If teen pop sensation Justin Bieber were to shave his head right now, you would not only learn about it within minutes, but would also have access to photos and video of the incident, no matter where in the world you lived. Whether it be through your WirelessInternet.net provider or your mobile device, you would have this information instantly and share this news with all of your friends. In contrast, consider that some Confederate soldiers weren't informed of the Civil War's end until months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered.
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Are we to assume Bieber going bald is on par with one of the most important events in American history? Of course not—at least for most people. Rather, this is a simplistic example of the significant changes in communications over time. Instead of relying on courier mail transported by horse or literal word-of-mouth for news like in the 1800s, you likely have a device in your pocket with myriad communication options:
• Social media
While differences in communications over 150 years ago and today are striking, consider that the majority of the forms listed above have only been developed the past two decades over the Internet. That means Internet communications have changed more in the past 20 years than all other forms since Lincoln was President. Here are some of those key changes that continue to affect the way people communicate.
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Released in the early 1990s, even before the advent of TCP/IP, the software program Procomm Plus became one of the first modern computer-to-computer communications systems. Well, modern during a time grunge ruled the airwaves and Starbucks was just a local coffee shop.
Connecting computer modems, Procomm let users communicate through a bulletin board system. Users could upload and download content as well as peruse messages, much like the FTP and LAN systems of today.
AOL Platform & Instant Messenger
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Captivating the hearts and minds of Internet users - especially high school students - in the late 1990s and into the new millennium was AOL. It quickly became a leading Internet service provider and launched its Platform revolution, where multiple communication outlets could be found in one place.
On AOL, users could browse the Internet, get breaking news, send email and discuss a variety of topics with others in categorical chat rooms, which changed Internet communication but also gave birth to the career of MSNBC's Chris Hansen.
However, it's most popular feature was by far Instant Messenger (IM). Through IM, users for the first time could chat online with individual "buddies". Best of all, a single person could hold conversations with numerous people at the same time. This explains why it was such a hit among teens, who had plenty more to discuss about science or geometry in their own time to be sure!
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Ahhh, the sweet music of a dial-up Internet service connecting to a computer. Like swing or bebop jazz music, it's enough to take one back to a simpler time; when users didn't mind waiting minutes for a web page to load or communicating over the Internet only on computers set up in a home office or basement.
These shortcomings are why the greatest technological innovation in Internet communications is arguably wireless capability. By connecting wirelessly, people are not only able to share greater amounts of information, but can do it all from anywhere.
Whether on a laptop or smartphone, people stay in touch over wireless Internet while shopping or eating out, even while driving. Some major cities, like Seattle, Houston and Denver, are even offering free WiFi services, which is great for people that head to public areas only to speak to others on their computers.
140 Characters or Less
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Catering to the population that wants everyone to just get to the point already has been social media giant Twitter and its 140 character maximum. Through the confines of tweets, Internet communication has changed in some very interesting ways.
It has simplified information as users get creative with limited space, while at the same time allowing it to move faster with real-time posts. In the process, Twitter users share more information and from some very odd places, such as the 2009 State of the Union, an NBA locker room and the Casey Anthony trial. Who would have thought limiting how much people can say has changed how people communicate so dramatically?
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Everyone has an opinion, and now with Facebook's commenting plug-in everyone can share it all over the Internet. With Facebook Comments, users are no longer confined to posting on their profile, but rather use their profile to opine about a news story or review a product.
Not only does Facebook Comments allow people to be heard in more places on the Internet, but it also helps eliminate cowardly anonymous posts that have plagued the web. Now you will know exactly who is making fun of you on your blog about unicorns.
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A few of the things mentioned above (Facebook, Twitter and AOL) now come in app form. Well, practically everything is now available in app form. Instead of communicating through a variety of individual sites over the Internet, users streamline their messages through one or only a few apps.
In fact some apps, like Foursquare, will automatically update friends of someone's whereabouts. Somewhere stalkers are rejoicing. With about 5 billion mobile phone users worldwide (the world population is close to 7 billion), apps are sure to be a communications force for years to come.
Based on the innovations discussed you can see that Internet communications have changed significantly in a relatively short period of time. It's like going from living in caves to skyscrapers in the same amount of years someone takes to get a driver's license. It also makes you wonder if the best is still yet to come.