Last light left on.

I’ve been thinking about the death of luminescence.

(Also, hello, it’s been far too long. Excuses could go here, but let’s not, and say we did.)

I recently read an article in the Post about a competition for an affordable “green” lightbulb. The winning unit sells for $50 a piece. Ok, sure.

The last American incandescent lightbulb factory closed in September 2010. We’re now in the middle of a gradual phasing out of the bulbs, until we’re left with only the new “energy efficient” models in 2014. Those dreaded acronyms… the CFLs and LEDs! I love the environment– don’t get me wrong– but I protest the phase out of the tungsten bulb at this point in time for an unconventional reason which does impact my daily life– but perhaps has gone unnoticed.

These bulbs are not luminescent. Sounds crazy… But really, I think that’s what bothers me the most. The quality of the light itself is different….incomparable. There are no “glowing lamps” anymore.

Perhaps this comes from my background in photography, but I find that I always size up the light in a given situation. Flipping through F-stops in my brain, I judge quality, intensity, tone and temperature in a few moments. It’s a habit, even if I’m not shooting. Quality of light sets the scene and dictates mood– any artist or person with Seasonal Affective Disorder will tell you the same thing.

These new bulbs, or at least their earlier prototypes (even a few years ago) flickered into being like their older, uglier predecessors…fluorescents… ticking and lighting with a gentle hum, a bluish diffuse light would appear after a delay and slowly grow…as if the sun had moved behind a cloud bank and decided not to reemerge for hours. Light, but not bright.

I had an early CFL light in my reading lamp in Boston a few years ago. I found that I preferred to read by the light of the window, or to leave my apartment entirely… than use that lamp. I determined that it replicated daylight on a mediocre day… one where you turn your face to the source and hope you can feel the gradual warmth on your face, but it never quite gets there.

Even in recent years, I found myself gravitating towards hideous “grayiege” colored lampshades in Ikea, hoping that they would counterbalance the blue haze. I have an “old bulb” in the lamp on my dresser for when I actually need to see things– to remove a tag, adjust a safety pin or search for matching earrings. This is the detail work that requires extra wattage and warmth… but otherwise, I’m trying to make the switch.

I admit, they’re getting better, but I won’t fully be on board until they can replicate that luminescence without just throwing some colored LEDs behind the glass. With an “old” lamp, casting it’s bronze cone around your reading chair, it could be raining sideways outside…wind whipping branches against the windowpanes, daffodils bent face down in seeping puddles, those unsuspecting walkers huddled in the nearest bus shelter…shivering in short-sleeves…but you’d never walk to the window to see.

Maybe it’s a false sense of security– to bathe in tungsten light’s warmth– but you want to be where it is. Desire overrides function. We turn on the lights for comfort (as a side note, I read Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain” the other day).

Now, we turn them on knowing we’ll extinguish them sooner rather than later. I guess “energy savers” have accomplished their goal…because they don’t quite offer what we really want.