Opinion | A Brief and Futile Argument in Defense of the Incandescent Bulb

But against reason, let me argue briefly and futilely in favor of the aesthetic, ambient, even tactile (I’ll explain) benefits of Edison’s radiant invention.

First, consider the alternatives. A hundred times I have been told that LED bulbs, with their unnatural froideur and their sour green aura, can now simulate all manner of glow. They come with labels like soft white and bright white, cool white and daylight. It’s all nonsense. The morose cast of the LED bulb looks one step up from the dread fluorescent, with its grim hue supplying the gray to barely finished basements, the line at the D.M.V. and the waiting room in the E.R. Stark. Devoid of passion. Institutional. I’m hardly the first person to notice that LED light simply looks bad.

Things illuminated by LED (human beings, for example) also look bad, sullen, even villainous. There is little hygge to be found in an LED-lit home. Rooms exude the doleful pallor of a desaturated sequence in a Christopher Nolan movie. I think of the poor painter in Oliver Sacks’s “An Anthropologist on Mars,” suddenly struck with a loss of color vision, who finds that what’s left looks distasteful, “the whites glaring, yet discolored and off-white, the blacks cavernous — everything wrong, unnatural stained and impure.” LED bulbs flicker; they fade. Occasionally they buzz, though apparently all bulbs are guilty of this, and it’s allegedly not their fault; it’s your house’s.

And LED is cold — not just in terms of color but actually cold. As a person whose internal thermostat runs on the chilly side, who needs a hot bath every night just to fully inhabit my extremities, the incandescent light bulb has served as a beacon. The 17th-century house I grew up in never acquired insulation. Heating was kept to a minimum, the logic being, I assume, that there was little point letting heat in if it was only going to waft right out. The old-fashioned standing radiators in the corner of each room (think “Eraserhead”) occasionally emitted a faint warmth; I would hug the one in the kitchen while waiting for my bagel to toast. A cat who became ill joined me there as he grew more sickly, sidling up to the radiator beside me until his time ran out.

The strongest heat in the house came in the form of my reading lamp, which I powered up with 100-watt bulbs and clutched as I read in bed, my fingers lightly roasting with pleasure. I associate that jolly warmth with late-night phone calls, books read after bedtime, the privacy of my own well-lit room.

Pamela Paul

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