Cleaner, safer, and even more efficient than the flame it replaced, the light bulb was welcomed into homes and offices around the world. But along with its many practical benefits, electric light also brought subtle and unexpected changes to the way people lived. The fireplace, the candle, and the oil lamp had always been the focal point of households. Fire was, as Schivelbusch puts it, “the soul of the house.” Families would in the evening gather in a central room, drawn by the flickering flame, to chat about the day’s events or otherwise pass the time together. Electric light, together with central heat, dissolved that long tradition. Family members began to spend more time in different rooms in the evening, studying or reading or working alone. Each person gained more privacy, and a greater sense of autonomy, but the cohesion of the family weakened.
Yes, even apparently small technology innovations can have a massive impact on society.