Dim Bulbs

« February 2011 »


You know what's awesome? The omnipresent, lurking dread that we're all going to die, or at least collapse as a civilization, because collectively we are too stupid to change. And not only are we too stupid to change, we're too stupid even to let people make us change for our own good. It might be global warming, it might be peak oil, it might be running out of fucking lithium for all I know. All I know is, we're clearly too stupid to change, and no matter what eventually dooms us, that'll be the root cause.

As evidence for this, apart from the entire history of this column, I present to you the completely inexplicable (via logic and reason) battle to save the incandescent light bulb.

You see, in 2012, the government is going to cap the power draw of an average home-lighting light bulb at 72 watts. The standard 100 watt incandescent, drawing (as its name implies) 100 watts, will therefore no longer be manufactured and sold. Over the next few years, the standards will be lowered, and eventually, most of your bog-standard incandescents will be phased out in favor of halogen, compact fluorescent, and LED lighting, which produce more light using less energy.

More light using less energy is a good thing, because when it comes to lighting our homes, we're fucking cave people. Right now, we light our houses by plugging a piece of metal with glass around it, that was invented, depending on how you count, between 130 and 200 years ago, into a wall socket. Electricity, generated by setting fire to black rocks, heats up the metal until it glows and eventually breaks.

We live in a world where we can look up the history of the light bulb in seconds, and store more information than was probably available to the entire world when it was invented in a box the size of a light bulb. We have, for all practical intents and purposes, abandoned much more advanced technology like the cassette tape, the vacuum tube, and the 3.5" floppy disk. Yet the incandescent light bulb remains, and has staunch defenders, thanks to the four I's. Ignorance, infrastructure, inertia, and ideology.

The ignorance part mainly revolves around cost. People focus on the shelf price of dollar-store, off-brand light bulbs versus their longer-lasting, more efficient counterparts. This is nothing new - America was built on nobody ever paying the actual cost of things. Cheap labor, cheap energy, cheap food! Who cares if they're slaves, if it's destroying the environment, or if it's laden with poop? It's cheap right now, and that's all that matters.

By infrastructure, I mean a hundred years or so of lamps with screw-in bulb fixtures. You know, there are actually more efficient ways of delivering electricity and coupling devices than a giant metal prong that screws into an electrified socket. You wouldn't ever buy a cellphone that used a light bulb connection to recharge it, would you? Yet we insist on it in our lamps and lighting.

Inertia, of course, is the American way. But mainly here I'm talking about color spectrum inertia. Yes, I know you like yellow light. And you don't like blue light. That's because you've grown up all your life with yellow light. Everything you bought was bought because it looked a certain way under a certain color spectrum, and when you change bulbs, that changes, and change is horrible and bad and you don't like it.

Suck it up.

I'm not talking about you, of course. The objection you're probably furiously thinking of, where you do certain types of work in the arts or whatever where the wrong kind of light will KILL YOU AND GET YOU FIRED, that's probably valid. But you're using a specialty light anyway, and if you're not, you can get one.

No, it's the everyday people I'm talking about. The people who don't like the way their Sam's Club clearance couch looks under a compact fluorescent. You'll get used to it, so suck it up. Your lifetime of subconscious imprinting on a few key wavelengths is MELTING THE FUCKING GLACIERS. Not to mention the fact that scientists and engineers are spending millions of dollars and years of effort trying to make your cheap-ass couch look right, so maybe you can do your part and cope for a few years until they nail it down? The last dozen polar bears will thank you.

Which, of course, leads us straight into ideology. You see, it turns out that the amount of inconvenience that you are allowed to experience for the sake of a greater cause is directly proportional to the position of that cause on the left-right spectrum. For example, if you don't want to experience the inconvenience of a bank changing the locks on your house because it thinks it owns the house and it thinks you're behind on the payments for that house, even though neither of those things is true? Well, you're shit out of luck, because that's the free market at work, and the free market is the most important thing ever.

If, on the other hand, you're forced to pay three times as much for a light bulb that will last six times as long and use half the energy, but produces light that's a few angstroms out of whack for your tender retinas? That's to help the environment. And the environment is something that liberals and hippies care about. And anyway, the light bulb thing was Obama's idea, which puts it into an even more rarefied category. A category that leads to statements like this one, from one of Michigan's congressmen, Thaddeus (!) McCotter. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Yes, yes. I saw that some on the left were praising the end of the incandescent bulb, at the very time they’re talking about an innovation economy. The irony is striking. One of the greatest innovations in American history was the incandescent bulb and I think we got to put it back where people can use them again."

You know what would suck? Being one of McCotter's grandchildren. They want to play Wii games, but Granddad Thad thinks it's important that we put Tiddly Winks back where people can use them again. And this isn't some powerless freshman. This year, McCotter will be chairing the powerful and influential Subcommittee On Why The Fuck Google Isn't Using Very Many Cotton Gins.

Just let them go. The Constitution did not grant you the right to use up all the fucking resources just because you like yellow light and hate black presidents. If you were rational, you'd have been making the right lighting choices for the last half-decade, but since you're not fucking doing it, we're going to have to step in and take the bad choices off the shelves for you. And if you don't like it, go screw yourself.