The Most Amazing Ways People Have Ever Communicated

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In our September Bathroom Minutes spread, “Ye Olde Email,” we looked at all the pre-Internet ways in which people used to contact each other for work, including via smoke signals, morse code and $25-dollar-a-minute phone calls. But when you start looking at some of the innovative ways people have managed to communicate with each other outside the office, it gets really incredible…

Not Just Whistling Dixie
Silbo Gomero, a.k.a. el silbo, is a whistled version of the Spanish language and is used on the small island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The island’s inhabitants use it to communicate distances of five kilometers or more, across the deep ravines and narrow valleys scattered across the island. And to think we can’t even whistle the intro to “Patience by Guns N’ Roses…

On the Blink
For people with limited movement, like those with cerebral palsy or Lou Gehrig’s disease, communication can be unimaginably difficult. That’s why a language was developed using only blinks. Its users typically employ a simple “one blink for ‘yes’ and two blinks for ‘no’” approach, but can also spell out words with the help of a partner and an alphabet board. Technology made specifically for Stephen Hawking, however, allows him to control his text-to-speech computer using infrared beams coming from his glasses, showing that this language is limitless.

Grunt And Center
Call us cavemen, but we’ve all grunted to communicate—when we were babies, that is. Rutgers University researcher Lorraine McCune has been studying baby grunts for over 15 years and found they come in three discernable forms: effort grunts, attention grunts and communication grunts. Effort grunts, which occur during the very first month of life, are a result of simple exertion, but attention grunts, which appear just a few months later, are more concerted attempts at making you check in on them. Communication grunts, which usually occur during the second year of life, signal their first attempts at forming actual words. According to McCune’s research, they happen solely while the kid is gesturing towards his or her mother (sorry, dad).

Flip The Bird
It’s likely that as early as 550 BC, during the Persian Empire, birds were being trained to deliver messages, with pigeons being the messengers of choice ever since. During the Ancient Roman Empire, pigeons were used to convey news of military conquest, while the Anceint Greeks used them to spread the names of their Olympic victors. More recently, during WWII, 32 pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal—the highest award an animal can receive while serving in military conflict—for helping to relay messages along the front lines.

Drumming Up Interest
Long before the invention of the radio, the people of Africa, New Guinea and tropical America were able to communicate messages over 15 miles using hourglass-shaped devices called talking drums, which mimic the tone and prose of their spoken language. If anyone reading this speaks drum language, can you translate this for us?