Recently, I attended the An Event Apart Conference (AEA) in Seattle, Washington. AEA is a conference for digital practitioners to listen and learn about the constantly evolving world of digital design and development. While I learned a plethora of information about new technologies and advancements in the industry, one thing stood out to me the most, the resilience of the internet, a talk by Jeremy Keith of Clearleft. In his talk, he discussed the origins of the internet, why it was created and what led to its creation.
What surprised me the most was the idea that the internet (or global connectivity) wasn’t a child of the technological revolution. However, it was an idea that had been planted in the 19th century and had evolved to the world wide web and the internet of things.
The internet is not a modern invention
It is arguable that the most impressive modern marvel ever created is the internet. It has successfully connected the entire world, providing every man, woman & child access to any bit of information they can think of. It is easy to believe that the Internet was the brainchild of modern tech wizards in the early 90’s; however, the idea of the internet was established and has continuously been iterated upon, from one century to the next.
In the early 19th century
Ireland built a tower signaling system during the Napoleonic era that would warn the coast and the mainland of invading forces. One person who identifies a threat lights up the tower with fire.
Ireland’s tower signaling system evolves to an electrical telegraph that sends morse code messages through telegraph lines
In the mid-1850’s
The Atlantic Telegraph Company built the first transatlantic telegraph cable. A cable that ran from the UK across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas allowing for Queen Victoria of the UK and President of the United States James Buchanan to speak together at the same time.
Alexander Graham Bell improved upon the telegraph technology and invented the telephone, liberating us from code based communications to personal communications using natural language.
The basic principles of communication still exist. The core functionality of the way we communicate hasn’t changed from Ireland’s tower signaling system to the iPhone 6plus S. Back then they needed a way to pass the information along accurately, effectively and efficiently. Today, the internet and the devices for which we access it, are just an extension of the technology established in the early 19th century.
We have push notifications, email clients, apps, web interrupts and digital alert systems that give us critical information instantly
We can send a text from a top Pikes Peak to someone in Japan in just a matter of seconds or FaceTime your family in Indiana from an Airplane over the pacific traveling hundreds of miles per hour.
We have devices that not only make calls as Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was intended, but we can also take pictures, order pizza, plot travel routes, do math, and use apps that place puppy noses on our faces.
So what’s the next step in the evolution of communication?
Currently, we are in the middle of a new communication revolution that will further push the possibilities of instant information, the connectivity of information. This connectivity is referred to as The Internet of Things, a network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. This data is gathered and aggregated for us through our devices. Allowing farmers to determine the health of their livestock from the comfort of their living room, a mother to view her baby cam from work by using her tablet, and a business traveler to use his phone to turn on lights, the oven or the thermostat before he/she arrives home from a long trip.
Jeremy Keith’s talk opened my eyes to the world where people’s desired outcomes have never truly shifted. The desire to communicate together in an efficient and effective manner was solved centuries ago with the technology that was available then. Today, every new iPhone release or new messaging app or a new device is just an iteration of an ancient solution. The good news is that we keep evolving the solution with new technology to make communication more useful, usable and compelling.
-Trevor Glassman, Experience Planner