communication, transfer of information, such as thoughts and messages, as contrasted with transportation, the transfer of goods and persons (see information theory). The basic forms of communication are by signs (sight) and by sounds (hearing; see language). The reduction of communication to writing was a fundamental step in the evolution of society for, in addition to being useful in situations where speech is not possible, writing permits the preservation of communications, or records, from the past. It marks the beginning of recorded history. Whereas the rise of book publishing and journalism (see also newspaper and periodical) facilitated the widespread dissemination of information, the invention of the telegraph, the radio, the telephone, and television made possible instantaneous communication over long distances. With the installation of the submarine cable and improvements in short-wave radio technology, international communication was greatly improved and expanded. In 1962 the first active communications satellite was launched; it provided the first live television broadcast between the United States, Europe, Japan, and South America. Today, satellite communications is used extensively for relaying television signals, telephone calls, and special teleconferencing calls that might include two-way video and graphics along with audio (see satellite, artificial). The 20th-century development of mass media has played a major role in changing social, economic, political, and educational institutions. In the United States, radio and television communication is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission. The international phases of transport and communications are under the direction of the Office of Transport and Communications of the Dept. of State. The United Nations maintains an International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which has three functions—to maintain and extend international cooperation for the improvement and rational use of telecommunication, to promote the development and efficient use of technical facilities, and to harmonize the actions of nations. Telecommunication has been defined by international agreement as any emission, transmission, or reception of signs, signals, sounds, and writing. Recent advances in electronics have made mobile personal communications widely available and inexpensive, primarily through cellular telephony. Worldwide computer networks allow computer users to use modems to communicate rapidly and inexpensively through electronic mail. The proliferation of facsimile machines allows users to send printed communications over telephone lines. See broadcasting.

See H. M. McLuhan, The Medium is the Message (1967); E. W. Brody, Communication Tomorrow (1990); M. M. Mirabits and B. L. Morgenstein, The New Communications Technologies (1990); W. Schweber, Electronic Communications Systems (1991).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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