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Is Communication Better Today?

Jul 8, 2008
In 1955 when researchers counted the punctuation in period texts they found a change in our way of communicating. They discovered there had been a surprising drop in semicolon usage between the 18th and 19th centuries. The drop from 68.1 semicolons per one thousand words to 17.7 was attributed to technology. What was the new technology in the 1850's? It was the telegraph - or what science writer Tom Standage called the "Victorian internet". The first telegraph that could successfully send messages across wires with electricity was made by Samuel Morse in 1837. Because telegraph charges for punctuation were the same as charges for words, people started using short, punchy lines and minimal punctuation to save money. In the 1850's, because of the telegraph, the English language experienced a semi-colonoscopy.

Facial expressions are a form of communication that haven't changed with time and are similar in every culture. According to researchers at the University of Toronto, however, facial expressions have a purpose other than social communication. That purpose is survival. To test their hypothesis the researchers asked student volunteers to make polar opposite expressions - fear and disgust. When the students raised their eyebrows and lifted their eyelids in expressing fear, their visual field increased, their eye movements sped up and their nostrils enlarged. All these changes increased their ability to obtain sensory information. When the students' noses wrinkled and their upper lips were raised in expressing disgust, sensory information was shut out. What the researchers proved was what Darwin thought in 1872. Facial expressions have a survival advantage. Obviously, Darwin's thinking was more evolved for his time than the students' thinking.

Female primates, part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, communicate to sex partners by the sounds they make during sex. However, when researchers from Scotland's University of St. Andrews were studying chimpanzees in Uganda, they discovered female chimpanzees don't always make what is called a copulation call. These female primates were more discreet. When seven females were studied over a period of months, they had 287 sexual encounters, but made copulation calls only one-third of the time. It seems there's a ranking of importance among chimpanzees and the females in the study wouldn't make a copulation call if a higher-ranking female was nearby. That was because higher-ranking females are often violent to their competitors. It seems what the researchers discovered was more than discretion. They discovered female chimpanzees practice safe sex.
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KNIGHT PIERCE HIRST takes humorous looks at life.
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