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How Did Human Communication Start?


A day in the life of our ancestor – Mr Caveman


The harsh sunbeams hit the caveman’s skin like a bag of rocks. He scratched his head as he jumped up to plan his big day. It was hot and humid, and the large animals would gather around the lake again. His long haired wife was feeding the screaming offspring before she left the cave to gather delicious plump berries. The caveman grabbed his club and went to join the other tribesmen. They were waiting for him in the circle behind the bushes. One of them was drawing their attack strategy in the dirt with a long stick. Come sundown, the hunt will begin.


The History

Since the dawn of time, even before we developed languages, we strived to communicate. We warned each other of danger, or showed each other how to hunt. After that, or around the same time, we started drawing. We have been drawing for 32 000 years. The oldest known form of communication were cave paintings. After them came pictograms that eventually evolved into ideograms. Fast forward to 3500 BC and the first cuneiform writing was developed by the Sumerians, while the Egyptians developed what is known as hieroglyphic writing. The alphabet was developed around 1500 BC by the Phoenicians, and paper was only invented by Tsai Lun in 105 AD.

So it’s 32 000 years since we started drawing and we are still thinking in pictures. You don’t believe me? Think about it. When I told you about the caveman, you didn’t see words in your head, you envisioned him and his long haired wife, his screaming children, the dirt with the drawings, and large animals. This is because the default setting of our brains is to understand images better than text.

Humans have always been searching for ways to communicate visually. Whenever we wanted to tell a story, we did our best to paint a picture with words. After that came drawing pictures. When the written word was invented, the goal was still to describe an event is as much detail as needed for the listener to create a mental image. Painting portraits or historical events came later to give the observer a chance to feel immersed in the situation. The problem with that was that painters were oftentimes subjective when creating their masterpieces. Photography fixed that. Sort of. Film, on the other hand, could show movement. As computers and technology developed, so did animation. It gave us the chance to portray events that might never happen, that weren’t even realistic or possible, but were in the scope of human imagination.

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The Psychology

To recap, we have been searching for ways to communicate in a visual way ever since we realized that we even have something worth communicating to each other. So how did human communication start and evolve? Why do people prefer to communicate using visuals instead of using text? Why would we rather watch a video than read a chunk of text? What is the psychology behind it?


Put simply, “our verbal mind doesn’t work without our visual mind”. Research has shown that our brain’s configuration is set up to faster comprehend pictures than text, and we respond to them differently. A single image can convey much more than a single word can. It has the power to tell a story, evoke specific emotions, moods, and things that are impossible to convey using just words. This power comes from the fact that our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Over the years we evolved to respond to visual information, and only in the recent history of our species have we developed the ability to read text. We are simply wired to react to visuals faster than to text.

The Age of the Internet

So how do we communicate complicated ideas today? We don’t travel to distant holy places to see a text engraved in big rocks. We don’t send messengers on horses, or send carrier pigeons. Even letters sent via Post are becoming an obsolete way of communicating, because they just aren’t fast enough. We have technology at our fingertips and we rely heavily on the internet. We have our smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers… And they’re all connected to the World Wide Web. But we need to ask ourselves if we are using its full potential. Big chunks of text explaining how your service or product works just aren’t cutting it anymore. With the average attention span of an adult between 2.8 and 8 seconds, that is not nearly enough time to grab the attention of your website visitors.

Engaging marketing videos have seen a rise in popularity in the past few years. When done right, marketing or explainer videos can be a compelling way for a company to stand out. They can be funny, educational, serious, friendly, formal, or casual, depending on the way you want to approach your potential clients.


How can we improve the way we get our message across?

You might see where I was going with this. By using more visuals. Simple, right? Well, yes and no. But we’ll get into that another time. In the meantime, leave us a comment in the section below and give us your thoughts on visuals vs. text.

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