Doesn’t sound riveting I know, but, Caitlin Moran, my journalistic idol, said at a talk recently that her father once said to her that if any wannabe journalist could write a thousand words about a light bulb they could make it. Challenge accepted.
Let’s start with the boring bit. Who invented the light bulb is a subject under a lot of contestation. Claims lay back to 1802 when Humphry Davy created the first (recorded) incandescent light by passing a current through platinum chosen for its high melting point. From then numerous scientists tried numerous combinations of metals to refine the process and make it more economically viable.
Thomas Edison, the name most commonly put forth when posed with the question “who invented the light bulb?” His work however, did not begin until 1878 and in 1979 he managed to find a combination of materials that meant a bulb would not last 13hrs as his first tests showed but up to 1200 hours. Not bad. His success was due to a balance of scientific factors from material, to vacuum density, and internal resistance control.
His name is most commonly associated as it is used to describe the modern re-incantation of his original invention; the Edison Screw. This describes the way the bulb is now fitted to the body of a lamp. Its counterpart is the bayonet cap, a mechanism devised in the 13th century to fix candles to their sticks, and since in guns and cameras. In bulbs it was used to limit the possibility of them loosening due to vibrations when structures were slightly less sturdy than they are today. Although this statement is arguable, old houses seem a lot more hardy than the new ones which look like bad dolls houses all made to the exact same specifications… let’s face it, just dull.
This however is not the most interesting thing about the Edison Screw, (I here sighs of relief echoing through the cybersphere). The most interesting thing is that me, at the time a blonde bar maid so not known for our hardware knowledge, outsmarted a bunch of after-work tradesman on their first beer of the day. They were discussing said light fittings, and could not fathom why an Edison Screw would not fit the fitting they had bought. I overheard, and slightly nervously interjected. Nervous because how on earth would little old me know more about a matter of the home than a group of experienced builders, carpenters, painters and general odd job men? Apparently a lot. As I shimmied over with my blonde locks, blue eyes,
I nonchalantly stated, are you sure it isn’t a bayonet cap fitting? They all stopped, for literally the longest two minutes of my life. And then one piped up and said “what’s that?” I nearly wet myself with laughter. I then proceeded to explain the difference, flabbergasting my audience who are usually tough nuts to crack. This has now become a class A example of the blonde theory not panning out too well. I did fail to admit I had worked as an assistant manager in a hardware shop for 6 months, but that aside, a then 19 year old girl with six months non-practical experience kicking the asses of that demographic in that setting was fucking priceless.
Onto the next plausible topic of discussion given the focus of this challenge… ideas. The light bulb after its complex history of mixed ideas to what should constitute its makeup has come to symbolise the very idea of an idea. Idea. Its journey into existence symbolises the evolution of ideas, and its makeup is a fantastic metaphor for the thought process used in the creation of said idea. You can think for hours and come up with nothing of creative, intellectual or physical significance and then all of a sudden… bam. Woop there it is. As easy as flicking the switch, and the light floods in and a small idea can be transformed into something literally revolutionary overnight. Like Facebook! On the flip side, an idea not utilised and nurtured can blow and burn out. This works on another level too. The more modern concept of a dimmer switch. An idea can come to one slowly, never really fully formed, but which keeps on developing. Yet if locked away in the corner of your mind you don’t put to use very often, it can slip away and fade to a dull nothing.
The image of a light bulb is now used in a comedic sense in cartoons and movies, to dramatise the smallest of accomplishments as being ground breaking ideas. It is also used in marketing and advertising to facilitate the idea that you the consumer can have a whole world of bright ideas should you purchase a product ranging from a razor blade to a cheese-string. Talk about milking it.
Like any great symbol, the light bulb is a victim of overkill, much like the McDonald’s golden ‘M’ the Andrex puppy or that stupid overweight opera singer who now even Go Compare have decided to literally blow up mid advert. But I ain’t givin up my meercats for no one. The once apt and metaphorically matched emblem of the light bulb has now been reduced to a whimsical choice of obviousness. It is a crying shame.
All I ask for the magnificent light bulb is that A. you choose the new range of ‘green’ products, and B. that if you are a builder, you take some time out, to sit in a dark room and fiddle with some fixtures and filaments until you are content you can tell the difference between a Bayonet Cap and an Edison Screw. Because let’s face it, you are an embarrassment to your trade, your gender, and your society if you can’t even manage that. As I would have been to my desired sector if I failed to get the little number in the bottom of the screen to reach 1000…
Boom. Bulb, consider yourself blown.