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Edison's Legacy

Simon Schaffer speaking about the development and marketing of the electric light bulb (from the BBC documentary "Light Fantastic -The Stuff of Light"):

"Perhaps the most important problem the Edison system faced was that you only need to turn the lights on at night. And that meant that electric light was only going to be used for a very limited part of each 24 hours. Now you can't easily store electric power. It's really inefficient and costly only to run an electric system for a very limited period of the night."

"The answer was to persuade a skeptical public to buy more and more devices which ran on electricity. That would make sure that they were customers of the electric company on a 24/7 basis. Edison's revolutionary insight was that to sell electricity he needed to sell a lifestyle."

"No stone was left unturned to convince a skeptical public that electric lighting was the new future. Edison's campaign to market electricity and the electric light bulb really set the tone for consumer marketing ever since. Because what Edison realized was that he wasn't so much selling light bulbs, he was selling dreams--dreams of light--of leisure--of less work. People were buying Edison's light bulbs not so much because they needed them, but because they had that dream, that vision--of a world of light. And that technique that Edison started with his sales campaigns for electric light bulbs has dominated marketing ever since--and it's been kept going--whether you're selling cars or whether you're marketing computers."

"Today... light bulbs are everywhere. They've become the symbol of a modern thrusting 24 hour seven day a week society. It's a world that has harnessed the genius of Maxwell with the brillance of Edison to give us more control over our environment than ever before."

"Or has it? For many it's encouraged a world where most people may in reality have less control than before. Why is it exactly that we live in a 24/7 society? Is it because we really want to? Or is it rather because it's the dictates of the machines that they become profitable if they're switched on all the time. Is it that we live in a world because we've choosen to live in a world that's lit every single day and every single night? Is it not rather the demand for profit and engineering that keeps the world going just as it does? So it looks as though these technologies of artificial light give us an unprecedented control over the world around us. But maybe, just maybe, we're the victims. We're under the control of machines and the market."

An excerpt from Jacques Ellul's "The Technological Society":

"In our cities there is no more day or night or heat or cold. But there is overpopulation, thraldom to press and television, total absence of purpose. All men are constrained by means external to them to ends equally external. The further the technical mechanism develops which allows us to escape natural necessity, the more we are subjected to artificial technical necessities. . . The artificial necessity of technique is not less harsh and implacable for being much less obviously menacing than natural necessity."



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