Information Deluge. Expertise Drought.

In our current consumption environment, we’re deluged with information, but are simultaneously experiencing an expertise drought. The information is great for people who have the time and inclination to geek out on deep dives into minutiae of their preferred topic, but it’s awful for getting things done well, fast, or even, in some cases, done at all.

It’s costly, all this information.  Too much to look at, too much to learn. Having expertise as handy would probably be cheaper in the long run, but the investment in expertise carries a price that seems to have scared a good portion of society away from it; flatlining incomes also make it harder to embrace new expenses. And because of the reluctance to pay up front for expertise, most of us are stuck looking for it on our own, and just turning up endless information.

Tired of the wasted energy created standard incandescent light bulbs, I got interested in compact fluorescent bulbs early. At the time, it was relatively hard to find them in stores. Home Depot, the nearest chain hardware megastore, had some, but only in a few standard sizes and few lumen values. If you were looking for a replacement for your standard 100w tungsten bulb, it was easy, but if you needed a PAR20, PAR38, G20, or G40, you had to look online.

Problem was, you had to know that you were looking for: the shape, the base diameter (E__ E is for Edison, the number is the diameter of the screw in millimeters), the diameter of the bulb at its widest, the length, what the lumen equivalent was in incandescent watts (lumens quantify visible light and watts quantify energy used), and the color temperature (measured in Kelvin). More than once, I ended up with the wrong size or wrong color temp—sometimes the light was too warm, sometimes too cold. And mistakes via mail order get expensive. You don’t want to foot the cost of sending it back, you can’t really repurpose a bulb you have no use for, and when you use it, the CFLs will last much, much longer than the incandescent they replace. So, if it’s something you don’t like, you’re still stuck with it for years.

After considerable research, some success, and a few errors, I got better at figuring out what I needed with CFLs. As time went on, they became common in more hardware stores. And then, LED bulbs, which are better still, supplanted the CFLs. They also added another option to the plethora of choices to navigate; whether or not you need a dimmable bulb.

If I went to chain hardware stores; they had a larger selection, but the folks working there knew only what they had in stock, and not even details about that stock. Hoping that shopping local could make a difference, I scouted local hardware stores. But even at hardware stores, I never found anyone who was more knowledgeable than I was on them. Actually, I never found anyone with any detailed knowledge whatsoever. Which was frustrating because I still had some bulbs that were hard to replace. I found a few online retailers that were small and had knowledgeable people running them, but it took several searches and several calls to find them. And some of these online retailers eventually moved out of the bulbs I was looking for, probably because Home Depot and other retailers moved in.

I’ve now replaced most of my home light bulbs with LEDs. But there’s one fixture that is particularly difficult to fit with LEDs. It’s a ceiling fan that was designed to work with very small candelabra bulbs. The space is tight; the fixture takes six very small bulbs in the upper half and three smallish bulbs in the lower half. To buy energy efficient bulbs in the era when incandescent were the norm, I had to buy ten at a time. I’m just about at the end of that supply, so I’ve been hunting for replacement bulbs.

For the very small candelabras, it took several searches—most bulbs were too long and too wide, but I finally found something smaller and brighter than the 15w Krypton bulbs I’ve been using. Fearing that I might be buying wrong, I purchased three online. When they showed up, I excitedly put one in, only to find that the base, the screw that secures the bulb is an E11, and I need an E12, 1mm larger diameter. The seller had noted that the bulb I got was E11, but lumped all the E11 and E12’s together as “candelabra bulbs.”

I noticed the seller, which tried to present itself has having a vast selection of bulbs, sold some adapters to get bulbs of differing base sizes to work in fixtures. Like an E17 in an E26. But not what I needed. So I had to search again.

I found a few options on E11 to E12 adapters, some taller than others, but they came as singles, two packs, and five packs, and each seemingly from a different supplier. I needed the shallowest available. Just as I was about to write the five-pack vendor to see if he’d sell a single, I did another search, and found what I was looking for. A six-pack. I ordered it.

They arrived quickly. The adapter easily screwed on to the E11 base, and the now E12 base bulb screwed easily into the fixture. They use less energy and are brighter at full power. Since they’re dimmable bulbs and the fixture is designed to dim, I can bring the light down if I find it too bright.

Mission accomplished. Just ordered more bulbs.

The money that changed hands is only a small part of the cost. The bulbs were $10.95 each; shipping $7.90: $41.75 plus tax for three bulbs is livable, especially when the bulbs are rated to last 25,000 hours. That’s 6200 days at four hours a day, assuming a perfect bulb. Almost 17 years, if I use it way more than is expected; the US Department of Energy estimates average daily hourly use per lamp in my region as no more than 1.7 hours per day. Even if it’s two years, it will feel like the price is well worth it. But I also spent probably over three hours researching the bulbs on this go-round; when adding in the time I’ve done it over the years—whenever I searched previously, I could never find bulbs small enough–it could be double or triple that. That’s a significant time suck— just this one bout of research took up most of my “free” time for over a day. I really would prefer to have paid a slight premium for the bulbs just to go to a place where they had bulb expertise.

But I don’t know how such a place could exist anymore. Even though light bulbs are essential to modern life, the DoE estimates that houses in the US have, on average. 50-80+ fixtures each, bulbs are so much more efficient; it’s probably harder for brick-and-mortar retailers to sell enough to make ends meet, even though CFLs and LEDs are significantly more expensive than old incandescents. Even justifying a wide selection of bulbs is hard for most retailers. So it would have to be in a store that sells lots of related goods, like a hardware store, and there, they probably don’t have the resources to have a bulb expert on staff, as knowledge of carpentry, plumbing, painting is probably more in demand.

And hardware stores are probably reluctant to stock too many choices in bulbs, as holding on to inventory is expensive and a wide selection of bulbs takes up too much space.

Positively, for retailers, there seems to be fewer unusual bulb fixtures, at least when buying from large chains. That means easier for people to find replacements as well, but fewer options for lights.

Stewart Brand is known for saying, “information wants to be free.” It’s from a talk he gave in 1984. It’s a pity his full quote isn’t widely known. He actually said On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Free won. To our detriment in many pursuits, such as this. But until way more people agree with that, we’re all stuck drowning in information, so close to each other, but water boarding ourselves individually.

I’m now somewhat expert on light bulbs. The knowledge I possess has helped light my home, but it does me little good most of the time, and finding a way to share it or monetize it past an article would take more time and effort, and would likely yield little return.  And countless others have probably done the same research and become similarly versed.


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