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Explaining an iPhone to someone from 200 years ago...

There have been many technological advances over the last 200 years which make it almost impossible to even explain the concept of an iPhone to a time-traveller. Let's take an adult from exactly 200 years ago, in January 1810 and try to explain the concept of the iPhone (or any other modern smartphone for that matter) to them.

In the early 1800s the idea of electricity was being trialled and unbeknown to these fantastic inventors, the simple circuits and batteries they were creating and testing have made our lives in the 21st century truly amazing. In fact, it was not until the early ninteen hundreds when electricity became common in households. Explaining the concept of this invisible power that could make things happen would be hard enough... explaining that it would power this device which you could put in your pocket and carry around for a whole day would seem incredible.

Then of course there was the invention of the lightbulb and it's use in 1879 by Thomas Edison. One day every house would have a filament bulb. Explaining that the torches and fire they used to heat their homes and to provide light, would be non-existent would seem catastrophic and unfeasible... The screen on the iPhone is essentially thousands of little lights, and explaining that these would fit in your pocket would be mind-blowing.

The iPhone is of course a telephone, and it's birth was seen in the mid-1800s. Imagine telling someone that if they wanted to talk to someone else they would just have to pick up a phone, press some numbers and they would magically be speaking to someone on the other end. Then try explaining to them that every household has one. Explain that in the late 1900s, they no-longer needed wires at all and they communicate via satellites in the sky which beam communications around the world.

Now, there is a camera inside the phone. Something that can use light to record an image permanently - this was mass-produced in the late-1800s by Kodak. Also, the fact that this massive box of a camera now fits into something that is smaller than your hand is astounding. The same device can also record 30 photos per second and these can be spun so quickly that it looks like they are moving. Once again fitting in your hand.

The Computer - "There's this machine right, and you press numbers and letters and they appear on a screen and you can make multiple copies of these at the press of a button." Yes, there is essentially a computer in your pocket: the games, spreadsheet apps, email...

The Internet - Explaining that one day there would be hundreds of millions of people talking to each other anonymously via the Internet is hard. Something which is based on billions of miles of cables running underneath oceans, through towns, underground and more... You can access this without wires in the same device that will already allow you to communicate with others with a phone, take photos and take videos. There will be colour photos available online and in billions; people will have websites about every topic; there will be videos sent to people and available every second of every day. You'd even be able to have your grocery shopping delivered to your house while on the sofa and order any product you could possibly want from anywhere in the world. Emails... we'd just have to say they are letters which can be accessed anywhere and arrive in just a few seconds - truly mind-blowing.

The iPod - Music has seen a radical transformation. From the phonograph, to records and vinyls, to cassettes, CDs and finally digital files. Explaining each step would be amazing. Then the idea that you would be able to click on a button and the songs would be on your computer is amazing, that you plug in your phone and the two devices communicate copying files over. The idea that people would produce programmes for free via podcasts and that advertisers would pay money to fund these despite the fact that there may be no link between you hearing an advert and buying a product. These songs would be beamed to your ears with a wire in each and you could get any song you wanted added in seconds to your collection, all on your phone.

So next time that you complain that your internet is slow, that your computer has crashed or that an iPhone App isn't available despite there being one on Android...take a moment to ponder about how life would have been very, very different every 50 year ago, let alone 200. The purpose of this article is not to lecture you about how ungrateful we all are, but rather that you learn something. I rather enjoyed learning and writing this.

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