Life without light
Can you imagine how different life was like before the advent of electricity? And how different it would become again if electricity somehow disappeared?
I am going to start with an excerpt from Wikipedia (and hope that it is accurate) regarding the meaning and origins of electricity.
Electricity is the science, engineering, technology and physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charges. Electricity gives a wide variety of well-known electrical effects, such as lightning, static electricity, electromagnetic induction and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire. In addition, electricity permits the creation and reception of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves.
In electricity, charges produce electromagnetic fields which act on other charges. Electricity occurs due to several types of physics:
- electric charge: a property of some subatomic particles, which determines their electromagnetic interactions. Electrically charged matter is influenced by, and produces, electromagnetic fields.
- electric current: a movement or flow of electrically charged particles, typically measured in amperes.
- electric field (see electrostatics): an especially simple type of electromagnetic field produced by an electric charge even when it is not moving (i.e., there is no electric current). The electric field produces a force on other charges in its vicinity. Moving charges additionally produce a magnetic field.
- electric potential: the capacity of an electric field to do work on an electric charge, typically measured in volts.
- electromagnets: electrical currents generate magnetic fields, and changing magnetic fields generate electrical currents
In electrical engineering, electricity is used for:
- electric power (which can refer imprecisely to a quantity of electrical potential energy or else more correctly to electrical energy per time) that is provided commercially, by the electrical power industry. In a loose but common use of the term, “electricity” may be used to mean “wired for electricity” which means a working connection to an electric power station. Such a connection grants the user of “electricity” access to the electric field present in electrical wiring, and thus to electric power.
- electronics which deals with electrical circuits that involve active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies.
Electrical phenomena have been studied since antiquity, though advances in the science were not made until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Practical applications for electricity however remained few, and it would not be until the late nineteenth century that engineers were able to put it to industrial and residential use. The rapid expansion in electrical technology at this time transformed industry and society. Electricity’s extraordinary versatility as a means of providing energy means it can be put to an almost limitless set of applications which include transport, heating, lighting, communications, and computation. Electrical power is the backbone of modern industrial society, and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future.
The word electricity is from the New Latin ēlectricus, “amber-like”[a], coined in the year 1600 from the Greek ήλεκτρον (electron) meaning amber, because electrical effects were produced classically by rubbing amber.
Thales, the earliest known researcher into electricity
Long before any knowledge of electricity existed people were aware of shocks from electric fish. Ancient Egyptian texts dating from 2750 BC referred to these fish as the “Thunderer of the Nile“, and described them as the “protectors” of all other fish. Electric fish were again reported millennia later by ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic naturalists and physicians. Several ancient writers, such as Pliny the Elder and Scribonius Largus, attested to the numbing effect of electric shocks delivered by catfish and torpedo rays, and knew that such shocks could travel along conducting objects. Patients suffering from ailments such as gout or headache were directed to touch electric fish in the hope that the powerful jolt might cure them. Possibly the earliest and nearest approach to the discovery of the identity of lightning, and electricity from any other source, is to be attributed to the Arabs, who before the 15th century had the Arabic word for lightning (raad) applied to the electric ray.
Ancient cultures around the Mediterranean knew that certain objects, such as rods of amber, could be rubbed with cat’s fur to attract light objects like feathers. Thales of Miletos made a series of observations on static electricity around 600 BC, from which he believed that friction rendered amber magnetic, in contrast to minerals such as magnetite, which needed no rubbing. Thales was incorrect in believing the attraction was due to a magnetic effect, but later science would prove a link between magnetism and electricity. According to a controversial theory, the Parthians may have had knowledge of electroplating, based on the 1936 discovery of the Baghdad Battery, which resembles a galvanic cell, though it is uncertain whether the artifact was electrical in nature.
Electricity would remain little more than an intellectual curiosity for millennia until 1600, when the English scientist William Gilbert made a careful study of electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber. He coined the New Latin word electricus (“of amber” or “like amber”, from ήλεκτρον [elektron], the Greek word for “amber”) to refer to the property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. This association gave rise to the English words “electric” and “electricity”, which made their first appearance in print in Thomas Browne‘s Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1646.
Further work was conducted by Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Stephen Gray and C. F. du Fay. In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin conducted extensive research in electricity, selling his possessions to fund his work. In June 1752 he is reputed to have attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flown the kite in a storm-threatened sky. A succession of sparks jumping from the key to the back of his hand showed that lightning was indeed electrical in nature. He also explained the apparently paradoxical behavior of the Leyden jar as a device for storing large amounts of electrical charge.
In 1791, Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bioelectricity, demonstrating that electricity was the medium by which nerve cells passed signals to the muscles. Alessandro Volta‘s battery, or voltaic pile, of 1800, made from alternating layers of zinc and copper, provided scientists with a more reliable source of electrical energy than the electrostatic machines previously used. The recognition of electromagnetism, the unity of electric and magnetic phenomena, is due to Hans Christian Ørsted and André-Marie Ampère in 1819-1820; Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1821, and Georg Ohm mathematically analysed the electrical circuit in 1827. Electricity and magnetism (and light) were definitively linked by James Clerk Maxwell, in particular in his “On Physical Lines of Force” in 1861 and 1862.
While it had been the early 19th century that had seen rapid progress in electrical science, the late 19th century would see the greatest progress in electrical engineering. Through such people as Nikola Tesla, Galileo Ferraris, Oliver Heaviside, Thomas Edison, Ottó Bláthy, Ányos Jedlik, Sir Charles Parsons, Joseph Swan, George Westinghouse, Ernst Werner von Siemens, Alexander Graham Bell and Lord Kelvin, electricity was turned from a scientific curiosity into an essential tool for modern life, becoming a driving force for the Second Industrial Revolution.
Thank you to Wikipedia, for that information.
If you’re anything like me, you probably skipped all of that because reading such a lot of scientific stuff can fry the brain if it is not used to such things 🙂 But I felt that it had to be added in as an intro of sorts.
What if no one discovered electricity? What if electricity disappeared from our world? How different our world would be. I would have to live without so many of my life’s luxuries. And there are a few that I have really come to rely on.
First of all, I wouldn’t have my lovely laptop to type my stories and share them instantly with a load of people. What would I do without my laptop? Well, I would have to take my handmade paper and write out my story with my ink – dipped pen (as they had to do way back when…). I would then have to take it to a printing press (presumably they would still have those – manually operated of course – and the typesetter would probably take weeks to get all my wordy stories added on to the press. Once done, he or she would have to do it all again (or carbon copy it, if carbon copies exist (?) and then they would be distributed. Who would they distribute them to? Someone bored or housebound perhaps. Someone with nothing better to do than read little snippets of stories. Of course, those stories wouldn’t be regularly distributed, considering the time taken to print just one copy on a manually operated printing press so maybe I would get some people peering through their drawing-room windows on a daily basis waiting patiently for a new story to be popped through their letter box – and think of the excitement that would ensue when said story did eventually arrive 🙂 *sigh*
I would also have to live without my television. That isn’t really a big thing in my life as I don’t really watch too much telly. Though I do enjoy watching the occasional movie and I have my set programs that I love to watch and absolutely cannot miss. What on earth would I do without Damon (Vampire Diaries – and if you did not know that I feel desperately sorry for you) in my life. How boring my dreams would be hehe. So, yes, I do need my TV.
Then there is the microwave. Ah yes. An essential in my house. Good for easy meals when I don’t feel like spending hours of my precious time slaving away at the oven! (not that I mind slaving at the oven. Everyone already knows how much I love cooking. Lack of time is more the problem here.) Even better for when I need to warm up my tea. I can hear a load of groans and whispers of yuck but when I get involved in something I sometimes forget to drink my tea (a deadly sin, I know) and I cannot stand cold tea, almost as much as I don’t like to waste it (wasting a cuppa – can you imagine ?!). So it gets nuked instead 🙂
One thing I probably wouldn’t miss are the electric lights (sorry Thomas Edison). I actually really like the idea of doing absolutely everything by candle light. Talk about bringing romance into everyday living! No wonder those people of old got up to so much mischief 😀 Of course, with eyesight like mine, I would probably struggle with continuous dim light but, hey, you can’t have it all your way and if I have to choose between bad eyesight and romance, well the latter certainly gets my vote 🙂 In fact, anything romantic, no matter how remote, gets my vote. How soppy am I?
There are other electrical things that I have but can certainly live without, although some would disagree (like the Towies – if you’re wondering what that is, click here for some wonderful definitions from the Urban Dictionary), like a hair dryer, hair straightener and curling tongs. I have all these but only use the hairdryer, and then it’s only when I really have to. I love my hair. I don’t love damaging it 🙂 I think those Towies would have it hard without electrics, though. After all, what would they do without a self-tanning booth! Wait, they could always use mud. You get different shades of mud and it would have the same effect but without the damaging-your-skin-beyond-repair bit. In fact, some mud’s apparently have healing properties. Although I wouldn’t know how true that actually is. I haven’t actually done any rolling in mud myself!
I know there are many people the world over who do without these things and in many cases, do without having any electricity at all. Before you start getting all humanitarian on me, I am well aware of how privileged I am to have electricity in my life. I know that if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t collapse into a heap of old crap but would adapt and carry on. But I certainly am glad that I have got electricity in my life and can appreciate some of those privileges that are a direct result of it!
I love you electricity!
Copyright © 050712 by Karen Payze (exception of Wikipedia extracts)