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It’s likely that much of today’s youth can’t imagine being without their cell phone for a day — much less fathom how people communicated without a cell phone at all. Smartphones are glued to the pockets and hands of people of all ages today. With so many people treating their cell phones as a practically inseparable part of their physical being, it’s difficult to imagine a time when they didn’t exist.

But as hard as that might be, pre-cell phone communication methods were alive and well in the 18th century. Communication has changed dramatically since the invention of cell phones. Some impacts of this technology are positive, but there is surely a less desirable side to new technologies.

 

How did communication look in the 18th century? What implications does today’s world of smartphones have on health and safety? What might the future of communication look like?

18th-Century Communication Standards

Cell phones didn’t exist in the 1700s, so people who wanted to send and receive messages had to rely on other methods. Letter writing was the go-to method, but it was unreliable at best. Letters could sometimes take two weeks to reach their destination, and the sender wouldn’t know if their letter was delivered unless they received a response. There were no read receipts in the 18th century.

 

The U.S. Postal Service was improving during this time, largely thanks to the work of Benjamin Franklin, who became U.S. postmaster in 1775. He helped organize a working postal system and introduced many of the concepts that we take for granted today in package delivery,

 

However, imagine a world in which you couldn’t text or call your friend to ask if they want to meet up for dinner. Instead, you would have to send a letter at least a month out from when you wanted to meet, hope they receive it, and then wait in hope of a response. That dinner better be worth it!

 

In addition to personal letters, people in the 1700s relied heavily on newspapers to read and share news. Slow, written communications ruled during this time. It would be some years until the invention of the telegraph, so people in the 18th century had to be quite patient in order to send a message.

 

People in the 18th century also utilized more face-to-face communication than many of us do today. Because written communication wasn’t quick or guaranteed, nothing could beat a verbal interaction with another person. In fact, it was the only surefire way to make sure your message was delivered and received.

 

Today, some people go out of their way to avoid personal interactions with other people, preferring the ease of a text message or email over a face-to-face conversation or even a phone call. It’s clear that priorities have shifted now that we have more options for communication at our fingertips.

Safety and Modern Communication

Today you can send a text in a split second to virtually anywhere in the world. Communication in many forms is literally at your fingertips for most of the day, whether through phone calls, texts, emails, or social media. Everyone is connected all the time.

 

While this is largely seen as a major improvement, especially in comparison with the sluggish nature of 18th-century letter writing, there is a downside to such easy access to cell phones. Distracted driving, for one, is a huge problem. You can’t pay attention to the road if you’re on Snapchat while in the car.

 

With the number of fatalities related to distracted driving due to phone use rising each year, it’s clear that something needs to be done. Since distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents, it’s clear that people continue to use smartphones and cell phones when they shouldn’t.

 

If we’re going to continue to enjoy the benefits of improved communication, we must use this new technology responsibly and safely, and these are lessons that must be taught to new drivers as soon as they start learning. Otherwise, we may not continue to look at it as an improvement at all.

Blending Past and Present

In the digital age, some people look to the past with nostalgia for the old ways of being and communicating. Some fear that, with the widespread use (and overuse) of smartphones, we’ve lost our ability to communicate and connect face-to-face. They worry that, in the world’s most connected age, we’re actually more disconnected than ever. For this reason, many Americans have opted to forego internet connections entirely, and yet more in rural areas are simply unable to access the internet.

 

In an ideal world, the past and present could blend, and we would have communication standards that take and practice the best of both. We would have a healthy balance of face-to-face, screen-free communication, coupled with the ease and convenience of text messages, phone calls, and emails to make plans.

 

Since technology isn’t about to rewind any time soon, it’s up to us to use phones responsibly to stay safe on the road and truly connect with fellow human beings. It can be tempting to think that the entire world exists on the screen of a smartphone but imagine what life was like for a mail carrier in the 1700s.

 

They were out in the world, breathing fresh air, and delivering messages to people face to face — messages that must have been quite important for the sender to go through the hassle of getting it out. In other words, they were living in the real world.

 

Finding balance is key. As long as we remember that a world exists outside the screen, we can harness the power of modern communication technologies to improve our lives and allow us to be more connected with each other.