For the first 270,000 years of human history, all formal communication was synchronous. Our neanderthal ancestors would communicate with each other in real-time using grunts, snorts and screams. It wasn’t until 100,000 years ago that we evolved the power of speech. This was obviously a huge advance in human communication, but given that voicemail wouldn’t come along for quite a while yet, it still meant that all formal human communication was synchronous, with messages being heard at the same time as they were spoken.
The dawn of asynchronous human communication did not arrive until around 45,000 years ago, when the earliest known cave paintings were created. For the first time in history, human beings had developed the tools to create a message that could be received by someone else at a later time. None of paintings of this era used any linguistic symbols, so the drawings are open to interpretation. Some scholars believe that the paintings were a means of expressing wishes to gods of spirits, while others believe they were painted by shamans who used them to show others what they had seen in their visions. Another theory is that they were mostly painted by adolescent males, and were simply depictions of the kind of stuff they were into, namely hunting and women. In other words, cave paintings might be the prehistoric equivalent of the posters of cars, sports, and women that decorate a typical teenage boy’s bedroom walls.
Over the next 40 millenia, cave paintings gradually evolved into a more sophisticated tool for asynchronous communication: writing. The earliest forms of writing were mostly used in record-keeping. So back in 4,000 BC, if a wealthy merchant owned more commodities than he could keep track of in his head, he could have a list of his various properties written down on pieces of clay and stored so they could be referred to later. It was essentially a bronze age equivalent to a spreadsheet.
The advent of writing was soon followed by simple printing methods, and by the first postal systems, which allowed communication to occur not just at different times, but at completely different places too. It wasn’t until the middle of the 15th century though that asynchronous communication really took off. German inventor Johannes Gutenberg designed a printing press (ancestor of the beloved modern computer printer) that could print almost a thousand times faster than any other device that existed at the time, and this historic invention triggered the start of the Printing Revolution.
During this period, there was a huge increase in asynchronous communication, with nations all over the world establishing and expanding their own formal postal services. The number of asynchronous messages being sent and received by mail quickly increased from thousands, to millions, to hundreds of billions. For hundreds of years, letter writing was the predominant means of asynchronous communication, but with the rapid spread of the world wide web starting in the nineteen nineties, email gradually took over as the world’s favourite asynchronous communication tool.
Email has no doubt been evolutionary, but we’ve reached the point now that we’re all dealing with far too much of it, and its effectiveness as an asynchronous communication tool is waning, particularly within organizations. What 21st century working teams need is a single tool that blends together all of the advantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communication systems. Woice is just that: a cave painting, clay tablet, letter, Post-it note, phone call, text message, and video conference all rolled into one.