A Brief History of Media & Communication​

Humans are social beings who want and need to communicate with each other. According to the pioneering research of Dr. Kathryn Barnand, founder of the Center for Infant Mental Health and Development at the University of Washington, even infants try to communicate with their caregivers using non-verbal cues. Like babies, early humans only needed to communicate with people within a small circle so sounds and gestures were enough. Humans eventually learned to speak, although scientists have not yet agreed on a theory on how exactly this happened.

Humans started writing at around 3,200 BCE (Before Common Era) in Mesopotamia and boo BCE in Mesoamerica. It arose from the need to indicate quantity or numbers for recordkeeping. Words for “finger” are found in several ancient languages for numbers which suggest that humans first counted and communicated quantity with their fingers. This then evolved into cutting notches on tree barks or stones to represent numbers. To record other things and concepts, early humans began drawing on caves and animal skin. The earliest form of writing like the Egyptian hieroglyphs are simplified drawings. Pictographic writing systems, like those used by the Chinese, still exist today. 

As human settlements got bigger and bigger, the need to communicate to a greater number of people grew. Horns, drums, fire, and smoke signals were used to send a message quickly and over a vast distance (e.g. “Invaders!”). Messengers were also used to physically disseminate information more precisely. Archaeological accounts corroborate Biblical passages about the Persians using messengers on horses to reach more people over great distances faster. This ancient “pony express” may be the predecessor of the postal service, but like so many ancient forms of spreading information to a large group of people, it required resources that were practically exclusive to the ruling class. 

During the pre-industrial age, information was mostly passed on orally. Important documents like laws and edicts had to be tediously copied by hand and posted in public places, or town criers travel from place to place to read them out loud. The process was difficult, slow, and unreliable. Information also flowed in only one direction, from the ruler who issued the edict to his subjects. The whole process must be repeated in reverse if and when the receiver decides to respond. But when the source of information is an authority, as is usually the case, the strict hierarchy in society discourages—even forbids—any response from the recipients.

It wasn’t until the 17th century, hundreds of years after the invention of printing technology lowered the cost of books and reading materials, that the modern newspaper was invented in Europe. Before that, printed news sheets appeared in the Ming Dynasty Court in Beijing in 1582 and block-printed handbills commemorating events were sold in 17th century Japanese cities. Modern magazines were invented in the 18th century. It took an awfully long time for all these developments in communication to happen.