellite site (