Michael Joseph Brandt
9 February, 2014
The Expanding Complexity of Human Communication
Since the first cave paintings of thousands of years ago, humans have been developing new ways to mobilize communication amongst networks of individuals. Mobile communication is a concept that essentially takes the functional, face-to-face understanding of communication and expands its possibilities beyond the immediate physical and temporal realms using various technologies that allow messages to be transmitted and received from entirely different contexts. The driving forces behind the technological evolution of mobility in communication seems to be globalization and immediacy, which has been almost completely achieved by the vast world of the Internet. Since the first developments in mobile technologies began, the way people communicate has become increasingly portable, transcended structural interpretation of time, and allowed for multiple contextual realms to exist within one’s immediately observable context. To strengthen my findings on what has guided the development of mobile communication, I will be referring to Kakihara and Sorenson’s definitions of spatial, temporal, and contextual mobility.
First, the desire to make mobile communication technologies more convenient and portable can be observed from the transition of communication via telegraph in the late 1700’s to the invention of the telephone in 1877 (Goggin, pg.20), and onward. The telegraph was the first step in the creation of a realm of communication that transcends the physical world. While the telegraph machine itself was not portable, it did allow for the spatial mobility of symbols, or simple messages, making it a huge step in the mobility of communication. The principle that communication is possible instantly over long distances presented by the telegraph is also what guided the invention of the telephone in 1877. The telephone made the mobility of space itself possible, as the conversation between two people speaking on telephones exists only in the telephone wires. In the most functional definition of spatial mobility, telephones became portable and transportable by the end of the 19th century as they became commercialized household items.
Second, as radios and telephones became more advanced and common throughout the world during the first quarter of the 20th century, perception of time in regards to how people communicate with each other was permanently altered. The development of new radio technology was “motivated to a large extent by the desire to accelerate the pace of work and save time” (Kakihara & Sorenson, pg.34). Radio transmissions broadcasting news, talk-shows, music, and other forms of entertainment would mostly be listened to at home or at work in order to perceptibly make time move faster. This desire to alter perception of time aligns with Kakihara and Sorenson’s observation of how people interpret changes in the “structural parameters” (pg. 34), as structural temporality has always remained the same, but increased spatial and temporal mobility has seemingly made time move faster. Another example is how telephones have reduced the time it would take to communicate long distances by cutting out the decoding process required for telegrams, making long-distance communication as quick as one can verbally exchange words.
Third, as the most recent wave of Internet-based cell-phone communication has globally become the primary way we communicate, a complex, layered existence of different contexts can exist within one’s immediate physical surroundings. Throughout the 1950’s up until the cellular phone became common in society during the 1990’s, the concept of “contextual mobility” was introduced into daily life and means of communication. While communicating via portable radio transmitters allowed for conversation outside of one’s immediate surroundings, it would most likely be used for situations which relate to the users immediate context. For example, two police officers talking over their radios would most likely be exchanging information relating to work, therefore relating to the context in which they presently are. But, as cell phones became prominent in the 1990’s, context could be molded out of one’s immediate surroundings to fit the conversation being held on the mobile phone.
Since the merging of the mobile phone with the Internet, it is possible to exist within multiple contextual realms simultaneously. For example, someone could be at work while periodically responding to emails from professional associates, text messages from family members, Facebook comments from friends, and exchanging words with coworkers. This causes a shift in context in a mildly schizophrenic manner, as you have to mentally shift gears to appropriately respond to each situation appropriately all while physically being in a context that might completely oppose the one being currently engaged. Contextual mobility ties together all spatial and temporal mobility via the Internet, and allows for endless communication with seemingly no geographical or contextual restrictions. The following scene from The Matrix written by The Wachowski Brothers is an accurate, albeit extreme example of how being constantly connected to the Internet has changed what reality is, and how it can exist in worlds embedded in our technologies beyond our physical world:
From the earliest forms of writing, to books, onto telegrams, telephones, and eventually mobile devices all connected by the vast network of the Internet, mobile communication has evolved at the forefront of humanity. It is hard not to recognize the emphasis of immediate, convenient, and global networking being worked at since the dawn of mobile technology. The mobility of ideas does not rely solely on the physical mobility of objects, but relies on the human capacity to continue to find ways to mobilize our ideas so they can be accessible by anyone we want to share them with.
Goggin, Gerard and Hamilton, Caroline. (2012). “Reading After the Phone: E-reader and mobile media,” in N. Arceneaux & A. Kavoori (Eds), The Mobile Media Reader. New York: Peter Lang. p. 102-119
Kakihara, Masao & Sorensen, Carsten. (2001). Expanding the ‘Mobility’ Concept. SIGGROUP Bulletin, 22(3), 33-37.
Gazzard, Alison. (2011). “Location, location, location: collecting space and place in mobile media.” Convergence. 17(4): p. 405-417
Ling, Rich & Donner, Jonathan. (2009). “Short history of mobile communication,” in Mobile Communication. p.31-47.
Wachowski, Andy & Wachowski, Lana. (1999) “The Matrix: What is Real?”, scene from The Matrix (film). Warner Bros Pictures. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnEYHQ9dscY
“First Commercial Telephone” Image retrieved from: http://www.beatriceco.com/bti/porticus/bell/images/1877_first_commercial_telephone.jpg