On Streetlights

Once a modern miracle of engineering and innovation, streetlights now crowd every street in every town across the United States. Streetlights, for better or for worse, are now ubiquitous from sea to shining sea. These glowing electrical marvels are suspended tens of feet above the ground and cast light on the streets and sidewalks around them, giving them their name.

Streetlights are lightbulbs suspended above streets by concrete or wood poles. They typically turn on at night, after the sun has set, either with a sensor that can sense whether or not the sun has set or with a timer set by humans. In this situation, when the natural light from the sun has faded, the lights from streetlights will allow drivers, as well as other users of streets and sidewalks, to be able to see their surroundings in the nighttime. This is a boon.

The ability to see at night, something once only dreamed of in movies and video games, is a huge milestone in human innovation on par with the wheel, running water, preventative medicine, and may rival many future innovations, such as interstellar travel or immortality. This is not an exaggeration made for the sake of a joke, as my posts so often are. In the same vein, the previous sentence was not sincerity feigned for the sake of a joke, as my posts so often are. I truly believe that being able to see at night is a power that brings man one step closer to having God-like control over the earth.

It may seem, then, that I see the invention and proliferation of streetlights as an advantage for humanity as a whole, but my view is much more nuanced because I am an intelligent human being with the ability to see issues from different perspectives. Facetiousness aside, all great inventions are used for great evil. The wheel, on tanks, trains, and trucks, allowed Nazi Germany to transport soldiers and victims alike with great speed. The proliferation of running water, namely to Cuba, supplies Guantanamo Bay with water efficiently and consistently for use in waterboard torture of suspected enemies of the United States. The rise of preventative medicine has led to the ubiquity of hypodermic needles, used by hooligans and thugs to inject drugs like meth, cocaine, and marijuana, the much-feared Devil’s Lettuce, straight into their veins.

The streetlight is new invention so its dangers are not yet known. For this reason, I believe it only prudent that mankind has a natural and healthy fear of streetlights. Who knows what this amalgamation nature and artifice will do for or against humanity?

Streetlights are spaced at a set distance, probably set by law. This very law most likely mandates the brightness and heights of streetlights, as well. Under each streetlight lies a bright spot and the area between every two streetlights lies a dark one, or at least darker than the bright spots. This is a result of how lights work; lights, the technological fixture, create light, the form of visible electromagnetic radiation. With light from streetlights also comes darkness. This isn’t a beautiful and elegant ying-yang relationship inherent to streetlights, however. This darkness is not essential to the function of the streetlight, only a symptom of its absence

Therein lies the paradox. Humans fear the dark; it is only natural. However, with the dawn of a new age — a literal artificial dawn immediately after dusk, in this case — a new fear arises, but it also an old fear. Like the dark, heights, those metal spikes that will puncture your tire if you drive through the wrong way, snakes, and death, a fear of change and innovation is a natural fear inherent to the human condition. We fear both the dark and innovation. In today’s age that innovation is the streetlight.

For the first time in recorded history, an innovation claims to dispel one of man’s most primal, innate fears — darkness. How can one reconcile this; should our fear of darkness outweigh our fear of change? Or vice versa?

This dilemma isn’t as paradoxical as it may initially seem. Both fears of darkness and of change are essentially the same thing. They are fears of the unknown. We fear what we cannot see and what we cannot predict.

Rejecting the spread of streetlights means turning to darkness, but accepting it means embracing change. Turning to darkness is an oft-used metaphor for becoming evil. Additionally, embracing change is bad. I took a break before starting to write this paragraph and writing the thoughts I’m thinking as I currently think them hasn’t really helped my train of thought this time. It’s only ended up confusing me more. Streetlights remain a mystery.

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