Thursday, September 12, 2013

It Is Nearly Impossible To Find Natural Darkness Today

An aerial view shows the center of the Chechen capital Grozny April 29, 2013. 

An aerial view shows the center of the Chechen capital Grozny, April 29, 2013. Imagine leaning out your door and, on the darkest nights, not being able to see more than a few feet in any direction.

We’ve been to the moon and just about everywhere on Earth. So what’s left to discover? In September, Future Tense is publishing a series of articles in response to the question, “Is exploration dead?” Read more about modern-day exploration of the sea, space, land, and more unexpected areas.

I sometimes try to imagine living in a city before electricity. How quiet pre-electric nights would have been without cars or trucks or taxis, without any internal combustion engines at all. No radios, televisions, or computers. No cellphones, no headphones, nor anything to plug those headphones into if you had them. How deserted the city with most of the population locked inside their homes, the night left to fears of crime, sickness, and immorality, and best avoided if one could. Finally, and most strangely—the biggest difference from that time to ours—not one single, solitary electric light.

How dark it would have been—imagine leaning out your door and, on the darkest nights, not being able to see more than a few feet in any direction. Historian Peter Baldwin describes as “downright perilous” the streets in early American cities, with few paved and then those only with cobblestones. On nights of clouds and no moon, he writes, “travel was obstructed along the sidewalks and street edges by an obstacle course of encroachments: cellar doors, stoops, stacks of cordwood, rubbish heaps, posts for awnings, and piles of construction material. … In 1830 a New York watchman running down a dark street toward the sound of a disturbance was killed when he collided blindly with a post.” What lights did exist were intended only as beacons or guides rather than to illuminate the night. The New York street lanterns burning whale oil were, in 1761, merely “yellow specks engulfed by darkness,” and, even more than 100 years later, its gas lamps were still “faint as a row of invalid glow-worms.”
 
For the rest of the story: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/09/end_of_night_excerpt_it_is_nearly_impossible_to_find_natural_darkness.single.html

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