From Papyrus to iPhones

Austin Gray


From Papyrus to iPhones


Communication is a tool that has been utilized by man for centuries to transfer a message or image from one mind to the next. Various media have been identified throughout history as remarkable stepping stones that continue to allow for the communication of mankind to expand and flourish. In our contemporary lifestyle we are surrounded by media of all sorts, such as newspapers, radio shows, podcasts, or TV segments. Many of these media are absolute essentials for the general populous of the Earth to carry our their daily lives. We’ve become extremely attached to our media and the devices that convey these messages to us such as iPhones, laptops, or even augmented reality devices. This can lead us to often overlook the vast history of media and media devices that came before our time.

Long since the beginning of written communication there was a necessity to allow our messages to be dynamic and mobile. Early communication often relied upon fixed media in which messages were inscribed in fixed places and visible to any who travel to these messages. Stone tablet inscription is one of the most widely recognized forms of this media in which we see messages and images carved into the walls of pyramids or other ancient structures. This often created problems in a world that was constantly exploring new lands and which desperately needed a way to transfers messages from one place to the next.

The first mobile media device carries an impact so large that our society still relies heavily on the contemporary derivative of the substance. Papyrus is the first known form of “paper” and was founded by the Egyptians as early as 4000 BC (Dunn). Papyrus allowed mankind to finally mobilize the media that they created and provided a monumental change in the process of communication as messages could now be moved from one location to another. No longer did individuals have to travel to messages, because messages could now travel to them.


Papyrus lent a model for many cultures to follow with their own geographically defined derivative of the medium. After many centuries of advancement of papyrus into more useable and “defined” forms of paper, a need had risen for mass printing and distribution of created media. Before the 1400’s media had to be constantly reproduced by hand and thus didn’t allow for mass reproduction at a grand scale. This set a monotonous tone for many, until the invention and introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 (Farman, 12).  Gutenberg’s press allowed for a potential of mass-printing and distribution that was unforeseen prior and open the gates for reproduction of various papers, journals, and pamphlets. Mass connection of individuals and spread of ideology now has a route in which to travel efficiently.

The next major hurdle overcome by media creators and distributors was the fact that all media had to be hand-delivered. Media can now be mass-printed with Gutenberg’s press, but it’s mobility is limited by the physical barriers of a human messenger. In the 1790’s, the Chappe brothers introduce the first mechanical telegraph to the world and forever change the dynamics of the delivery of media (Goggin, 20). The telegraph is a device that can send a message extremely quickly through an electrical signal and it connected the world in way that was unforeseen years beforehand. It became a commercial product in the early 1840’s (Goggin, 20) and helped to revolutionize the sending and receiving of text-based messages through electrical current. The telephone was introduced by Bell in 1877 (Goggin, 20) but was mostly used by government and military, while most civilians still relied upon their trusted telegraph. By 1910 however, there was 10 million telephone users worldwide and the popularity of the telephone had undoubtedly risen along with Alexander Bell’s company, Bell telephones. With the telephone individuals could now communicate in real-time with someone from another state without having to type out a telegram. Telephone’s continue to progress throughout the mid 20th century and bring forth the introduction of CB radio, mobile phones, and pay-phones.

Cellular technology began to develop throughout the early to mid twentieth century but didn’t develop into our modern view of “cell-phones” until 1973, when Motorola’s CEO Martin Cooper made the “World’s first” call on a portable, hand-held, cell phone (Goggin, 29). Through the 1970’s commercial cell-phone research and development progress rapidly. Oddly progression and cell-phone demand slow dramatically throughout the 1980’s, but interest again rises in the early 1990’s and cell-phones again are common in the public sphere. This new rush of demand is met by an extended range of features in which cell-phones are now multimedia compatible. This speaks to me as perhaps one of the most important aspects of the cell-phone’s remarkable place in our contemporary society as it is the beginning of the convergence of media into a singular device. By the early 2000’s the completely mobile cell-phone begins to remove the necessity for other objects or applications and starts to become the media hub that it is today. By 2009, cell-phones had been measured to be used more for data transfer than for voice communication for the first time ever (Farman, 17), and this speaks to the idea of media convergence on our phones. Media companies will only continue to converge all media onto a singular mobile device that can do anything we ask of.

One such technology that is redefining the way we view and consume our media is augmented reality. Augmented reality in its most extreme form encompasses our entire visual field into a mediated field of view in the form of headsets or eyewear devices. In a simpler form it presents itself through useful smartphone applications that can transform the view of our camera into a story, interactive map, or reading assistant. The uses for AR are endless and it can help transform our space into new places within a completely mediated environment that we’ve never experienced before.. With a system like Microsoft’s Hololens, users can create and share information presented in their visual field in holograms. This can simply help someone find their way to the bus or allow an artist to render a 3D hologram of a car that appears to be occupying space right in front of them.

Much as the cell-phone and its applications have improved daily life, augmented reality lends itself to many applications that can help us get through our daily tasks (or distract us).


Keefe, Mike. “Evolution of Communication.” Denver Post. Denver: Denver Post, 2009. Image.

Farman, J. (2012). Historicizing Mobile Media. Mobile Media Reader, 73, 9-21.

Dunn, J. Tour Egypt : Egyptian Papyrus Historically.

Papyrus Papyrus Everywhere. Image. Retrieved from

Goggin, G. (2006). Cell Phone Culture. 19-40.

Microsoft. (2015, Jan 15). Microsoft Hololens – Possibilities. Retrieved from

Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layar-ed places. New Media and Society.

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