One of the beautiful things happening in the last decade of technological development, in my eyes, has been the triumph of LED illuminants. I recall the model railroad when I was young: there was a police car with small blue lamps on top. I loved them, but had to admit, they were some kind of greenish-blue (naturally, as they consisted of a low current glow wire – which emits a rather yellow light – in a blue housing). Later, as a teenager I was fascinated by LEDs. No need to waste 90% of the energy for heat, when all we want is light. A technological wonder! We had red, green and (sort of) yellow LEDs – and even some with all three colors combined in one Housing. Other colors did not exist; there was no known material emmiting the appropriate frequencies (I also learned back then, that it is not possible to change color by adding colored filters to LEDs, but that’s another story).
While still in school, the first blue LED showed up. This might be difficult to imagine nowadays, but this was a thrilling moment for us young eletronics enthusiasts. They(!) have done scientific experiments(!) and found new(!) materials – to – create – blue(!!) – LEDs. Yes, we have been sharing those news in school, internet not yet existing. And it was real blue, much better than the beloved lamps on the police car. Some time after, white LEDs emerged, different shades of white followed quickly – there was a leap in evolution of modern lighting, based on the advances in the field of semiconductors.
It’s really amazing, as we have more light, at only a fraction of the “cost” (regarding power). We have numerous new kinds of illuminants, we could not construct before. We do not have to worry about the heat so much. We all can be thankful for everybody involved: scientists, technicians, workers, last but not least politicians in the EU who forced the development by putting restrictions on old standard illuminants (not that people appreciated, but anyway).
It’s an incredible thing and one of the examples of how great progress can be.
Still – you know me – we have to see the downsides, too. There is higher cost for the consumer in some areas (especially bulbs), which should be compensated by the longer lifecycle, but often enough is not, thanks to inferior electronics or electronics used at it’s limit.
There is environmental stress in constructing LEDs. There’s some potential problems, we will only learn about later, like unclear connections of LED Emission spectra or LED flickering with eye problems. Like triggering Migraine or – much worse – epileptic seizures by slowly flickering lights (as produced by modern bicycle dynamos and lights when going slowly). We’ll learn about that sooner or later.
And there’s some more mundane problems – like bike lights. As a teenager, I bought a new bike light based on rechargable batteries. It was fancy, but big and heavy as a brick and I had to recharge it more or less after every ride. Then one I use now, is cheap and light and lasts a week without recharging, no problem. And it is bright. Powerfully bright.
With great power, though…
Amazingly strong lights being available to everybody (hence being literally everywhere) leads to many blind moments. It can be annoying, for example when you are at a park at night: the moonlight would be bright enough to see, if we just let our eyes adapt some moments. Instead, every jogger with a head lamp (oh how I hate them!) will leave you blind again for a minute or two. I know, I will not change that. It’s called society: most other people want to use lamps, so I will never walk in darkness anymore, as much as I wish to do. Still, it’s a good example of how technology changes our lifes. And I doubt many people are aware, just about how big their impact on the lifes of others is.
What’s more: it can also get sort of dangerous when being in Traffic. The bike lights nowadays are just too strong to not care about where the are pointed to. We have to learn – like Cars did when their lights grew stronger – to always aim them at the street.
I also have to admit, as much as I think we need an awareness here, I did not find any likeable way of adressing those topics. Even reading my own blog, I often find it lecturing, rather unpleasantly patronizing. “Educating” people on using technology in real life is something, I feel I do not want to do. And at least here in germany, where many people are brought up to be, well, quite aware of their own knowledge, I would most likely fail anyway.
Instead, when meeting a Jogger or a bike with ill-fitted lights, I do, what I have been told to do in driving school, in case the oncoming car has forgot to switch off it’s high beam: I slow down while looking down at the right roadside until the glare is gone.