Light bulb art shows wasted electricity

Artist Chris Jordan wanted to point out how much electricity is wasted in the US, so he made a photo collage representing 320,000 lightbulbs, which amount to the number of kilowatt hours we don't really need to be spending. [via Moco Loco]

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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18 Responses to Light bulb art shows wasted electricity

  1. jere7my says:

    Scuba: and many people do leave their computers running with a screensaver on, without activating sleep mode at all. *shrug* This is an art installation, no doubt based on a rough calculation from some study none of us has read; is it really a worthwhile use of our time to nitpick the data, when we have no idea what the parameters of the study were? If you’re legitimately curious, I recommend emailing the artist — without additional research, nothing we say here can possibly settle the number one way or the other.

    Maybe he should have used 200,000 lightbulbs. Maybe he should have used 500,000. I don’t think arriving at an exact figure is the point. The art is intended to say “a lot”, which is all it needs to say.

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  3. LuckyFink says:


    As a photographer with several degrees, I do not understand the term “LOSSY” or “JPEG.”

    As the commenter above said, bad art is bad, no matter what the message.

  4. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Lucky Fink, I do not think it requires several degrees to be ignorant of commonplace technical jargon. I manage to be phenomenally ignorant, myself, without recourse to multiple degrees.

    “Lossy” is the opposite of “lossless”. Analog to digital conversion is inherently lossy. You lose details, as for example whenever you fax or xerox the Mona Lisa.

    “JPEG” stands for the Joint Photographers Expert Group which is an industry body that has created several image formats for representing pictures as computer files. Usually, when people use the term JPEG, or .jpg for that matter, they are referring to a computer file that contains an image in JPEG format. JPEG is quite lossy, and the image quality of a picture degrades noticeably when you convert it to JPEG format, and every single time you manipulate a JPEG file (resizing, red-eye reduction, whatever) too.

    Wikipedia has more details on both. If you photograph professionally, you should read up on this stuff. You’ll likely find it interesting and useful.

  5. jere7my says:

    Redconsensus: from his site, the work “depicts 320,000 light bulbs, equal to the number of kilowatt hours of electricity wasted in the United States every minute from inefficient residential electricity usage (inefficient wiring, computers in sleep mode, etc.).”

    The full work can be seen on his site, though to get the full effect I imagine you would need to see it at full scale.

  6. hohum says:

    @Jere7my, That explanation is just as useless… It simply shifts the ambiguity from the word ‘waste’ to the word ‘inefficient.’ It makes the intent a little more clear, but it’s still just relying on one crazy light-bulb dude’s interpretation of what is ‘efficient residential electricity usage,’ and what is not.

    For instance, my wasting time on my 8-core machine to write this comment really isn’t efficient usage, in my opinion…

  7. LuckyFink says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand how someone with minimal photoshop skills deserved to be blogged about. The idea is nice, but there are grade school children who could create better art, and do a better job with photoshop than this.

  8. Bruce Nauman says:

    I feel like artists should have greater mystic truths to reveal than the gross over usage of electricity in the states… waste of time… waste of digital space…

  9. jere7my says:

    The two examples he provides are of a kind — they are cases of watts being spent to no benefit whatsoever, the pointless conversion of electricity to waste heat. From another source, “320,000 Kilowatt Hours of electricity are wasted every minute in the United States from inefficient electrical usage: inefficient wiring, computers sitting idle, lights left on, fans running when no one is in the room etc.”

    I don’t know where he got his numbers, and for all I know they’re wildly inaccurate. But the statistic doesn’t seem open to interpretation to me — actually using a computer, even for pointless things, is a different animal from letting it act as an electron-sucking paperweight, or leaving a fan running when you go on vacation. “Waste” here means waste, not suboptimal resource allocation. (I suppose one could argue that waste heat reduces heating bills in the winter slightly, but then it increases A/C bills in the summer, so it evens out.)

  10. redconsensus says:

    So where does the 320,000 kilowatt hours figure come from? I’m curious as to who get to decide which use of electricity is waste and which isn’t? American Idol – Waster or Not? Extravagant X-mas Lights? Waste or Not? Sitting up all night photoshopping a light bulb collage piece? Waste or Not?

  11. hokano says:

    LuckyFink, you do understand that the image above is a lossy JPEG of a tiny detail of the installed piece?

    If not, I encourage you to spend some time on Chris Jordan’s site to get an idea of what the man’s work is and what it’s about.

    [Lisa: Why is there no comment preview on BBG?]

  12. ReverendFaux says:

    It’s not whether or not it’s a good photoshop job, but that he is representing his response visually.

    He’s rather good at what he does, this is simply an opinion stated with an aid, from a rather influential person.

  13. therevengor says:

    bad “art” is “bad”.

  14. TechClicker says:

    I only count 436??

  15. Scuba SM says:

    I would argue that a computer in sleep mode isn’t necessarily a waste of electricity, depending on how much power it would take to shut down and reboot the computer. Sleep mode is also a much better option then letting the computer running with no power saving options going… Not everything is cut and dried.

  16. Takuan says:

    how can electricity be wasted since most human activity is folly in the first place?

  17. Takuan says:

    I score googlethump: “captchamancy: the scrying of the future by captcha phrase interpretion.

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