Monday, June 20, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: Technology and Time

Paul McCartney wasn't the only one celebrating a birthday on Saturday, and he wasn't even the oldest celebrant. That honor goes to a simple light bulb that was first lit 110 years ago. According to this article from, the light bulb hasn't been burning continuously. Although it's a 60-watt bulb, it's only turned on for four watts. Even so, this light bulb holds the world record for the oldest working light bulb.

If you watch the video accompanying the Time article, you'll learn that this light bulb was designed as a prototype and each part was carefully inspected. Perhaps that's part of the reason for its longevity. However, if you look at the bulb, you'll notice that it's very similar in appearance to the light bulbs that we use today. On the other hand, more complicated pieces of technology, such as telephones and computers, have changed drastically in form and function within the same time frame.

It seems to me that simpler technology is less likely to change with time than advanced technology. (Does anyone have a counterexample?) If this is true, then it's something useful for us to keep in mind when we write science fiction stories set in the future--or when writing time travel stories in which characters have to adapt to a different level of technology.

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