Writing Prompts: How You’d Explain the Modern World to Someone pre-1900

Try to imagine what the world was like for those in 1899. The first ‘true’ car had appeared in 1886, but it bore little resemblance to today’s vehicles. Planes were a nice, imaginary concept. Horse and carriage, and possibly trains, were the chief means of conveying people from one place to another. Telephones were extraordinarily primitive, and few would have owned one. Nuclear power (and weapons) would have been unfathomable, as would most modern weapons of war. The way in which people stored food, the approach to medicines, the way we played games and had fun… all of it, by 2022, has massively changed.

How would I begin? Well, I think the trick would be to introduce the tech gently. Grabbing someone from 1899 and chucking them on a plane would be a bit harsh. They’d probably freak out, and some might consider a smartphone, revealing instant contact with someone halfway around the world, to be a form of witchcraft. Ideally, these concepts would need to be explained, before being experienced.

What would they make of the history of their future? Imagine telling someone about World War I and World War II. ‘Yeah, we had not only but two devastating global conflicts, and in the wake of those, we developed powerful weapons that could wipe us all out, because you know, humans smart.’

How would they contend with shifting social attitudes towards women’s rights, racial equality, and LGBT rights? What of general social trends around things like sex, fashion, food, and so much more? ‘That lady is revealing a knee, I am beside myself!’ It would be easy to mock their views, yet I can only guess as to how I would feel if I were dropped into the year 2122 tomorrow.

As I said, it would be best to ease people into a world that would seem thoroughly alien to them. There’s no other way to bring them up to speed, other than slowly.

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