Globalization is a long-term phenomenon involving a gradual change of events. This process has occurred in distinct phases with each having unique characteristics. The evolution of modes of communication has contributed significantly to globalization. Through the development of certain communication forms and technologies, people, cultures, and societies have gone through qualitative thresholds. This paper defines the term “qualitative threshold”. It also gives examples of cases where different communication forms were instrumental during different qualitative thresholds in the process of globalization. Finally, the paper highlights changes that arise from new communication forms.
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In the context of changes in communication forms and globalization, qualitative thresholds are the distinct points or periods in time when humanity started experiencing novel changes due to advancement or discovery of new ways of communication. For instance, two examples of qualitative thresholds where communication forms were instrumental include the pre-modern period, which is commonly known as the age of empires, and the modern period.
The Pre-modern Period
This period is also known as the Age of Empires, and it occurred between 3500 BCE and 1500 BCE. During this period, two key inventions – writing and the wheel, played a significant role in allowing people, who were mostly farmers and herders, to enter a new level in the globalization process. During this period (3500-2000 BCE), writing was invented in Mesopotamia, and it facilitated the spread of ideas and innovations to other regions (Crowley and Heyer 30).
In 3000 BCE, the wheel was invented in South-West Asia, and it facilitated faster transportation of people and goods (Bulliet 6). These two inventions spread quickly across Eurasia. Therefore, long-distance communication became popular, which ultimately allowed individuals from different geographical places to exchange commodities, ideas, technology, and culture. This period could be termed as the genesis of globalization due to the expansion of market and trade networks. With writing available and improved mode of transportation, ideas from one culture could be documented and sent to other regions. The Chinese Empire was the most advanced establishment at the time, and it shaped the course of globalization.
Before these changes in communication and transportation, people lived in the prehistoric period whereby hunting and gathering were the major activities. Steger argues that in “this earliest phase of globalization, contact among thousands of hunter and gatherer bands spread all over the world was geographically limited and mostly coincidental” (20). Therefore, cross-cultural interactions were non-existent.
Face-to-face communication was a popular means of interaction. After the pre-modern period, humanity entered the early modern era. During this epoch, communication technologies had advanced tremendously allowing European powers to expand overseas and the rise of Spanish merchants. Mechanized printing was invented during this time together with the postal system and sophisticated navigation techniques. Therefore, instead of information being sent using horse-driven carts, letters would be delivered through the postal system.
The Modern Period
According to Steger, the modern period started in the 1750s and ended in the 1970s (29). During this time, scientific and technological innovations were advanced, and thus communication was borderless. Transportation was swift following the invention of railroads, airplanes, and ships. At the same time, the telegraph was devised, and it heralded the discovery of wireless radio communication and telephony.
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The effects of these developments were monumental in shaping the course of globalization. Western capitalist enterprises spread around the world and waves of immigration became intense to facilitate cultural exchanges by transforming societies. Therefore, globalization spread fast during this period. European empires colonized the rest of the world, and the world became interconnected.
Before this era, people lived in the early modern period. The major technological advancements during this time included “mechanized printing, sophisticated wind and water mills, extensive postal systems, revised maritime technologies, and advanced navigation techniques” (Steger, 28). Therefore, wireless communication systems were missing, and thus people relied on letters sent through postal addresses for communication.
However, things changed after the 1970s when humanity entered the contemporary period. The most outstanding technological development during this era is the Internet revolution (Poe 2). This invention has facilitated globalization by reducing the world into one large village where communication is timeless. The discovery of social media allows people from different geographical places to communicate effectively without the limitations of time and space.
Throughout the history of humanity, new communication promoted globalization by allowing people from one location to pass information to others in different parts of the world. The changes ensured that ideas could be documented and preserved. The invention of writing in Mesopotamia, during the pre-modern era, redefined how people from different geographical places interacted with one another.
The modern period was characterized by the accelerated spread of globalization due to advanced technological innovations. At each qualitative threshold of globalization, communication played a central role by allowing people to move and talk with others from far-off areas. The evolution of forms of communication is under process. The invention of the Internet has changed the way individuals interact. This generation is yet to see the last of communication innovations and globalization will continue to evolve.
Bulliet, Richard. The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions. Columbia University Press, 2016.
Crowley, David, and Paul Heyer. Communicating in History: Technology, Culture, Society. 6th ed., Taylor & Francis, 2015.
Poe, Marshall. A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution ofSpe ech to the Internet. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Steger, Manfred. Globalization. Sterling, 2010.