Key Developments of the Information Age

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Key Developments of the Information Age

The first communication between humans took place in face-to-face interaction, but they soon began to create ways of sending messages long distances and recording information for use over time by others. Many of the methods were not very convenient, but man’s creative spirit kept on creating. Now man has invented the technology for communicating face-to-face over long distances and for storing and transmitting massive amounts of information through the use of electricity and light waves. This article is a short history of key events in man’s continuous search for better ways of storing information and communicating ideas.

In 3500 B.C. Sumerians developed a system of writing. In 3200 B.C. Egyptians first used ink. Paper was invented in China in about A.D.105 by Cai Lun (Ts’ai Lun). The Chinese probably invented the process of block printing using wooden blocks. Later in about 1045 Bi Sheng (Pi Sheng) made the first moveable type. In the meantime, in Europe most books were still being written by hand and later using block prints. Gutenburg’s invention in 1440 of the printing press allowed the general population to have access to books.

In 1729 electric pulses were first sent over a wire; 100 years later in 1831 the telegraph was invented, allowing information to be transmitted by code of long and short electrical signals. In 1866 these signals were first carried by cables under t Atlantic Ocean. In 1892 Bell’s invention of the telephone led to the development of a system that enabled people to have instantaneous voice communication with each other.

Television was invented in the 1920s, making it possible for people to see what is happening around the world. Usually what we see is selected and edited first; however, more recently, and more frequently, there is direct, live broadcasting of actual events. Thus, we have been able to watch important ceremonies, military operations, and other historical events as they occur.

Many ideas and inventions led to the development of the computer; one was Babbage’s analytic engine in 1834. The first fully electronic digital computer was built by two engineers, Eckert and Mauchly in 1946, and occupied a whole room. Miniaturization of electronic equipment has led to high-speed computers with very large memories as well as pocket-size computers. Affordable prices have also led to widespread use of computers even outside of businesses in some countries.

The development of Internet, an international electronic communications network of thousands of networks linking computers, began with one network, ARPANET, a U.S. government experiment in 1969. Now Internet is only one of many systems. Expansion has been extremely rapid in recent years. In 1983 the first inter-city fiber-optic phone system was installed, adding to the capacity of networks. They have become so complex that users need electronic tools to search the services and databases. In 1993 the annual growth rate for the traffic using one of these tools, gopher, was 997%, and for another tool, World-Wide Web, 341,634%!

Internet and other network systems allow “people in geographically distant lands to communicate across time zones without seeing each other information is available 24 hours a day from thousands of places. There is no “middleman.” It can be real-time or delayed-time interaction. People are not restricted to direct communication with just a few people at a time.

Electronic communication is a mixture of oral and written communication. One person can communicate with hundreds of people at the same time that someone else is also doing the same thing. For example, on USENET (only one of the many systems), on a typical day in February, 1993, 80,000 users posted information from 25,000 sites. These systems also allow a person to find information that has been stored in many different places. From a computer in one’s home or office, a person can search a database (a library catalog, telephone directory, encyclopedia) in a distant or even foreign location.

Individuals can also become news reporters of local news events. For example, during the coup attempt that spelled the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union a small e-mail company, Relcom, was the only communication link available.

It is predicted that these electronic networks will become the key international infrastructure of the 21st Century. In the United States this infrastructure is now being called the Information Superhighway (IS). The IS exists in what some people call Cyberspace. So much has happened since the invention of paper about 5,500 years ago!


Tongue twisters

Procedure: Pronunciation. Write a tongue twister on the board, and read it with the students slowly at first, then faster. Make sure the students’ pronunciation is acceptable. Then individual volunteers try to say it quickly three times.




1. She sells sea shells on the sea shore.

2. Mixed biscuits, mixed biscuits.

3. Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather.

4. A proper copper coffee pot.

5. Three gray geese in a green field grazing.

6. Swan swam over the pond, swim swan swim; swan swam back again – well swum swan!

7. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.

Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled pepper?

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper,

Where’s the peck of pickled pepper Peter

Piper picked?


Procedure: Vocabulary review and enrichment through imaginative association. Start by suggesting an evocative word: «storm», for example. A student says what the word suggests to him or her – it might be ‘dark’, and so on round the class.

Other words you might start with: sea, fire, tired, holiday, morning, English, family, home, angry. Or use an item of vocabulary the class has recently learnt.

If there is time, after you have completed a chain of about 15-25 associations, take the final word suggested, write it on the board, and, together with the group, try to reconstruct the entire chain back to the original idea.

Brainstorm round a word

Procedure: Vocabulary review and enrichment. Take a word the class has recently learnt, and ask the students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write each suggestion on the board with a line joining it to the original word, in a circle, so that you get a ‘sunray’ effect. If the original word was a ‘decision’, for example, you might get:

The same activity can, of course, be done as individual or pairwork instead of in the full group. Take a central theme or concept of a story (or a technical text) you are planning to read with the group, and brainstorm association in order to open and direct students’ thinking towards the ideas that they will encounter in the text.

Variation 1: Instead of inviting free association, limit it in some way. For example, invite only adjectives that can apply to the central noun, so ‘decision’ might get words like; free, final, acceptable, wrong, right. Or invite verbs that can apply to the noun, for example: you can take, make, agree with, cancel or confirm a decision.



Variation 2: A central adjective can be associated with nouns, for example, ‘warm’ could be linked with: day, food, hand, personality. Or a verb can be associated with adverbs, for example, ‘speak’ can lead to: angrily, softly, clearly, convincingly, sadly.


Damaged property

Procedure: Guessing; using the past tense and passives. Present a brief description of a piece of property that is damaged: a watch that has stopped. You need to have in your mind the reason for the damage; the students try to guess what it is. Allow ‘narrowing-down’ questions (‘Did it happen because of carelessness?’) and give hints (‘It happened while I was cooking..’) to maintain pace and ensure the students’ ultimate success in guessing. The successful guesser can suggest the next damaged item.

You may use the examples given below:

1. A watch that has stopped (dropped into the soup while I was cooking).

2. An umbrella with a hole in it (someone’s lighted cigarette fell on it).

3. Jeans that are torn and faded (done on purpose to be more fashionable).

4. A squashed cake at a picnic (the youngest member of the family sat on it).

5. Ahole in the roof (a small meteor fell through it).

6. A broken window (a tree fell onto it during a storm).


General knowledge

Procedure:Announce a general knowledge quiz and then ask the kind of questions given below. The students may be divided into groups of four. Ask the questions and give the students exactly 45 seconds to discuss each questions and to agree on an answer in their group. Each group gives its answer and then you or a student in the role of quiz master give the authoritative answer.


Elementary level


1. Where is Mount Everest? (Nepal/Tibet border).

2. How high is Mount Everest? (8,848 meters).

3. What is the capital city of Uruguay? (Montevideo).

4. What are the differences between African and Indian elephants? (The African elephant has larger ears and longer back legs?).

5. Where is the Eiffel Tower? Which country and which city? (France/Paris).

6. What are the colors of the French flag? (Red, white and blue).

7. What color do you add to blue in order to make purple? (Red).

8. Which is the longest river in the world? (The Amazon and the Nile are about the same length).

9. Which is the highest waterfall in the world? (Salto Angel in Venezuela – 979 meters)

10. Which is the biggest country: the United Kingdom, France or Spain? (the UK: 240,937 km; France; 547,026 km.; Spain: 504,782 km.).

11. Which river flows through London? (The Thames).

12. What is SOS in the international Morse code? (... _ _ _ ...).

13. Where is the Sea of Tranquillity? (The Moon).

14. What are the shortest words in English? (a and I).


Intermediate Level


1. Who is the Queen of the United Kingdom? (Queen Elizabeth II).

2. What was the most famous woman Prime Minister in Britain? (Margaret Thatcher, 1979-90).

3. Who wrote «King Lear», «Macbeth», and «Romeo and Juliet»? (William Shakespeare).

4. What do English-speaking people often say when they are being photographed? (Cheese! Then they look as though they are smiling).

5. If it is midday in London, what time is it in New York? (Seven o’clock in the morning).

6. Which of the Beatles was killed? (John Lennon).

7. What is the boiling point of water? (100 centigrade).

8. Name at least three countries in Europe which have red, white and blue flags (United Kingdom, Czechoslovakia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway)

9. Which river flows through Cairo? (The Nile).

10. What does UNESCO stand for? (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

11. Which is the nearest big city to Heathrow Airport? (London).

12. What is the American English word for the British English word ‘lift’? (Elevator).

13. Which is the bigger, the American billion or the British billion? (The British billion . American billion = one thousand million. British billion = one million million, this is called a ‘trillion’ in American English.

Advanced level


1. It is possible to go by ship to Paraguay? (No, Paraguay has no sea coast).

2. If you were in Freetown in South Africa in August, would you be wet or dry? (Wet. The rainfall is very heavy in August, averaging about 80 cm.)

3. Which three nationalities did Einstein have at different times? (He was born in Germany, then became a Swiss citizen, and later took American citizenship).

4. Which metal boils at the highest temperature; silver, gold or lead? (gold: 2,900 C; Silver: 2,210 C; Lead: 1,740 C).

5. Which President died a violent death in 1963? (John F. Kennedy).

6. When did Elizabeth II become Queen of the United Kingdom: 1948, 1952, 1965 or 1974 ?(1952).

7. What happened if you killed a cat in an ancient Egypt? (You were executed because cats were sacred).

8. What is the symbol of the zodiacal sign Taurus? (Bull).

9. Who was the Iron Lady? (Margareth Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-90).

10. Who was the Queen of Egypt twice? (Cleopatra, 51-48 BC and 47-30 BC. Her brother was king for one year, then Julius Caesar, helped Cleopatra to get her throne back again).

11. Who arrived in Australia before Captain Cook? (The Aborigines were there 20,000 years before the Europeans. The first Europeans were the Portuguese in the 16th century).

12. Who was the close friend and assistant of Sherlock Holmes? (Dr. Watson).


Questions about a statement

Procedure: Practice in forming questions. Take a sentence which is a statement of fact – true, false, absurd, it doesn’t matter – from your coursebook or from your own or the students’ imagination. The students try to see how many questions they can ask about it.



Possible questions:

1. Has the moon always been made of green cheese?

2. Is the cheese light or dark green?

3. Is the cheese hard or soft?

4. Is the moon all made of green cheese, or only part of it?

5. Why is the moon made of green cheese?

6. How was it made?

7. What does the cheese taste like? and so on.

The Moon survival problem

Procedure:For oral practice. The situation described in this problem is imaginary. Your «life» or «death» will depend upon how well your group can share its present knowledge of a relatively unfamiliar problem so that the team can make decision that will lead to your survival.

1. You are a member of a space crew drawn from several earth countries participating in a United Nations inner – galactic science project. Originally, your vessel was scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. Due to mechanical difficulties, however, your ship was forced to land at a spot some 300 kilometers from the meeting point. You were unable to notify anyone of your position before the forced landing. None of you are injured and your space suits are intact.

However, during landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged, but your group was able to salvage the fifteen items listed on the next page. Since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the 300-kilometer trip.

You may assume:

a)the number of your crew is the same as the number of your team;

b)you are the actual people in the situation;

c)the team has agreed to stick together;

d)all items are in good condition;

e)you are on the lighted side of the moon.


2. Each member of the team is to individually rank the fifteen salvaged items according to their importance to the team’s survival. Do not discuss the situation or problem until each member has finished the individual ranking.


3. After everyone has finished the individual ranking, rank order the fifteen items as a team. Once discussion begins do not change your individual ranking! Your team will have until _________________________- o’clock to complete this step.


4. Discuss the data in regard to the objective (The key to step 4 Survival Expert’s Ranking is given below the table) .But: not discuss the Expert’s Ranking until each team or the whole class has finished the ranking.


  STEP 1 Your Individual Ranking STEP 2 The Team's Ranking STEP 3 The Class's Ranking STEP 4 Survival Expert's Ranking
box of matches        
food concentrate        
50 ft. Nylon rope        
parachute silk        
portable heating unit        
two 45 caliber pistols        
one case dehydrated milk        
two 100 lbs. tank of oxygen        
stellar map (of moon's constellation)        
life raft        
magnetic compass        
5 gallons of water        
signal flares        
first aid kit with injection needles        
solar-powered FM receiver-transmitter        

Cultural adjustment

Task sheet

Here are some difficulties people encounter when living in a new country. Please indicate with a check ( ¯ ) how important each one has been for you.

  Of very great importance Of great importance Of some importance Of no importance
1. Differences in the weather        
2. Being away from the family.        
3. Differences in the food.        
4. Differences in the way people make friends.        
5. Transportation problems.        
6. Getting used to new ways of learning.        
7. Adjusting to new ways of doing things, e.g. shopping.        
8. Difficulties in communicating one’s ideas.        
9. Different living conditions.        
10. Different social customs.        
11. Getting newspaper and magazines from home        
12. Meeting people from the same country.        
13. Knowing what to do in everyday situations.        
14. Other (please specify)        

Adapted from “NASA Exercise” in the Dynamics of Human Communication (A Laboratory Approach) Gail E. Myers and Michele Tolera Myers. From: A Manual of Structured Experiences for Cross-cultural Learning by Weebs, et al. Sietar-Intercultural Press.


Key to Step 4 - Survival Expert’s Ranking:

box of matches (15); food concentrate (4); 50 ft. nylon rope (6); parachute silk (8); portable heating unit (13); two 45 caliber pistols (11); one case dehydrated milk (12); two 100 lbs. tank of oxygen (1); stellar map (of moon’s constellation (3); life raft (9); magnetic compass (14); 5 gallons of water (2); signal flares (10); first aid kit with injection needles (7); solar-powered FM receiver-transmitter (5).

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