How does texting work?

Texting has become a huge part of our daily lives. What happens when you hit “send” on your phone? How does your message make its way across the room or to the other side of the world to someone else’s phone? Watch to find out! #STEMvee

[Video Description: Barbara, a white woman wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, is standing in front of a gray background.

00:07 – An image of an iPhone with blue and gray colored text bubbles.

01:18 – A white circle resembling a dot.

01:21 – A white line resembling a dash.

01:36 – A line of white zeros and ones in front of Barbara.

01:46 – Multiple lines of white zeros and ones in the front of Barbara.

02:34 – An image of two waves (yellow and dark red) with white lines depicting a wavelength (short and long). Visible waves are colored yellow and radio waves are colored dark red.

03:09 – A graph showing an example waveform. Time is denoted on the x-axis (1 to 10). The graph has a red wave traced with a blue dashed waveform. Above the wave is a line of zeros and ones.

03:39 – A photo of a cell tower behind a field of grass and trees.

03:51 – An image of 12 hexagons resembling cells with an individual cell tower inside each hexagon.

06:22 – An image of the entire texting process from creating binary code in an iPhone, transmitting a message to a nearby cell tower, then to a brain-like network of computers, then to a nearby cell tower of another person, to the person’s iPhone in the form of binary code.]

Transcript: Everyday, we often look at our phones and text throughout the day. Texting has become a huge part of our daily lives. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how far we have come with this technological marvel! 200 years ago, it took 12 days to deliver a message via a boat from New York City to London. Now, it takes mere seconds to send and receive a text! But when you hit send, what happens? How does your message make its way across the room or to the other side of the world to someone else’s phone? Let’s use a flashlight as an example. You can use light to communicate with other people by turning it on and off with some sort of code, like Morse Code. Short flashes of light = dots and long flashes of light = dashes. This form of light communication is similar to computers and binary with ones and zeros. When your phone sends the letter U, it turns into this: 01110101. Or the message, “why don’t we text in binary?” is this: 01110111 01101000 01111001 00100000 01100100 01101111 01101110 11100010 10000000 10011001 01110100 00100000 01110111 01100101 00100000 01110100 01100101 01111000 01110100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001 00111111. As you type a message, your phone will convert your words into binary. How does this code start its journey to the destination? When you send a message out of your phone, electricity from your battery jiggles electrons in the antenna of your phone, giving off a kind of light. Not visible light like the filament of a light bulb gives off, but longer wavelengths — radio waves, which is not visible to the naked eye. Then the antenna in your phone converts ones and zeros in short jiggle stop jiggle stop jiggle stop jiggle stop, producing a waveform. This is one example of what the waveform can look like. Where do the radio waves encoding your message go? Straight to your friends phone? To a satellite? Nope, the antenna in your phone is too tiny, and can only send the message a few miles… So to where? To cell towers. Have you ever wondered why they are called cell towers (or cell phones)? Every tower presides over an area of land around it called a cell. These cells divide our land. Now, in your cell, there are many people who are also sending messages to others. Every message includes identifying information to answer two things: Who am I as a sender? Who is the person receiving the message? Basically each person has their own identifier — a “phone social security number”. As people all across cities and towns send messages to others, cell towers have the ability to differentiate who the messages came from using these identifiers. Now it knows who, but how does it know where to send the message to? Well, a sphere of radio waves emanating outwards from your phone will jiggle the electrons in your cell tower. These jiggles will generate electrical impulses that will be transmitted to a network of computers wirelessly, or through above or below ground cables. The network is like a brain cell because it is connected to all the other cells through cell towers. It searches for your friend. Once the network locates your friend, it will send the message to your friend’s nearby cell tower. After receiving the message, the cell tower will send radio waves to your friend’s phone. These waves will jiggle their antenna and that will become zeros and ones, which are translated into the message. So… that’s what happens when you send a text. Vee, right?! Imagine all of this happens instantly at the click of your hands! WOW!



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