From Antiquity to Today: Charting Telepresence through Time

 In Cisco Solutions

Businesses across the globe are catching the telepresence bug. There’s a fevered pitch to make telepresence a normal part of business communication. The reasons, of course, center on new realities in the workplace. Meeting face-to-face will always be important, but globalization makes this all the more difficult. Even companies that are in just one country can have a hard time. Getting all of the stakeholders together on a regular basis can be tough.

After all, business travel has always been expensive, and a lot of that cost is eaten up by lost productivity hours. Depending on which resources are doing the traveling, companies could be losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. This is all due to the amount of productivity time that is lost through traveling to an in-person meeting.

Telepresence Has Always Been a Human Endeavor

Whether in our business or our social lives, we tend to think of telepresence as a new concept. But humans have understood its value for a long time. We have always wanted to connect, communicate, and collaborate instantly over long distances.

Take the ancient use of blowing horns. While the communication was often one way, many cultures used a variety of horn blow patterns to send messages back and forth. Over long distances, the human voice just would not carry. However, the ability of a horn to send sound over long distances had value.

Light has also long been used to collaborate over long distances. The human eye is very sensitive to light. If the earth were flat, we could see something as small as a candle up to 30 miles away. However, the earth curves, so we can only see so far. Nonetheless, lamps have been used to send information back and forth for thousands of years. Lighthouses are an example of this. For example, the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria is an early example of mankind’s efforts to use light to overcome distances for communication. After all, lighthouses use various light patterns to signal different ideas.

Every culture in the world has used either sight or sound to close the gap. All found ways to communicate over many miles. These methods could be fairly complex. Smoke signals, for example, used complex alphabetical systems. Their use dates as far back as ancient China.

Literary Influences and Early Predictors

The invention of electricity, more than anything, helped us realize the potential and possibility of telepresence. Even author Mark Twain, best known for his satirical novels and essays, tried his hand at predicting the impact of technology on telepresence. Some might say he even predicted it more accurately than many futurists decades after him. In his story, “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904” he wrote, “As soon as the Paris contract released the telelectroscope, it was delivered to public use, and was soon connected with the telephonic systems of the whole world. The improved ‘limitless-distance’ telephone was presently introduced, and the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussible, too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.”

Twain’s accuracy in predicting telepresence is chilling. He and other science fiction authors, like Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury, imaginatively weaved telepresence technology into their stories—long before technology had caught up.

Telepresence Today: It’s Alive, Well, and Necessary

Thankfully, the reality of telepresence exists because of the many advances that have occurred over the course of human history. But it’s not just the invention of electricity, computers, and the Internet that have led to telepresence technology. It’s also the strong human need to connect.

Businesses, just as much as individuals, have a need to connect. This includes on a business-to-business level as well as within an organization. Telepresence and video conferencing thus help solve a lot of common problems that are not as modern as we may think. People have always had to overcome distances. And we have always used technology as a means of trying to solve that problem.

Cisco has certainly found itself on the cutting edge of that human endeavor. With the Unified Communications platform, companies are finding real and beneficial solutions to pulling assets together—wherever they may be. Where video collaboration was once a dream of science fiction writers, Cisco has helped businesses turn it into reality. Cisco Telepresence and Collaboration with Video crosses all technological boundaries. It works on every device and also places users into the very future famous authors have been writing about.

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