The Evolution of Conversation

Since the early days of long distance communication, the technology we use has come a very long way. We may even take our smartphones for granted but there was a time when telephone technology was not nearly as readily available to the everyone. How has this evolution effected our forms of conversation?

Some History

Before electric communication methods were developed, people used very archaic ways of communicating. People would often only have hand-written letters or word by a messenger to learn about family news. Imagine what would happen in emergency situations. The family would only learn about a crisis several days later when it was too late. The telegraph was a machine invented in the early 1800s. It made use of electricity, which was still somewhat of a novelty at the time, to transmit messages. It wasn't available to the general public but had a large hand in extending the reach of conversation. With the introduction of the telephone, this technology quickly phased out.

If you showed this to a kid today, they would have no idea what to do with it. I remember when I was 10, going to my Great Grandmother's house in rural Missouri which still had a rotary phone on the wall, and was connected to a party line. Any time a call was placed or taken, you ran the risk of whoever was also on that group in the area also listening in. Who doesn't remember in the late 90's when pay phones with massive phone books attached to them still existed across the city? Pay phone conversations were paid by the minute and you had to add coins to keep on a call. Our kids and future generations will never know these situations.

Enter the cell phone

See that phone on the right? That was my introduction to the cell phone. A Nokia was indestructible and had an insane battery life. Search the web today for "nokia meme" and you will find an assortment of funny traits this phone had. Anyways, back to the subject. Conversation here created a larger circle of influence because we were able to call anyone, anytime.

Welcome to the Interweb

You might read in history books about the Internet being developed in the 1960's, however the real general use started when Netscape Navigator was released in 1994. I was a Junior in High School, and personal computing consisted of a large, heavy monitor and a desktop. The world changed then with the introduction of email. The circle of influence in conversation was global.

Enter the iPhone

It definitely wasn't the first, but it was the greatest disruption in the last decade. the iPhone has triggered a societal shift. We are always connected. To work, to our friends, to those that we want to be like and want to be like us. Our smartphones are our constant companions, letting us escape into mobile games that once required entire separate gaming systems to run. They help us find and build communities. Ten years ago, my cellphone was a communication device. I would text my wife, we'd plan dinner. If I wanted music, I carried an iPod that I loaded from the library that lived only on my macbook pro, where all of my documents, pictures, and emails lived. Today? My smartphone lets me carry my entire digital world in my pocket. And it does it with such ease that I forget, on a regular basis, that the things I do now, every single day, weren't just inconvenient 10 years ago, they were impossible. How does this shift effect conversation? It does in every way possible.

Applification (Yes, it is a word)

Wait. I might have made it up. Applification is a horrible word, but a beautiful concept. A dictionary definition for applification would be something like: verb, to reduce user-end complexity by adopting the features of a mobile app. I remember the first time I used this word, it was a bit of a mistake. You see, I was speaking in a session at 2016 ISTE for Microsoft, and in an explanation I used the word to describe how technology and software have changed the ways we communicate. Applications are being written today that have high engagement and involve interactive touch, by default fewer options, which are more clickable, than the sub-menu jungle of the PC era I showed above.

So how does this effect conversation?

Everything is instant.

There were things we (those my age and older) had to deal with that millennials do not have to – your significant other’s parent answering the phone when you called, waiting for a letter in the mail, waiting a week to get your pictures that you sent off to be developed, and so on. As communication and information travel faster and faster, the world seems to get smaller and smaller. Social networks are becoming one of the dominant ways we communicate. Snapchat or Instagram, anyone?? Our "texting" has created summarized sentences, many times using abbreviations. Some would say that is unfortunate and that conversations have become less meaningful, especially in the online setting. I know there are outcomes of this, but I think it is an evolution. Hear me out.

Think about what we use in conversation now

The conversation menu in Microsoft Teams

I won't ask have you ever, but when was the last time.... When was the last time you sent a GIF to a friend? When was the last time you included an emoji in your electronic conversations? Ever used Bitmoji?

The medium we use affects the message we want to convey. Digital media has become so crucial to our communication that it has created a new type of language. In the book, Digilect: The Impact of Infocommunication Technology on Language, Ágnes Veszelszki identifies this is a new form of communication. Just as previous languages effected the English language we have today, digital mediums are effecting how we communicate now and will continue to evolve. In her book, she outlines how digilect is heavily influenced by oral communication. For example, digital communication resembles dialogue, is less structured than written text, and has looser spelling and grammar rules. She also highlights the strong amount of creativity using the diverse aspects of our modern communication.

The Need For Digital Literacy

If you haven't thought about it yet in this blog post, computing is an important part of everyday life in the twenty-first century. Also it is important to know how to appropriately use all of the tools provided to us today. Digital literacy and citizenship are incredibly important to introduce to our learners today, no matter how old they are.

Where our students enter the tech landscape

Kindergarten kids start the school year having not known anything but the internet. Even kids that graduate, Google has always been around since they were born. There are opportunities for kids today to use the immense power of digital media to explore, connect, create, and learn in ways never before imagined. What makes digital media so cool -- the ability to interact -- also creates tiny tracks across the web. Just having an awareness of data security and appropriateness is incredibly important. Kids need to know that whenever they create a profile, post something, or comment on something, they're creating a content potentially viewable by others, that also never goes away. It's not just kids either.

Pew Research 2018 - https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/

The above graphic shows the generations that are currently in the workforce. Every generation has been exposed to the change that technology and the internet, but at different times in their lives. It is important to meet each of them where they are at and help them in their capacity for digital literacy and citizenship.

Common Sense Media

For those parents out there, I highly recommend visiting Common Sense Media. They have a wealth of resources for parents, teachers, and students on digital citizenship.


Only time will tell how the conversation will evolve. With the introduction of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, we may not know if who we are talking to is real or not. We need to help our society grow in digital literacy and citizenship as technology pushes us further and further along.


Created with images by Rawpixel.com - "Internet Connection Digital Device Technology Concept" • jayfish - "morse code" • RTimages - "Old fashioned telephone with the receiver off the hook." • DaiPhoto - "red cellular phone on heap of others." • soundsnaps - "amiga 2000 computer" • Production Perig - "Businessman using a smartphone with a Contact icon surrounding by app and social icon - 3d render" • Rawpixel.com - "Refresh Repeat Symbol Round Rotation Undo Circular Concept" • V&P Photo Studio - "young boy using tablet,school learning or technology concept"