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The Politics Of The Color of Night


Darkness, night, unconsciousness– all these things dispelled by the candle, the lamp and then the light bulb. Day extended into night for both work and leisure. The sun displaced as the only source of light, fire quantized and tamed. The networks of electrical power–the grids– laid down across the earth to feed electric light and create a new social environment in the night.


There’s an emotional quality to the color of light. But in the age of grave ecological imbalances, we rush toward toward a transition to the cold flat light of the compact fluorescent bulb. The ‘eco’ aspects (both ecology and economics) seem to favor the transition. It’s as though the visibility granted through light was something without quality– digital in character, a bulb provides light or it doesn’t.


The decision to recolor the night is a political one, one that may even be given the force of law. The quality of light, it seems, must be sacrificed to the economics of energy. One can imagine a point in the future when all electrically-produced light will fill the night with its cold blue radiance. We wouldn’t think of these light sources as bringing day to night, but rather some other quality altogether.


Reading the paper the other day, I was pleased to see that a company had created an incandescent bulb that complied with new energy efficiency standards. The quality of light may only resurface as a deciding factor once the ecologics and economics are equalized. Of course anyone involved in designing light for human environments has been distraught over the stampede to the aesthetics of the meat locker. Some actually thinking of starting to hoard incandescent bulbs for the time when they will be outlawed.

Should this recoloring of the night proceed unimpeded and reach its goals of replacing the incandescent light space, I wonder at what point we would begin to notice the new emotional character of night?

Published in culture economics innovation politics