The history of communication has taken humanity from scrawling on cave walls with pieces of ochre through to words and pictures on a screen. But the rise in social networking has taken our human need to reach out for meaningful connections and made it instantaneous. How did we get from Cave Art to The Blogosphere?
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Cave art represents the earliest form of pictorial communication. Cave paintings may have been narrated by sounds, vocalisations and movement. Maybe it was bringing back the tale of the hunt to the community, maybe it was to teach the next generation the essential information to survive.
Cave art was quite possibly the first pictorial way of telling our personal story to the community; a way of sharing knowledge. But that knowledge, the information represented by the cave art could only travel as fast as the community’s fastest runner… until someone jumped on a horse; then things seemed to speed up a little.
Some of the earliest known examples of Palaeolithic cave art are pieces of ochre from the Blombus Cave in South Africa. Estimated to be around 70,000 years old they are decorated with geometric patterns in the form of criss-crossing diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines in parallel. A bit difficult to even guess at the meaning of the message these lines represented to the maker. But the fact is the marks are intentional, there is meaning in them, even if we can’t read it.
Maybe the markings represented some form of financial accounting or to understand the passing of time like the Ishango Bone, a notched tally stick from the Congo, dated to around 25,000 years ago. Who knows? But these examples of visual communication are amongst the earliest known that represent the human need to better understand and integrate with one another and with the world we live in.
Now we are bombarded with communication from every sector of industry every day. And just as each line on the pieces of ochre had a meaning for the maker, every image we see today has shades and rhymes of meaning in them; from the colour of a girl’s lips or the whiteness of her teeth in an advert for lipstick, to the determination in the face of a footballer frozen in time on the back page of the nationals. But how did we get here?
From Caves to Pigeons
Until the advent of writing and a convenient form of conveying the writing from place to place the only tools humans had to rely upon for communication over distances were aural and visual.
Shouting could get so far! Well…as town criers the world over have proved, about 100 metres. Other tools, such as the Aboriginal “Bullroarer”, could transmit sounds across greater distances but they weren’t exactly private. Signalling with fire and smoke provided an efficient form of communicating over greater distances from the hill tops, but they were very limited in vocabulary. Smoke signals relied on preset meanings, eg. victory or defeat. They too weren’t private.
The ruler who was able to send private messages faster than his rivals prevailed. This was readily displayed across the Persian Empire and the largest and most efficient postal system of the ancient world. Set up by Cyrus in around 540BCE it was better exploited by Darius a little later. He extended the road network to move messages and troops faster, essentially the information superhighways of the day. Darius had posting stations at intervals of a day’s ride to enable a message to travel 200 miles in 10 days.
I could bring the Romans in here too but still our message is only travelling as fast as the fastest horse; or the quickest bird if you happen to be a fancier, like Genghis Khan. Pigeons were exploited by Khan for fast deployment of orders to troops but this was only a one-way system as the pigeons went back to base.
Printing Presses to the Telegraph
As communities continued to increase in size so too did the need to get information to more people. Whether for story, history, education, or propaganda this remained difficult until the arrival of Gutenburg and his press in the mid 1400’s. Such a long time to wait from those cave paintings and pieces of red ochre, but by 1500 around 15 million volumes had been printed by 1700 presses in 300 towns across Europe.
During the 1600’s pamphlet and single sheet printing took over as the main occupation of the presses quickly springing up. People eager for information about the latest events in the Thirty Years War truly created the newspaper industry. This brought information to a mass audience even if the delivery time is still relative to the fastest series of horses.
It was the industrial revolution and the invention of the first electric motor in 1831 that led to the electric telegraph a few years later. That really kicked things off. As the transport industry began to speed up with steam engines for transporting mass communications from place to place it was the 1’s and 0’s of the on/off electric telegraph that really changed the face of life on earth. We wired our world and messages flew from telegraph station to telegraph station virtually instantaneously.
Democratizing Communication – The Blogosphere
Things happened fast after this. It had taken around 69,830 years to get from cave paintings and the fastest runners to instant messages being sent between telegraphing stations. The next 170 years have seen us virtually fly through major developments in very quick succession; the telephone, photography, radio, television, satellites, internet.
We’ve gone hunting with Hubble and come back with images from the depths of the universe to help us understand our place in this world; we share these images to say “see, this is what we found out there”; we educate our children about our planets position in the cosmos. But there is still a yearning: an individual need to communicate our own personal story to our own community through whichever means available.
When I was first asked to do a talk for a Probus meeting I had no idea what Probus was. When I looked it up and realized Probus’ intentions are about a need to “maintain a social network with others who have similar interests” it made me think about this need we have to share our stories with our own communities, to maintain a social network.
I have recently moved into the blogosphere, which is a way of communicating through the internet whatever you want, from wherever, whenever you want…for free. Anyone can do it.
The Open Source programming that allows this to happen, the gubbins of the virtual printing press if you like, has truly democratized communication. Anyone can blog about anything they want. Anyone can read that blog and share it with their friends immediately with just a click of a button, and their friends to their friends, and so on. In this way a message created by Joe Bloggs from his computer on the dining room table can be communicated to millions of people in the space of a day, something that before the introduction of the internet was effectively under the control of the privileged few.
Blogging for Businesses
I’m finding basing a web presence – our cave art if you like – on Open Source blogging platforms to be a more useful business tool for my clients than a simple company website; the main difference being this ability to share company information with millions of people without the cost of worldwide advertising.
By becoming a member of a variety of social networks on the internet I am communicating with more people by one click of the button than I could do with 10 solid hours on the phone; and they come from all over the world. The key is finding the right social network just like Probus’ community of people with similar interests.
My cave art can travel as fast as the speed of light and my need to gain more information is satiated in seconds by a simple Google search. In my hunt for information I might want to share what I find with my community. Instead of taking the fastest runner and sending him all over the world to my community base a few clicks is all it takes. And there are millions more people out there who do the same. Our Joe Bloggs can become the Shakespeare or the Einstein or the Edgar Allan Poe of his readers for free.
Cave Art to the Blogosphere – Just How Far Have We Come?
Thinking about the cave art that is still evident today in the world may be our best way of understanding the rapid growth in social networking and blogging on the internet. Even after thousands of years of evolution we are still trying to tell our story to our community, share interests and information with other people and make sense of the world we live in.
A lot of people would refute the fact that sitting at a computer and “talking” to people around the world isn’t really an integrated approach to social interaction. But without it I wouldn’t be here today sharing my message with this community and integrating into your social world.
This article came about because I was asked to do a talk for a Probus luncheon at short notice. I have taken some liberty in my choice of communication history elements to highlight the initial premise that Blogging is 21C Cave Art. Not knowing anything about the history of communication I had no idea what to expect when I first began searching for information.
Really, it was thinking about the possible intentions of a person making a cave painting that led me to the premise. When I made the connection between cave art and blogging it didn’t take too long to find the rest of the information on which to base this talk. But it would have been impossible to get the facts that I did without good old Google.
An insight into the meaning of Cave Art
History of Communication
After the talk, which only lasted about 15 minutes, the Q&A went on for about 30 minutes, apparently an unprecedented event. I had no idea how a talk about the internet would go down with a social luncheon group for retired businessmen. I was very surprised by their obvious interest and appreciation; and I do hope the gentleman who wanted to know about model railway bloggers finds what he is searching for.