Why Are We Putting 21st Century Light Bulbs in 19th Century Sockets?

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

LEDs can go into into just about anything; designer Peteris Zilbers sticks them in broom handles. I have complained in the past about the foolishness of running them on 110 volts AC, since they require transformers and rectifiers to operate, and have suggested that our homes should be wired for low voltage direct current that anyone can just tape onto their baseboards.

Now Christopher Mims of MIT Technology Review points out another idiocy: how we try to cram them into the old screw-in Edison base. He calls it ridiculous.

In economics and social science, this phenomenon is known as "path dependence." The simplistic definition of path dependence is that "history matters," but there's an even better way to think about it, and that's as a sort of evolutionary constraint.

He calls for a new standard.

America is full of light sockets and electrical wiring that can't be reconfigured without punching holes in the wall, which is why we're stuck with LED lightbulbs that exploit only a fraction of the potential of this technology. We need new standards and new notions of how and where to place lights that are infinitely more flexible than the sort we've grown up with. Meanwhile, whoever figures out how to solve the problem of how to retrofit millions of homes and buildings will unlock whole new horizons in lighting.

Mims is right. We need a new standard for wiring designed for all of our low voltage DC electronics and the new wave of LED lighting. We need new thinking about how we connect them all together. Outside of the kitchen and the laundry, I am hard-pressed to find a single thing in my house that needs to go into an edison socket or a two pronged electrical outlet, they are both completely obsolete. What will replace them?

More Mims at Technology Review

Tags: Electricity | Lighting

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