Prior to the invention of the light bulb, the light of daytime was only extended through the use of fires, candles, and gas lights. None of these provided the intensity of light that an electric bulb does, and were therefore poor substitutes for daylight. Electric bulbs have had a far greater impact on American society than any of these, as they provide illumination that is as bright as or brighter than daylight, and therefore effectively extend the day for as long as a person desires.
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The development of the electric light bulb to the point where it was commercially viable catalysed the spread of electric power in the United States. Once the bulb became available, people were more motivated to undertake the trouble and expense of getting electricity. Thomas Edison, the man who perfected the electric light bulb, was also involved in the development of the first commercial power plant in 1882. By the 1930s, 50 years later, electricity was available nearly everywhere in the United States. This rapid electrification of the nation was due largely to the desire for electric light.
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The prevalence of electric lights has removed the experience of unwanted darkness for many millions of modern people. Essentially, for nearly everyone in the developed world, the only time they are in darkness is when they choose to be. The effect of this can be positive, in that people have more time to engage in enjoyable and useful activities, and negative, in that endless light often leads to extended hours of work and responsibility, and resultant sleep deprivation.
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Light bulbs have had a tremendous environmental impact over the past century, not only because of the electricity that they use directly, but because of the extended hours of human activity that they make possible, leading people to use more electricity through other appliances, machines, and accessories for the longer hours that they are active. The ecological impact of the electricity production varies depending on how it was produced (using coal, oil, hydro, nuclear, wind, or solar), but all sources of power have some level of impact.
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American culture has become more divorced from nature and the natural world because of the electric light bulb. People rarely spend time in natural night darkness; indeed, many millions of people could not do this even if they wanted to, because their cities are lit up at all times. The issue of light pollution is gaining more publicity as more is learnt about its effect on birds and other animals. This disruption of the natural world has an insidious effect on American culture as it makes the natural world a foreign thing to most people.
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Light bulbs present people with the idea that things can be accomplished with the push of a button. Unlike a fire, a candle, or a gas light, a light bulb requires virtually no knowledge or skill to activate. The light bulb was the original push button technology, and paved the way for an entire culture based on ideas of convenience and instant gratification.