In retrospect, the electric light seems like an instant win. In grade school, we all learned this history as a very simple story – Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb in 1879 and, yada yada yada, success! But reality is more complicated than that. The truth is that electric lighting technologies failed for 80 years before Edison came along, and the business of electricity failed for another 40 after him. When you understand why that happened, you’ll be on your way to understanding how the seemingly rational world of tech melds with messy world of humanity to create our present and shape our future.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at Boing Boing, one of the most-read blogs in the United States with millions of monthly readers, a monthly columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and a freelance science journalist whose work has appeared in magazines like Discover, Popular Science, and New Scientist, and on websites like Scientific American and National Geographic News.
Her most recent book is Before The Lights Go Out, about how our energy systems were built, how they work today, and how they will influence what we can and can’t do over the next 30 years.
Follow Maggie on Twitter: @maggiekb1