Electricity is the transfer of electrons from one atom to another. Today it is the founding principle of countless modern conveniences, allowing near-instant communication, superhuman data processing, vastly expanded information access and a wide range of other applications.
Electricity has been known by humanity for thousands of years; jars containing simple chemical cells have been found in modern-day Iraq. Electricity was a novelty until experiments starting in the 18th century. An Italian scientist showed that a frog's leg could be animated with electrical impulses, leading to the theory of neural connections.
Samuel Morse's telegraph was invented in the 1830s as a way to quickly communicate over long distances. The United States Civil War was the first major military conflict where news from the front lines could be relayed to major cities and then across the nation within hours. Sketch artists worked for newspapers to illustrate the fighting, and daily news received over telegraph would make the US Civil War the first "media war". By 1900, many telegraph lines had been laid across the oceans and the globe was beginning to get truly interconnected for the first time. The invention of the telephone by Antonio Meucci and its patent by Alexander Graham Bell presented an even more effective means of communicating, whereby the people talking could hear a live voice. Fulfilling his goal of having "a telephone in every major city in the United States", Bell founded his eponymous communications company that would gain a monopoly on the business by the 1960s.
Another one of the first practical applications of electricity was electric lighting. Arc lighting had been in use since the beginning of the 1800s, but the resulting electrical arc was unsafe and the system required too much energy to be widely used. British scientist Thomas Swan came up with a vacuum-filled light bulb that had a burnable filament, but his discovery was not widely known and still did not have optimal efficiency. American Thomas Edison, often falsely credited with inventing the light bulb, managed to come up with the most efficient method: a vacuum bulb contained an exposed carbon filament.
Edison profited immensely from his invention, as well as his other patents, most of the ideas for which he got form other people. His flaw, however, was that he supported the implementation of direct current. Direct current cannot travel as far and cannot be stepped down to safe/useful voltages. Inventors George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla advocated alternating current, which can carry electricity farther and can be stepped up or down with a transformer. This system eventually proved to be the most effective, and is in use today. Direct current is still used in simple circuits and electronics due to its simplicity.
While the light bulb revolutionized lighting, electricity's uses continued to expand thanks to its potential as a source of "pure" energy. Electric ovens and appliances appeared in the 1920s, though they were limited in functionality compared to their modern counterparts. Guglielmo Marconi's radio transmissions at the turn of the 20th century popularized radio and by the 1930s, most families had a radio. World War II saw the development of many new military technologies that would later be adapted for civilian use, including microwave ovens and radar.
Despite all the electricity-based technology that had been developed by the 1950s, electric appliances were far from ubiquitous and remained more gadgets than conveniences. The greatest development in electricity at this time was in the sphere of television. As a concept, television had been successfully demonstrated by Russian-American Vladimir Zworykin in the 1920s. Major breakthroughs made by military communications in World War II allowed definitions to increase and made color television theoretically possible.
Mass media, having originated with radio broadcasting, took on a more active role in people's lives with the spread of television. Most radio broadcasters prior to the 1940s were local stations, but starting in the 1950s and '60s, broadcasters began to consolidate. The addition of video to audio allowed people to see news presenters, who often became famous, such as Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Also originating from World War II experiments, early computers like ENIAC were built in around that time. Taking up several rooms, they were based on vacuum tubes until the invention of the microprocessor by Intel. The small size of microchips launched a revolution in computing, which soon spread to things like entertainment.
In the 1980s, gaming consoles by companies like Sega, Atari and Nintendo became popular. Companies IBM and Apple, Inc. were the first to make personal computers. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, PCs became cheaper and more capable. Alan Turing had demonstrated a pattern in processing power, showing how power doubles after a certain number of years. Valid to this day, this is known as Turing's Law. Mobile phones, already emerging in the 1990s, became ubiquitous in the 2000s.
The development of the Internet, started in 1991, also significantly accelerated during this time period. Websites went from being static to interactive, a phenomenon known as Web 2.0. Leading this trend were sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Blogspot. Google, an online search engine, emerged in the early 2000s to become a diversified software company, allowing users to access unprecedented amounts of information.
Smartphones became massively popular after Apple's iPhone became the first commercially successful example. Combining the mobility of a cell phone with the vast power of the Internet, they allow users to increase productivity and access any information from practically anywhere. By the 2010s, the line between mobile phones and full computers has blurred, with devices like tablet computers and ultrabooks filling the gap. An iPhone 4S, released in 2011 for about $200, has roughly twice as much processing power as all of NASA in 1968, when humans first landed on the moon. It is also estimated that 90% of all information ever was created since the year 2000.