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This is why we can't have nice things

The Enduring Glow: Unraveling the Mystery of the Everlasting Light Bulb

By Med KarimPublished 2 months ago 3 min read
This is why we can't have nice things
Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

The endurance of a single light bulb for over 120 years, since its installation in 1901, stands as a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of early electrical engineering. Remarkably, this bulb, devoid of modern connectivity to a light switch, yet equipped with a backup battery and generator, continues to emit its glow. The enigma surrounding its longevity beckons the question: How has this humble artifact outlasted generations of its successors?

Crafted in an era when light bulbs were in their infancy, this enduring luminary was fashioned by skilled hands not long after the inception of commercial electric lighting. Despite its antiquity, it has defied the odds, shining bright for over a million hours—far surpassing the expected lifespan of contemporary bulbs. An intriguing anecdote echoes through time, suggesting the existence of an everlasting light bulb conceived years ago. However, the tale, shrouded in skepticism, hints at the paradoxical nature of perpetual durability in a world driven by consumerism.

The evolution of electric lighting unveils the arduous journey of innovation. The conventional incandescent design, employed in this enduring bulb, functions by passing an electric current through a filament, heating it until it radiates light. Astonishingly, a mere fraction—less than 5%—of the electrical energy is transformed into visible light, with the remainder dissipated as heat. Thus, these bulbs, in essence, operate as much as heat emitters as they do illuminators. The staggering temperatures endured by the filament, nearing 2,800 Kelvin, approach half the searing heat of the sun's surface, rendering most materials vulnerable to melting or combustion.

Pioneering minds of the past grappled with the challenge of enhancing bulb longevity. Innovators like Warren De la Rue and Thomas Edison pioneered advancements, from vacuum-sealed bulbs to tungsten filaments, gradually extending the lifespan of these luminous marvels. However, a pivotal moment in the history of lighting emerged in 1924, in the clandestine chambers of Geneva, Switzerland. Executives from leading light bulb manufacturers convened, birthing the Phoebus Cartel—an alliance aimed at controlling the global supply of light bulbs.

Driven by a collective fear of prolonged bulb lifespans diminishing sales, the cartel orchestrated a deliberate reduction in bulb durability. Agreements were struck, imposing stringent limits on bulb longevity, compelling manufacturers to conform or face fines. Thus, the lifespan of bulbs steadily dwindled, manipulated by engineering ingenuity to ensure obsolescence. By 1934, the average lifespan plummeted to a mere 1,205 hours, a stark deviation from the earlier trajectory of progress.

The demise of the Phoebus Cartel heralded the dawn of planned obsolescence—an insidious strategy aimed at fostering consumer demand through artificially shortened product lifespans. Across industries, from automotive to electronics, deliberate efforts to curtail durability became commonplace. Companies embraced dynamic obsolescence, introducing incremental changes and stylistic updates to render existing products obsolete, fuelling a perpetual cycle of consumption.

Yet, amidst the backdrop of planned obsolescence, a glimmer of resistance emerges. Advocates for the right to repair champion legislative initiatives to empower consumers, compelling manufacturers to facilitate product maintenance and longevity. The tide may be turning against the culture of disposability, as consumers demand transparency and sustainability in their purchases.

In the realm of technology, the quest for perpetual innovation often collides with ethical considerations of sustainability and consumer welfare. The narrative of the everlasting light bulb serves as a beacon, illuminating the path towards a future where durability supersedes disposability, and where innovation serves not only profit but progress. As we navigate the complexities of modern consumerism, may we strive to uphold principles of longevity and responsibility, ensuring that the light of innovation shines brightly for generations to come.


About the Creator

Med Karim

"When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go."

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