Friday, 21 January 2011

The Sad Lament for the Incandescent Light Bulb


[Image of (an incandescent) light bulb, from the website "but does it float"]

In British Columbia there has been a recent onslaught of news, and spate of remonstrations, over the government-mandated phasing out of incandescent bulbs in favour of the compact fluorescent (CFL) version. The forced change comes under the guise of energy savings, but there is much concern that such a policy has not been properly considered. Critics, quite rightly, have pointed to factors such as the mercury content of CFL bulbs, the lack of proper recycling facilities and general education about bulb disposal (and other problems inherent even when bulbs are recycled), and the adverse health effects experienced by many who react badly to the light emitted. In addition, even the purported reason for the change -- energy savings -- may be moot in a cold country such as Canada, since the old incandescent bulbs produce heat as well as light, meaning the extra electricity they consume is not entirely "lost."

For these and other reasons many of us are simply not quite willing to let the incandescent bulb go just yet. I coincidentally found this artistic photo spread on the rather fun, artistic, whimsical website "but does it float". The headline for the piece is the scripture: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" -- words found at the beginning of the Gospel of John. Light speaks to our most primal fears, our desire for safety, comfort, and illumination. Fear of the dark is probably the most remembered childhood terror, with other fears -- monsters under the bed and whatnot -- being indirectly connected to it.

The invention of the light bulb is also associated with childhood; it is children who are instructed in the heroic tale of Thomas Alva Edison, who experimented with thousands of formulations before alighting (pun intended) on the correct filament to provide predictable and long-lasting light. (Yes, he was not the sole "inventor" of the light bulb, having stood on the shoulders of others, including an English inventor who created one of the first bulbs around the year 1800.) The story of Edison is usually retold as a morality play, somehow implying that we too should try and try again, even though many times such a course of action is not exactly desirable -- and could even lead to mental distress. Yet as an anecdote it has seemingly been popularized as long as we have had the incandescent light bulb and will perhaps, sadly, outlast them as well.


Somehow the "eureka" graphic or the happy light-man won't be the same without the incandescent bulb. Our world will also be different without the incandescent bulb. Perhaps they will stage an eleventh-hour comeback and still continue to bathe us in their warm and familiar glow.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

6 comments:

Bruce Partington-Plans said...

Thanks for following and listing my blog! I've given you a blog award by way of thanks http://eclecticephemera.blogspot.com/2011/01/doubly-stylish.html.

Long live the incandescent light bulb!

IdleHistorian said...

Thank you very much indeed. And, yes, we hope the incandescent bulb may be with us a bit longer!

Angela said...

In our house, we are stocking up on the good ole incandescent...we may delay it's demise in our domain just a little while longer...

IdleHistorian said...

It's an excellent plan!

SOlsen said...

A related lament is the imminent death of the hearth fire. Many cities have banned fireplace and wood stove fires already and others will follow soon. I understand the environmental concerns, but for someone who grew up reading by an open fire and feeling its superior quality of heating, it's quite sad.

IdleHistorian said...

I agree. That certainly is the case here in urban Vancouver. I too remember the wood-burning fireplace fondly. The "Yuletide log" DVD isn't quite the same!

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