How does the internet actually work? It can be difficult to visualize a system that includes a giant worldwide network, millions of servers, and billions of packets flying around.
A group of students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design created physical device called the Internet Phone that uses a good old fashioned telephone, complete with a rotary dial, to demonstrate how two computers communicate via the internet. With it, you can “dial” any website using its IP address–and hear it read out loud. The phone is a hybrid of two technologies: the interface of a rotary phone, with the most basic functionality of the web.
How does it work? First, you look up the IP address of the website you want to call in a tome that looks like an old school yellow-page phonebook. Then, you dial the number using the old-fashioned dial, and listen as the phone reads the content of the website out loud.
The students behind the phone, Isak Frostå, Sebastian Hunkeler, James Zhou, and Jens Obel, designed it to visualize the process of surfing the web. The phone book represents Domain Name System (DNS) directories, where browsers get IP addresses. The process of dialing and waiting is analogous to a browser requests data from servers. Finally, the phone reading the website out loud is meant to mimic the process of translating HTML and CSS into the graphical interface that you actually see on your computer.
The phone also gives you different options for how you want the device to interact with the internet. By inserting four different mode “tokens” in the speaker, it can switch between four types of functionality. One token, “article,” tells the phone to read you the website’s content as if it were an article. The “developer” token reads a site’s actual HTML, while “incognito” will make your browsing anonymous. Finally, a “history” token recites the last five web pages you’ve visited.
The Internet Phone is a clever way to translate the invisible, mysterious processes of the internet into an analog system for sharing information. But don’t worry, it’s not necessarily designed for everyday use–if you remember dial-up being painfully slow, imagine how bored you’d be actually dialing up each web page.