When I was but a lad going to Elementary school in the 60s, the major method of communication was face-to-face. Rotary telephones were available (I'm not THAT old) but it was not a device kids used very often other than to talk to your relatives on holidays. Our concept of social networking was passing little handwritten notes in class or playing the 'telephone game'.
Then, in the seventies came two more devices: the Walkie-Talkie and its big brother, the Citizens Band Radio (CB). I remember getting my first set of Walkie Talkies and giving one to my best friend who lived two houses down the street. The ability to talk to each other like secret agents was just SO Cool!
And, later when in high school, talking to friends across the Los Angeles area using my neighbor's CB Base Station was equally Cool! In fact, at my high school, the VP of Student Affairs had a Base Station in his office and used to talk to students driving to school in the mornings (there was no 'talking while driving' concerns back in the 70s).
Then in the 80s, we had Bulletin Board Systems where if you had a 300 or 1200 baud modem (analog), you could text chat with friends or use rudimentary messaging systems where you could leave someone a message (the beginnings of electronic mail).
Later came answering machines, physical devices connected to your phone or build into the phone, that took messages for you while you were out. remember those?
Then we hit the 90s and thought we reached the pinnacle of communications with the Internet. We had electronic mail that sent messages across the nation. We could send documents, images, and began to publish content electronically using Gopher, Mozilla, Cello, and Netscape.
And Motorola gave us the StarTAC flip cell phone. The first time Trekkers everywhere started to feel like we were finally catching up to where Captain Kirk and Picard were with their communicators. Truly, we had arrived!
But now we are in the new Millennium and we have progressed so much further. We have digital phone services over the Internet (VoIP). We have cell phones that not only deliver calls, but take voicemail, allow direct text messaging (SMS), manage our email, deliver video and web pages, conduct commerce, take and organize photos, and fits in your shirt pocket. We have wireless internet (WiFi) networking that connects almost all of our computers and handheld devices to the world. And most of us can watch broadcasts using a variety of sources while we take the commuter train home from work.
And then there is today's Social Networking with more services and providers than I can list here (FaceBook, Ning, MySpace, Foursquare, LinkedIn, etc.)
What will the next communications revolution be? Will our children's children laugh at what we use today (in much the same way we laugh at the 'party lines' and Lily Tomlin's switchboard operator)? Will we even understand how to use their cool new devices?
As much as I love new technologies, I have real concerns about how our communication has become so impersonal. We use phones, but often to text or email or 'post' messages rather than delivering them verbally to another human being. This very blog, while being a method of mass distribution/publication, is still an example of impersonal communication.
As a society, we need to remember that we are in essence social beings that need to be in community and interact with one another. We need to embrace IRL (in real life) relationships and foster/maintain interpersonal connections while we continue to embrace the benefits that our emerging technologies provide.