325--Week 6 Questions/Comments

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I’ll just start off by saying: I don’t think I’ve ever actually spent that much time thinking about light. When I first starting reading, I thought the whole book was going to be about light. In that regard, I think it would have been helpful to have read the introduction or the first chapter to get a better feel for the book (which I ended up skimming anyways). But with that said, at first I found it surprising that the discussion of light didn’t really mention the practicality of it at all, in terms of its impact on individual households and daily life, but rather a phenomenon that changed the way cities attracted populations and drew attention to itself through the lighting of streets, buildings, and advertisements. It also discussed how it altered the landscape of cities in general and how this was reflected in the paintings and photos of the cities during the night. –Jessica Kilday

I was also expecting a book about electric lighting. I wasn't so sure how boring (or relatively enjoyable) it was going to be. I very much liked who the book discussed the impact on common man. --- Jeff P.

On the same topic of practicality - I didn't even think about the entertainment aspect of light. When the first reading started off with talking about special lighting effects in theater I felt surprised that that would be one of the first international uses for it. Then, as the first long reading continued I was interested by the fact that electricity was really first promoted and advertised at world fairs. This plays to the business aspect of electricity but also the reading indicated that there was a certain expectation for every year's fair to be more spectacular and awe-inspiring than the last. Another non-practical use that seemed to be a main focus for the early years of electricity. – Elle

The author did get in to how electricity affected daily life, but it wasn’t until it reached the rural areas in the 1930’s that the discussion takes this turn. It allowed for appliances in households and ended up increasing the length of the day because people weren’t depending as much on the natural day and night hours mandated by the sun rise and set. But I wasn’t really surprised that the rural areas were of the last affected by electricity. And the author brought up an interesting point when he described the opposition of electricity in rural areas because of how much it would interfere with the natural order of the farms, in terms of how the daily life of the farm could be managed, and how it could lead to a whole new character of farm life. I guess I just never really thought of electricity with a negative connotation as something that would be considered an “interruption.” –Jessica Kilday

These are all great points brought up, I think we forget how dependent we are on electricity. I remember when I was growing up in Buffalo we had an ice storm and no power for like 9 days. Thankfully at the time we had a gas stove so it did not affect us as bad as others. However, it is the little things like that, which we forget about. To add to Jessica's point about farming, it gave farmers longer hours which meant they could do more work in the fields during the day light, and work in the barns at night time and early morning, so electricity proved to be vital on farms.--Marren

I have always known that electricity was important to our everyday lives, but I honestly never realized to what extent it affected and impacted the daily lives of people in late 1800s and early 1900s. The political impact of electricity at this time seemed really significant because it would decide how centralized and unified electric systems would become. Who would control the new system; and where would it be located, public or private lands, were both major concerns of Americans. Most importantly was that electricity helped to define progress, something that the majority of Americans wanted. It really amazed me all the considerations that were part of bringing electricity to America.-- Kellye Sorber

Overall I thought the reading was great, because to me it showed that America was not first to use "lighting" for things (unless I read it wrong)and it seemed much of our ideas came from Europe. Light was a luxury for such a long time I always wondered when it became a "necessity" rather than something for a small group of people. I was also found it interesting how farmers were being looked at differently.-Aislyn

Going off of what Aislyn said: I find it funny in that I went to Disney World over break and one of the attractions was the Caruosel (probably butchered the spelling of that) of Progress. One of the things shown in the attraction was the advance (and therefore more common usuage) of lighting and other electric devices by the middle class. These readings reminded me of that. --- Jeff P.

I found reading about how there was much debate on private and government controlled generator plants. Also the ideas over water power/dams was interesting. My favorite part was reading about how advertising for specific people, and how much of a manipulation it was and of course still is these days. The impact light had on workers, industry, arts, etc is just amazing to me. Electric in general or electric light is something we take for granted now, what would we do if we did not have it anymore? Would we be able to adapt to it? I am not sure if we really could manage.--Aislyn

Commenting on the same article that Aislyn did above (pg 182-184), I realized I don't even think about where my electricity comes from. Now-a-days our electricity is very consolidated, each region gets it from a certain place and there are much less small electricity businesses than mentioned in this section of Nye's book. I think the fact that the government was uncertain as to how to treat electricity is a good indication that this was a new and confusing technology that had to be integrated more gradually than some people wished. - Elle

Also in the reading between pp.182-184, I thought it was funny how worries over privatization of electricity and other utilities were around even back then. Anyone who lives off campus around here has had to deal with the monthly utility bills and the seemingly arbitrary way the rates fluctuate. Throughout this small reading, I just kept being reminded of how dreadful Dominion is in regards to billing. At least it's not a new thing. -Cash

On a random note - I didn't think about how important the idea of putting multiple telegraph messages on the same wire was until I read the first portion of the reading. The mention of hundreds of entangled wires on electrical poles throughout the city is ridiculous - and so unappealing to the eye - no wonder some people weren't supportive of this new technology. - Elle

Playing off of what both Cash said about the expenses which come along with power, it is easy for us to look at these bills and find them outrageous, but let me ask you this, would you rather pay the expensive bill or have no electricity? For me, it is not even a hard question to answer because life without electricity in my opinion would be awful. Not because I am incapable of doing it, just because I am so used to living my everyday life with so many different electronics. I agree with Elle that the multiple telegraph messages were not only a significant invention but also a necessity. Just thinking of how many vital messages over the years were lost makes me cringe.--Marren

I agree with the rest of the class that this was the most reading on light that I've ever done, and that we often neglect the socio-historical impact of an artifact of technology like electricity. I found the portion about lighting up urban areas particularly interesting because of the variety in lighting choices made available to the owners of different organizations and companies. It's very understandable that some people would object to ruining the more "natural" atmosphere of the cities, and especially natural attractions like Niagara Falls, while it was aesthetically pleasing to many. As lighting became more common-place, it was natural for companies to try and outdo one another in order to attract more attention to their products. We're still trying to "one up" and outdo one another today which speaks a great deal to our human condition for choosing what may be aesthetically pleasing despite not being the best technological advancement in the long run. As we've said in class, technological advancement shouldn't equate to civilization. -Bryan Lees

The World's Fairs have always been interesting to me, and this reading did a good job of describing them and what they meant to different people. What Nye points out is that the fairs were not quite like conventions today where everyone tries to sell products. They were trying to sell modern life. Human beings' triumph over nature seems to be a big theme. But there was also resistance to this where people thought that electricity was being brought into nature where it did not belong. Many people have mentioned the problems that people perceived it caused on farms, and the resistance to things like the lighting Niagra Falls and other natural wonders. It seems to be a clash of two new ideologies that characterized the modern era: progressive harnessing of nature for the benefit of people and conserving important parts of the natural world. -Sean

I also found the development of the amusement park to be very interesting. As early as the late 19th and early 20th centuries people were attracted to fairs for entertainment purposes. Trolley cars provided transportation to trolley parks at a reasonably cheap price. Nye suggests that the cool breeze from these open window cars attracted large numbers of customers to take rural, scenic tours into the countryside where one could have a picnic, hear a band, got boating, or see the park's various attractions (123). The invention of electricity and an efficient, effective electrical system was crucial to the development of these early theme parks. While it is rather apparent that one might need electricity to reach these country parks before cars became the dominant mode of transportation, I had never considered the far reaching implications of electricity prior to this reading. -Bryan Lees

I think Elle put it nicely when she said that electricity was a "new and confusing technology" and the government didn't know how to treat it. Nye talks about the different speeds and motives of foreign governements to provide electricity to the citizenry and how the priorities in specific countries effected electrification in that country. In South Africa, electricity was used to improve gold, coal, and diamond mining, but not the homes of black workers. In Russia, Lenin pursued full electrification because he thought full socialism could not be attained without it. Electrification seems to have been illustrative of a country's political climate at the time. -Karen Siegmund

I love the section explaining William Dean Howells' "A Traveler from Altruria." He thought because of electricity people could live off the land and travel into cities which were art centers and have the best of both worlds. Its a bit like Ebenezer Howard's City-Garden idea where the town and country model has an urban center but smaller streetcar suburbs along the outside. I know it was probably naive for these men to think it could happen but I like how they viewed electricity as opening up all these possibilities for rural areas almost like they had in Europe. Obviously since industry was on the rise, cities would take more advantage of electricity. Also in this section about rural electricity (or lack there of) it was interesting how people, even Roosevelt, viewed electricity on farms as something undesirable or cheating the system of natural cycles. In many cases, whether to use electricity or not was viewed as a moral question. -Lauren Milner

The ads promoting electricity are interesting. It is odd now to think about having to convince people of how good electricity is but this was what the ads aimed for. The big message is that, basically, electricity will make your life happier and easier. You can go to baseball games at night and go out on the town or stay in and listen to the radio. They are very area specific as well. The ad for the more urban areas talk about lighting classrooms and office buildings while the rural ad focuses on farm equipment and kitchen wares that have probably already been widely used in the cities. -Lauren Milner

Nye does a good job explaining the impact of the lighting system on American culture. Nye explains how American’s used these new lighting systems in abstract ways for example, lighting up the statue of liberty and world’s fairs. World’s fairs were used to show people of upper middle class and upper class where the American culture was going. These people found prestige in electrification and considered it a turning point in American culture; to them it showed evolution and progress. I know that we try to stay away from the word progress when it comes to technology, but I am curious if we have had any revolutionary technology that has had such an impact on life since electrification. The only think that comes to mind are computers, which can definitely be considered a revolutionary system, but I am not sure if it has had the quite the same impact as electrification, I am just curious of anyone else’s thoughts. -Erin Sanderson

I think the electrification of farms and agricultural regions was a very interesting topic of debate. While the upper classes of individuals found advancement and prestige in electrification, farmers were reluctant. There were definitely mixed emotions about electricity in rural areas. Nye states that in 1920 90% of farmers could not get distributions to their homes and farms (far greater a percentage than European nations who had a majority of their farmers with electricity). Roosevelt found the farmer as the backbone of the nation, and he looked to Jefferson who saw the farmer as “the model for political virtue” (291), based of these ideals, he was hesitant to electrify rural areas. Farmers themselves were not sure about electrification. I found it funny that an Iowa newspaper wrote a piece about how cows would be unable to sleep at night. Other farmers thought that electricity would promote growth, and experimented with electricity and plant life. Edison himself stated that electricity would end frost, drought, and could even melt icebergs! I think this shows a lot about people at the time, and goes along with the idea of controlling nature. -Erin Sanderson

Oftentimes, the fact that many people did not initially accept a technology is overlooked. It is assumed that everyone embraced the new way of doing things with open arms. Some of the concerns people had with technology seem comical to us now. For example, Nye mentions an article in which the author is worried by the thought that cows would not be able to sleep in an electrified town. Technological determinism makes it harder to see the different possible outcomes and the initial hesitation towards a technology. - Karen Siegmund

One random part of the first reading I found interesting was the section talking about the American world's fairs. I feel like I have read "The (insert some technology or idea) was first introduced at (some city's) world fair," but I have never asked any details about the fair. Reading that section gave me a whole new incite on the importance of the fair itself and the atmosphere surrounding all of the great inventions.-Kirsten Walleck

I found it funny how both the urban and rural markets viewed electricity as a way to make the urban areas more urban and give the rural areas a chance to "move back to the land." Even funnier was that an area based mostly on an agrarian lifestyle would embrace the glitz and modernity of electricity as a way to enhance the farming lifestyle. Maybe it's the fact that I haven't lived in a farming town for almost thirteen years now, but I guess I just don't really associate farming with electricity anymore. (Perspective: My hometown just got wi-fi in its public library like two years ago. It took another two years to explain to most of the Valparaisoans what wi-fi even is.) -Cash

The adverse reaction to the New York skyline described starting on page 74 made me think of how people see it today. Seeing the New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time is often a optical experience for anyone. It still can be seen as a powerful, beautiful city with a new world of opportunities and confidence. Also, the author talks about tourists coming to "witness human fame and notoriety, hope and despair, wealth and poverty, beauty and ugliness."(69)The fact that people are interested in eye-catching scenes, good or bad, and technological changes has always been known and capitalized upon. It is the same reason people enjoy watching horror films or looking at the Grand Canyon. Anyway, it was interesting to read about how electricity changed the New York City landscape and how it still captivates people.- Kirsten Walleck

It’s interesting to see how technologies can be both democratizing forces and centers of class conflict. For instance, the electric car created specialized sections in cities. The wealthier people were able to move out to suburbs on the city’s edge, but the working class who couldn’t afford the trolley fair remained in the city center. Yet, at the same time, the electric car helped bring about department stores, which “democratized” luxury with their affordable products. --Taylor Brann

I think most of us consider the way the U.S. government is split up into three levels to be a generally good way of diffusing power, so it’s interesting to see how our decentralized political system actually hurt creating a national energy policy. It was left up to private companies to electrify American because the government was caught up in jurisdictional boundaries. Private companies were, of course, quick to advertise but slow to electrify homes (except for the ones belonging to rich people). It wasn’t until the government got involved in the 1930s that rural areas received electricity. --Taylor Brann

How reliable was the electricity? I do not think the author addressed that in the reading. I know that the Breakers mansion (owned by the Vanderbilts) in Newport, RI and all of the other Newport mansions were wired for both gas and electricity because of the unreliable nature in the Gilded Age. To what extent was that true? Newport is also on an island and could be considered kind of rural, but not used for farming at this point. That might have contributed to this.- Kirsten Walleck

I don't think the electricity could have been completely reliable. Even today if we get a bad storm, we can lose power for some time. What could cause power to go out, other than the causes we face today? -- Kellye Sorber

That is true. Also, I was thinking about the other things the reading said about electricity being cost effective, no odor, cleaner, insurance companies charging less because of the fire risk, etc. was it the same for buildings wired for both? I guess the cost would not be a factor since the Newport/New York crowd were paying exorbitant amounts of money on anything and everything. -Kirsten

Today the conversation is about what might be the best way to get electricity, so it is a little strange to think about a debate between electricity and an alternative, like gas. It is just so ubiquitous today that we can not even consider gas as an alternative in most capacities (as Marren mentioned, things like stoves still run on it). But after electricity began to take over, gas companies tried to market gas-powered appliances (refrigerators, etc.)that we would not even consider in order to maintain a share of the market. What we need is energy, but we do not even think twice about whether that is delivered in the form of electricity or something else. So the concept that this conversation ever existed is difficult to understand today. -Sean

I guess just in general this reading made me think about how much time and energy it took to get to the state of things as they are today. I mean, when I think about electricity and light switches and powering my computer, I don't even hesitate to wonder if there's going to be enough power for the day, or if the lights are going to work. Everything is just so habitual and easy for us that reading about how long it took to bring electricity and light to the masses and how many decisions went into the entire situation (such as, private or public?). Like, reading about how farmers couldn't get service under private utility ownership until the government stepped in isn't something I normally think about. I'm impressed, really, with how far we've come. -Kelly W.

I wasn't surprised, really, to learn that businessmen were the most organized and "self-concious" focus group on electricity. They knew it was a commodity and knew it would be of great value to the American public and would definitely be quick to advertise it. I did think it was interesting how the groups were broken up into similar educational background as opposed to income and that sometimes the groups would overlap for a large number of reasons such as family background or friendship and association. I find it interesting that companies would have done this especially during this time period. -Kelly W.

Businessmen are always out there trying to make a buck. Businessmen "institutionalized electrification as a commodity." I think that it was more negotiated with the government and the private utility groups. I think that it is weird how something we take for granted everyday was such a luxury in the 1930's and is something we use everyday without disregard to how much we consume of it. With electricity farmers could be more "self-sufficient and independent."- Paul K

Edison's skills as a salesman were evident in his attempts to make electricity reach rural America. Nye quotes Edison arguing that electricity "could rid the earth of frost, draw in water during a drought, and resist flood throughout immense rainfall". Being able to make his invention "stick" was a large part of Edison's success. He was able to create a new form of light, while making it accessible and maintaining its link to his own name and company. Here we see the difference between Edison and previous inventors - the ability to profit from inventions and create uniform systems that prevail. Being able to to capitalize on entrepreneurial skills, Edison changed industry while benefitting personally as well. - Lon LeSueur

I found it quite interesting how Edison and company were able to quickly market their products to a very wide group of people. Not only did the electric light take off in America, but in other countries. The reading mentioned that they installed electric lights in Russia, Chile, and Australia. To be able to do that in that time period so quickly is quite impressive. It was also interesting to see what kind of buildings and businesses adopted electricity first, like hotels and theaters, in order to draw in more business. - Brian Brown

I thought the whole concept of electrically lighting skyscrapers to be fascinating. Just thinking that there wasn't a way to feasibly do this before Edison is just mind boggling. In addition, I found it rather ingenious of the owners of these buildings to light up there buildings as a sort of rudimentary electric build board for all to see. Additionally, the fact that different owners used different techniques in order to light their buildings to give off different impressions to be quite interesting. -Brian Brown

I thought that private utilities company going for their own gain was not a smart choice because they were in their for their own profitable gains. Instead of doing it for the service of the community, they just view electricity as a business deal. Of course the public, even with private companies to set their own goals, still wanted the commodity of having electricity. -Paul K

I thought it was interesting how much time the author devoted to the street car, especially the "fun" aspects of it. It was interesting how the author showed how the electric street car helped level the playing field (it "tented to erase social distinctions" by establishing a "single public standard of comfort, speed and reliability") but also how it separated the upper and lower classes (literally, as someone already mentioned). I liked how the author showed the transition from the street car as an enjoyed novelty to an "unpleasant necessity." Finally, I liked how the author related the street car to amusement parks, and their effect on American society. -- Matt Struth

I thought the author spent too much time discussing public reaction to the introduction of lighting in cityscapes. It was interesting at first to read the accounts of famous and average citizens discussing whether they thought the lights of Chicago were dazzlingly or the advertisements in New York monstrous but then there just seemed to be so many quotes and narratives about the same topic. Maybe I'm wrong, because it was central to the main idea of the book, but it all started to blur together for me for a bit. -- Matt Struth

It was also interesting to see the evolution of electricity and had how it made its real debut at world fairs. The text states that every year they would try to step it up a notch to make it better display than they last, which in my mind is pretty amusing. Then to see lighting go from world fairs to business needs to housing was also an interesting process. What I found to be most fascinating to read was how electricity impacted and changed our lives completely. – Jimmy Conroy

Growing up in today’s world is much different than the world before electric lighting. I know that I always take electric lighting for granted and rarely do I ever think of a world without it; the only time this comes to mind is when the power goes out and we can not use anything. What I really enjoyed from this reading was the fact that lighting was seen as entertaining, which to me is an odd concept. The only other time I can relate to this idea is when I view Christmas light displays. – Jimmy Conroy

I'm curious how the development of a privatized electricity industry could opt for standardization so quickly before public, state-controlled electricity systems would. Was there a push in cities like London at the turn of the century for standardization, at least from the cities' residents? - Adam Shlossman

Nye talked briefly about the advantages offered by incandescent lamps in smell. I found this distinction curious. Rarely do we discuss the issue of smells in the 19th century. Was there a distinctly potent smell surrounding arc lamps? - Adam Shlossman