In this Modern Age we have grown accustomed to the increasingly rapid pace of technological advancement. Computers are obsolete before you get them out of the store. Media formats morph and adapt and fragment. Some objects evolve and other products die. The technology graveyard is littered with Cassette tapes, Laserdisc Players, 8-Tracks, Betamax VCRs, and most recently HD DVDs.
But certain objects have been stable for so long that seeing them suddenly get sucked into this vortex of change is disconcerting. Take the age-old light bulb for example: it has been around since the late 1800s. It’s iconic bulbous pear shape has been used to represent everything from light and electricity to ideas and insight. It is sad to watch it’s inevitable eradication as the compact fluorescent moves in like an heroic invading army, sporting it’s energy efficient soft-serve swirl-shaped tubes.
In homage to the dimming of the incandescent, here are some Ideas On Light Bulbs to stick in your socket:
- A Greener System Preferences
Recently, I upgraded my MacBook Pro to OS X 10.5.7. I went to change my Screen Saver settings when I noticed that the Energy Saver icon was no longer the old incandescent light bulb (see below) …
… but rather a new compact fluorescent light(see below again). I’m actually surprised Apple didn’t do this sooner.
- Wikipedia Plays Favourites
Wikipedia tries not to play favourites, but the incandescent bulb has a much bigger picture in its article as opposed to the CFL. The former was invented in the early 1800s, with 22 different inventors lined up to take credit before Edison got involved. Obviously he was a much better marketer than the rest. The modern CFL was invented in 1976 by a GE engineer with the amazing name of Ed Hammer (who just happens to do his own podcasts). The company patented the invention and shelved it, thinking CFLs would be too expensive to manufacture.
- Light Bulb Jokes for Dimwits
Not too many inventions have spawned an entire industry of bad jokes. “How many ‘blanks’ does it take to screw in a light bulb?” is almost as prevalent as “A ‘blank’ and a ‘blank’ walk into a bar…” My personal favourite:
How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One— but it has to want to change.
The CFL doesn’t have a great humourous legacy yet. The only joke I could find was political in nature, and directed at conservative radio talk-show hosts, which is a pretty easy target.
- The EUREKA Moment is Obscured
The familiar icon of the light bulb going off above someone’s head will eventually seem as quaint and distant a memory as the phonograph. It first appeared in Felix the Cat cartoons in the 1920s, and has continued to this day. TV Tropes has a long list of Idea Bulbs including parodies and alterations. Here is a 1935 Betty Boop variation where Grampy, at the 4:00 mark, puts on a thinking cap and the bulb is lit when he comes up with a brilliant plan to make music.
- A Soft Serving of Bulb Art
The strange newness of the CFL has inspired artists to create work that mocks the new form or honours the old.
- In Plain English
Some words, like ‘record album’ lose their original meaning. Eventually people will ask where the word ‘bulb’ came from. They won’t remember the pear-shaped glass with the springy glowing element inside. All their lights will be made from twisted fluorescent tubes. Light ‘tube’ or light ‘coil’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it
- Clip-On Lampshade Is Off
If you have a company that still makes things out of metal wire, you might want to read the writing on the factory wall. Pipe cleaners have become preschool-art fodder, metal hangers have given way to plastic, paper clip use is in decline (you don’t even need one to remove the SIM card from your iPhone because Apple ships it’s own ‘iPhone Tool’)… and now the poor bulb-clip is doomed. It used to be you could just clip a modified lampshade to any old bulb in the house, but not so with the new CFLs. Oh, sure, some desperate designers have tried to create bulbous plastic covers for the compact fluorescents, but they squish and pop like the cheap plastic they are. I wouldn’t trust a fancy hanging bulb-clip to one of those. Would you?
- Photographic Foreshadowing
It appears as though photographers have been prophesying the death of the incandescent for years already.
flickr photo by km6xo
photo by Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton
- Ideas On
And as light bulbs and other technologies evolve, so do ideas. I love to experiment with 10 Ideas in 10 Minutes, but it’s time for something new. Ideas On is my new project x, something I’ll be working on during the coming months. I designed this fancy red logo for it, as I like to focus on a concrete design while I’m working out the details. I’ll give you a hint: it’s about those old EUREKA moments realized in a modern context. As soon as I figure out what that means I’ll let you know.
Lee LeFever compares the old light bulbs with the gradual extinction of the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR).