To read about Australian Telephony, go here

Communication is probably the biggest indicator of the intelligence of a species, and also the thing that best ensures its survival and future development.

Communication was something we had before the World Wide Web

Mankind has always been at the forefront in this field, since the first humans used sounds and gestures to co-operate in hunting and other activities, through the sending of messages by smoke-signals and the leaving of markers for others to find.

Developments have been made in recent years that would never have been imagined by our forebears. Written communication by mail and newspapers was overshadowed by telephone, radio and television, and these in turn have been or are being rapidly surpassed by use of the Internet.

I came on the scene when newspapers and radio were the most common way of keeping abreast of happenings, both local and global, while mail was used for more personal correspondence. The radio was still very primitive by today's standards, and most people could only receive one or two local stations, and this depended on the weather and other conditions.
Although modern communication systems have much better quality of sound and better noise rejection than those of The Olden Days, there are still cases where it is imperative that the message be clear and unambiguous, and certain codes are used to guarantee this.

Morse Code

In 1836, Samuel Morse, Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail developed a system for sending messages by sending a series of electrical pulses along a "telegraph line". It used a code that had a unique sequence of short and long pulses for each character. This code was later modified and is still used today. The standardised length and tone of the "dots and dashes" make it very unlikely that a spurious sound may be mistaken for a signal component. The modern code is shown below.

• — — • • • — • — • — • • • • — • — — • • • • • • • • — — — — • — • — • • — — — • — — — • — — • — — • — • — •
S T U V W X Y Z 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
• • • • • — • • • — • — — • • — — • — — — — • • • — — — — • • — — — • • • — — • • • • — • • • • • — • • • • — — • • • — — — • • — — — — • — — — — —

Semaphore Signalling

Semaphore is a telegraphy system used to send messages using visual signals with hand-held flags since the 19th century. The positions of the flags indicate the character being sent. These include alphabetical and numerical characters as well as several control signals such as "Error", "Annul", and "Numbers to follow". It is still used today, both at sea and on land when radio and other systems have difficulty because of noise etc. It can be used at night by using illuminated rods instead of flags.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet, now known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the 1950's. It assigns a word to each letter of the alphabet so that they can be clearly understood by the person receiving the message without the risk of ambiguity, regardless of language barriers or line noise.
The 26 code words assigned, in alphabetical order, are Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.


The telephone gradually appeared in my town, firstly in the homes of the more affluent families then others as the cost of equipment fell. Some homes shared a "party-line" with their neighbour, which reduced their costs but gave no privacy between the families.
The calls were managed by a telephone centre where an operator manually connected a caller's line to the one they requested, and disconnected them when finished. A call between two places that were a long distance apart may have required two or more operators in different zones to connect the lines, causing some delay and sometimes failure because there were no connecting "trunk-lines" available at the time.

Picture of a magneto telephone, as used on non-automatic telephone systems in the olden days. Picture of a 400-type telephone with rotary dial

Later, automatic dialling arrived and operators were no longer needed on local calls, but were still used for overseas and long distance calls.
The telephone itself was a large, usually black bakelite box either mounted on the wall or sitting on a desk or table, and connected to a cable that ran to the local telephone exchange. Automatic models had a rotary dial that allowed the digits 1 to 0 to be dialled by rotating it. Later, push-button dials replaced these.
At the time, the phone still had only one function - to allow two people to communicate.

The modern telephone has changed dramatically from these early ones.

Picture of a modern mobile phone with some of the now essential features like internet and satellite-navigation.
  • It doesn't need to be connected to the exchange via a cable - it can be carried anywhere, and have access without operator intervention to almost anywhere in the world.
  • It's small enough and robust enough to carry in your pocket or bag.
  • It can have an inbuilt camera that can take photos or videos - in high-definition colour and with sound - and send them instantly to other people.
  • Three or more people at different locations can all communicate with each other at the same time.
  • It can have internet access to allow research, business or social activities to be carried out anywhere.
  • If nobody is in attendance when a call arrives, it can be automatically recorded for later attention, and a single button press can connect to the calling party.


Radio communication use has diversified since the early days, with it now seeing use for control messaging (ship-to-shore, police, air traffic etc.), remote control of sites and equipment, and business information-passing as well as its original use as an entertainment and news service.
Radio equipment has become much more powerful, with greater range and clarity, and more reliable as solid-state technology is applied. Solid-state also makes devices more portable so transmitting and receiving equipment can be carried and used anywhere. It has also become an essential tool in modern life for emergency contact from dangerous situations.


Since first introduced in the 1920's, TV has become the most popular source of News and family entertainment, and the quality and number of features have improved dramatically over the years.

A 1920's TV image

The original black-and-white, coarse-grained pictures that were only provided for a portion of the day, on perhaps three channels have developed into full-colour, incredibly detailed images. These were made possible with the replacement of CRT (cathode ray tube) screens with plasma, LED, LCD and more recently, OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen technology.
Programmes are available on a huge selection of channels and may include entertainment, news or education - and of course, the advertising that funds most of the station's costs. Many stations broadcast continuously day and night, and in several languages.
Modern TVs allow the user to save programmes they have missed and play them later, or to save one programme while viewing another. The screen may be so small as to be on a mobile phone, or as large as an entire wall of a home, and may be curved for a wider viewing area. Sound for the programmes may be from a single small speaker or a large array of sound equipment with near-perfect clarity and incredible volume.
TV signals were once sent only by radio-signal, but now other technologies are used, including coaxial and optic fibre cable, satellite, and the internet.

Communication Growth

As technology has evolved, communication has changed in several ways. With the advent of international radio and telephone calling and the internet

  • The speed of communication is much higher
  • Distance between the communicants has very little effect
  • The amount of information that can be passed in a given time is much greater
  • The detail contained is greatly increased with improved sound and visual quality.

All of this has meant we now communicate with many more people and places, more often. This has many advantages but also creates problems. Because we are now made aware of incidents and problems in all parts of the world, often as they occur and with great detail, it's easy to become convinced that there are many more problems than once existed. While this may be true, it can cause anxiety and stress about events over which we have no control, and which will have little or no effect on our own lives.
With the increased ability to communicate, social networks have developed that also can put at risk our privacy and security.


The World Wide Web and the Internet together represent possibly the greatest advance in communication ever made.
The Internet was first used for scientific information-sharing between universities and research institutes. It uses packet-switching, which groups all information to be sent between two computers into blocks, or "packets" for quicker and safer transmission.
In the 1960's, the U.S. government recognized the need for the quick re-establishment of communications between its various defence facilities in the event of a catastrophic failure, and settled on packet-switching as being the best means of achieving this.
In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee invented what is now the World Wide Web, a network of computers around the world that uses Internet technology to share their information.
This has now developed to the stage that the public has access to the Internet and it is the most common form of communication, being used for research, education, social activities, E-commerce and entertainment by 97% of the world's population.


A system that allows blind or visually impaired people to read was invented by Louis Braille, a Frenchman, in 1829. It uses a pattern of raised bumps on a flat surface such as paper for each character. Modern adaptations allow them to read a computer screen that has resettable pins which rise in response to text input, and to print their own Braille text by the use of specially moulded sheets.

The Braille system uses raised dots stamped into paper to enable blind people to read

Visual Communication

People with severe hearing disabilities or inability to speak need some alternative means of communication, and this has been addressed by the creation of sets of hand and body movements to represent words and letters.
Because different countries have different character-sets in their alphabet as well as different words it has not been possible to create one international code, although some can be used in several countries. In Australia, the standard code is Auslan, which is short for Australian Sign Language, and this is taught at all schools for the deaf.
Developments in areas such as cochlear implants have been encouraging, and have made it possible for some profoundly deaf people to sense sounds for the first time.


A sign of the Times? Picture of a newspaper folded to make a paper aeroplane. Newspapers are much less widely used now, with the arrival of other means of communicating, 
like the World Wide Web and E-mail

I've left the Newspaper until last in this discussion because it has become almost a relic of the past, with many newspaper companies surrendering to the relentless onslaught of the Internet on their custom-base.
Advertising is simpler and cheaper on the Internet, and news can be delivered almost instantaneously, whereas newspapers need to wait for the next edition. This means that much of their reporting must deal with after-the-fact interviews and reports rather than the actual events. There is still news that's predictable, of course, like elections, coronations and royal births, and these have given the newspapers a raison d'etre for now, but the writing appears to be on the wall (pardon the pun).

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