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Twitter, Facebook, Google+, SMS, ICQ…

So, finally a post of my thoughts about today’s communication methods. 15 years ago,
the communication methods were rather limited as cell phones and their price plans
were too expensive. The Internet was still in it’s development process and services like
ICQ and the like were not well-developed or ready for mass communication.

As I began using the Internet in early 1994 with a real slow 14.4K modem, I can tell you that the Internet, the speed and technics have vastly improved within the last 15 years. What seems so self-evident to our younger generation was of course not to generations like me, namely people born in the late 70’s or early 80’s where computers have been very expensive and very limited in technology and telephones were issued by the state (The Deutsche Telekom was founded 1995 and with it, the regulations of Deutsche Post, formerly owning the complete telephone network, has finally been privatized), and modems had to be approved by the state as well. What was 1994 like, you may ask?

To bring freedom to mankind means to get them to talk to each other.

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)

The Internet was basically reduced to a minimum (text and small pictures) and not very accessible as search engines like Google were yet not available (search was available thru AltaVista (some of you still may know this pioneer of search engines) and with it, most information remained hidden to the public. Communication with friends was only available thru telephone numbers and physical contact. The times, where youngsters have spent time in front of the computer was near zero as meeting with friends in public was more common! One was happy when the dialup connection to the local provider reached 10666 baud/s. Negative side of dialup connections: your phone line was also busy. So when you were on the internet, no one could reach you on the land line… what a nuisance!

When ICQ, IRC & Co. have been launched, the youngsters started to spend more time in front of the computer and thus, physical contact was really reduced compared to earlier times.

But what about when the friend was not online (because the internet bill already hit the 200 DM border or the parents were annoyed that the youngster has blocked the phone line again)? The cell phone became more and more popular and cheaper as well. Have you paid 200 DM and more for cell phones in the early 90’s and per SMS 0.4 DM, the prices rapidly dropped to be available as mass communication medium. Also internet prices have rapidly been lowered and with DSL, the first step was made for fast flatrate internet. No more time-based bills, no more slow downloads… the way was clear for real fast and rich content on the web. So have FTP sites evolved that spread the famous MP3 files and the nuisance for the music industry has grown.

The time, where youngsters have exchanged tapes of their favouite music has been counted. The new media were MP3 players (rather expensive and capacity was so small that only 4 High-Quality songs may have fit on these players. The Rio PMP300 had 32 MB capacity and has cost merely 300 DM at the time released. The transfer was very slow via serial connection as USB was still not very populated and buggy (Windows 95C finally supported USB good but came out in end of 1997!). Also, your computer had to be rather powerful to decode MP3 files well. The standard bitrate was 128 kBit/s – fair sound but far from superior quality. A new era of music listening has been introduced. No more skipping music when you walk. CD players tend to have exactly this problem and low-quality Walkmen produced tape salad because the tape left the track and mixed into the transport roll. Rather annoying as it also meant the loss of the tape anyways. No copy, no luck. However only few players have been sold as technology still was developing and the prices dropped by time…

On the Internet side, DSL was issued and a real good deal compared to ISDN which was rather expensive. While one could get 64 kbit/s (or 128 kBit/s with channel-multiplexing) as connection speed with ISDN, DSL promised download rates at 768 kBit/s and upload rates of 128 kBit/s… a real vast improvement over dialup connection as also your phone line remained free for receiving calls!

In 1998 Windows 98 has been also released and marked a new milestone in OS history. Meanwhile, the Internet has also evolved well and with IE5 and Netscape 4.7, the web could finally present more media and contents. At this time, a Pentium II was really fast and supportive to the new media. My computer from this time still exists and can be run. However it ain’t any compare to my today’s machines. in 1998 I also bought my first cell phone and participated the world of mobile phone calls and on-the-go communication by SMS.

Impressive to get in touch with everyone who also has a cell phone and give them short notice from (almost) everywhere you are. No more telephone booths to use. Independency in communication as you don’t need to speak out what you think but rather type it to the destinated person that is also able to write silently. Yet, SMS was limited to 160 chars/Message and you had to think about what you want to say or type out many messages which could be real expensive those days. Also Smilies were simple symbols made from Brackets, commas and dashes, as we still use them today. And the fact that cell phones still had monochrome displays that had a rather rough resolution of 60 ppi (pixel per inch), the iPhone 4 sets records with its 328 ppi display! Internet on that thingy? No way, man. In that time, the cell phones served exactly two services: namely phone calls and SMS text messages. Okay, some games were also installed to pass time while you waited for your friends’ messages or the call of your beloved one. Also the cell phone ringtone contests were still not seen as not everyone could own such a handset. They were still very expensive. No 12year-old giggling school girls that are broadcasting the newest Justin Bieber song as their ringtone…

There was another service called “TellMi” – which was a pager sevice. The owner of such a device had a caller ID that looked similar to cell phone numbers, however when you called that number, you were directed to a call center that picked up your message to the recipient. As these pagers used the already existing mobile cell networks as later cell phones also did, the recipient could receive the message on his pager nearly everywhere where he had signal. in subways and closed buildings where reception was rather poor, you were lost.

Within one fifth of a second, you can send a message around the world. But it may take years until it gets from outside the head of a man inside.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958)

With the years passing, cell phones have evolved more and more, being able to browse the web and finally also being used as music player. Meanwhile, the web also made vast improvements. Socializing is the new keyword and with networks like StayFriends, StudiVZ and the like, the first get-in-touch sites were born. Yet far from exchanging ideas all the way out, they still allowed to find your old schoolmates and get in touch more easily as E-Mail adresses tend to change today like cell phone numbers.

So where did cell phones go? The Nokia 6310 (also called the rocket) supported mobile internet via WAP. A real breakthrough as you could gather information over the gsm network and fast. Yet the display was a real issue as it was still monochromatic. Only Nokia’s 7650, which was real expensive but the first phone with camera and color display, brought you some better display results. The built-in browser was able to cope with normal web sites as well as with WAP sites. Normal internet sites still took years to load and the display of the pages was rather garbled as the browser did not know of any standards. So despite the fact that a camera was built in, the cell phone was merely usable for phone calls and quick-taken pictures that were of rather mediocre quality as the CMOS sennsors at such small sizes were also very limited. But hey, who could in such times say that he owns a cell phone with color display and camera. Such cell phones were rare and if available, they cost nearly three times as much as their monochrome display mates!

Later on, the Nokia Communicator was the top-of-the-line communication device. Phone calls, simple office documents, video recording, voice memo recording, e-Mail, Imaging, Internt… it was all in one, well “tiny” is the wrong word for that brick of a phone, device for your convenience. And believe it or not. When I had my hands on that phone, I really used almost every feature on it. Yet I did not use data transfers often as these were very expensive. 100 KB of data have cost 80 cents. a picture of 200 KB was already 1.60 EUR… so sparse usage was common yet seducing. While I had the communicator for 3 years, the prices rapidly dropped and I used the mobile internet more and more. but social networks were still rare and not commonly used besides the fact that the pricessor in the device couldn’t cope well with the heavily script-loaded pages. Nevermind anyways. That’s why I have a computer at home were my thoughts at this time and date.

Interesting: The average citizen keeps his cell phone number about 30 months. (I kept my cell phone number almost 8 years as I hate broadcasting a new cell phone number via all channels what takes much time and also can be expensive and yet the risk is there, not to reach everyone!)

But what about mobile communication and social networks? Cell phones were far from being able to cope with the loads of data that was being transferred. In late 2006’s the cell phones grew stronger in processor capacity and also were faster in mobile networks. The internet at hand was born and so were possibilities for mobile real-time communication.

Meanwhile Internet grew faster and faster. In 2005 I said good-bye to DSL which annoyed me with it’s constant loss of connection and switched to cable internet. No dialup, no PPPoE, just plug in and fire up. 6 MBit/s stable(!) and 512 kbit/s upstream and all that being made ready within 3 minutes! I had the line till 2007 and meanwhile the connection was boosted to 16 MBit/s and 1 MBit/s upstream. Impressive. Youtube videos are so blazing fast (however often, the server was overloaded and you had to wait several minutes for the video to be fully buffered!). Filesharing started to become a real nuisance for the music and motion pictures Association. People were able to share disc-sized videos in no time (650 MB were transferred in under 1 hour!). On the Music side, a good-quality MP3 file was fransferred in a few seconds.

The first step in real-time communication to share with anybody worldwide was Facebook, followed by Twitter. Facebook was founded in 2004 and soon became one of the most-used social networks. Today, Facebook counts approx 700 million users! ICQ in it’s glory time had about 150 million users! Twitter is the follow-up to Facebook and was the first platform that could easily be used from cell phones as well, as the website was sleek and slim and messages were limited to 140 characters. The first methods to post tweets was also by sending out a short message to a specified number, followed by the tweet. Later, E-Mail was supported, as cell phones more and more supported E-Mail reception and sending very well.

As a general principle, the more users share about themselves, the more others in the community will learn about them and identify with them.

Matt Rhodes in Social Media Today

With the cell phones being faster, getting bigger screens and touch interfaces, also applications were available. The pioneer of all cell phones using such things was Apple’s iPhone. To this date and time I was still using Nokia cell phones as they were intuitive to use and you could operate them blind as the menu design was always the same. No need to adopt to someting changed. At this time, I used Nokia’s new flagship, the Nokia Communicator E90 that served me well until 2010, when I finally switched to Apple’s wonder device with it’s touchscreen and rich contents of applications in it’s AppStore. Browsing the internet finally was cheap enough to also use it extensively and so did I with e-Mail and messaging. People around me were mostly astounded when I wrote them from different places and sent them a recently taken photo. The camera was quite good in that device. But the reign of Nokia began to fade as Apple’s iPhone grew stronger and stronger.

Also another competitor hit the field. Android, backed by Google came into the fight for the cell phone market. And life for Nokia began to become real hard. While Windows mobile phones were never a danger for Nokia’s reign, the Apple iPhone and Android-powered cell phones were a real hard competitor and still is. Nokia looses more and more market share by time. The leaders are Apple’s smart phone and of course all the Android smartphones.

Meanwhile the internet now is at ethernet speed. My today’s connection is a 100 MBit/s line on the downstream side and upstream is 7 MBit/s. Today I send even larger mails with the flick of my finger. I download games for the PS3 with 8GB in size in under half an hour. I even download game clients with 20 GB in under 1 hour (EVE online). Imagine that with a dialup connection of 14.4 KBaud/s, that’s roughly 2 KB/s! You would have to wait a mere 10 million seconds (174’763 minutes, 2’912 hours, 121 days…) until you would be able to play EVE Online… despite the fact that the data rate would not even be enough to transfer the ingame data properly…

Internet access at high speed is at 70 Swiss francs (40 EUR in germany for example). Compared to the costs, the above mentionned transfer would cost, where a connection minute was rated at 0.14 DM/minute, that would total to 24’466.82 DM or 12’509.69 EUR… YIKES!

Today, life would be very complicated if WhatsApp, SMS, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Internet, Facebook, Twitter and allĀ  the other social networks wouldn’t work anymore. If we wouldn’t have our fancy gadgets also, then something would be missing. It is a hooro if you leave your cell phone at work. You always think that you may miss something…

If you wouldn’t have such immense internet speeds, the share of your pictures and self-made videos from your cell phone would not be possible. The times have really changed, and believe it or not. Even I wouldn’t want to miss this time any more! When the internt fails, you really feel sorta helpless and always in mind of missing the real action!

Also I am using the mayor communication ways today and I think it’s good to stay in touch with all your people in a rather uncomplicated way. Earlier the times were not as fancy as today, but you had more privacy as well. So all in all, the ups and downs of the new communication era balances out. And it’s no shame which way you plan to go. However you might still miss many things when you deny to today’s communication!

With FaceTime, Apple put the level much higher again. However with FaceTime only working on WLAN only (except you have a jailbroken iPhone or iPad), the Everywhere-Video conference is still in it’s early time. But with Tango, Skype and WhatsApp, even these bareers may fall sooner or later…

If I will still adapt to new technologies is still a question of Age and mental condition. But as long as I have no problems understanding new tech (and believe me, today’s cell phones with touch screen are so intuitive, that even 70-years-old people can use them with ease!) I will also try out these upcoming technologies. I am very interested in future technologies and always informing myself about them to come up sooner or later. The internet, social networks, and other sources make it possible!

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.

John M. Richardson Jr. – American University

So what are the future steps in internet and mobile network history? LTE is soon to be launched and offers up to 50 MBit/s downstream and 8 MBit/s upstream for LTE-ready handsets. While the iPhone 5 is already in queue, it will not support LTE. Maybe the iPhone 5S will… and on the internet side? Well, cable internet with DOCSIS 3.0 standard will be able to handle 280 MBit/s on the downstream side and approx 40 MBit/s on the upstream side. Yet the whole internet would not be able to cope with such speeds if even the minority of all internet users would use such lines. So I guess, the next step will rather be compression methods to shovel more data at the same bandwidth. The modem users had such feature also, called data compression over V.90 standard, remember? So with 56.600 KBaud/s you were able to push up to 20 KB/s over the line where theoretically only 6 KB/s was possible…

DOCSIS 4.0 is still not planned and other transfer technologies have not yet been published. So let’s see what Internet will go to in the next few years. As Fiber optical internet is already to the houses (FTTH), I guess, the next step will be Fiber to the Desk (FTTD) for everyone and transfer speeds of theoretically 1 GBit/s will be possible. But how much Internet can someone consume anyways?

Believe me or not, one thing cannot (and hopefully will never) be replaced: The physical contact with your friends. So think about it when you see your friends in real next time. The fact that you physically interact with them is something different to the things you do online.

Ain’t it a good feeling to see, feel, laugh with and touch them in real? That’s something, a machine nor electronic communication will ever be able to replace! So if you have time to share moments with your friends in real, you’d better use this opportunity! You never know when the next opportunitiy to do so, will come!

Remember, the greatest gift is not found in a store nor under a tree, but in the hearts of true friends.

Cindy Lew

Think about it and I hope you had remembering moments when timetravelling with this article. I also hope you enjoyed reading this article as I really enjoyed writing it and let you have a small view into my computer history on the communications side.

With a good 20 years of computer experience, I can for sure tell, that times have changed very fast and the forecasts that computers and communications will double their speed aren’t so untrue as often stated. Alone Moore’s Law sets a border to the exponential speed increase as today’s materials simply ain’t able to allow more speed.

The future’s not ours to tell, it’s ours to figure out!

© Copyright 2011 Netspark, All rights Reserved. Written For: Netspark's Blog
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September 10, 2011 Netspark - 967 posts - Member since: May 9th, 2011 No Comments »

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