Seldom does anyone act as a de-tech-tive, following the process of analyzing and evaluating those items which improve lives. Technology is so pervasive within our environment that it often goes unnoticed. Just as people seldom stop to consider their senses, so too do they forget the constructed extensions of those senses. Any technology can be deconstructed and analyzed for the consumer to better understand. The following example of a de-tech-tive analysis using the flashlight.
The origin of the flashlight goes back over 100 years. At first, the light they emitted was not steady, coming instead in flashes, hence the name flashlight. Flashlights replaced fire based lanterns and torches. Whatever the iteration, these lighting system have always been an extension of the eyes, allowing one to see better in the dark. This extension is also its bias, focusing on those with vision. The flashlight allows greater access and safety in dark conditions. Electric flashlights are also much safer than old fire lanterns, as the city of Chicago can attest. Many modern devices such as phones have flashlight apps, but not being designed to provide light via a bright screen for a long period of time, most devices burn through power quickly.
Ironically, the flashlight tends be most utilized when other technologies fail or are not present. For example, when the power goes out the first thing people reach for is a flashlight. When away from modern conveniences, such as camping, most people bring a flashlight. The flashlight is seldom thought of in terms of social significance until it’s needed. Imagine having a party at your house and the power goes out, suddenly having a flashlight becomes an important social issue.
The HybridLight is a recent example of the thousands of variations that have existed within flashlight technology. The Hybrid Light is a flashlight that charges via solar panels, has back-up lithium batteries and is water proof. According to the Hybrid Light’s manufacturer, their focus was on creating an environmentally friendly flashlight. One way they achieved this was to use solar power to charge batteries, thus eliminating the need to use disposable batteries. The Lithium back-up batteries are quarter sized and designed to last for up to 7 years. Like many newer flashlights, the HybridLight uses a light emitting diode rather than the older incandescent bulb. Thus allows longer life and lower temperatures when lit.
Despite these changes in technology, the design is consistent with many other flashlight designs; cylindrical to be held in a fist; the light at one end with a power button behind it, and the opposite end designed to be screwed off for access to the internal components. This simplicity and universality of design makes it user friendly for almost anyone of any age and educational level. The basic concept, the circuit, also means that it can be understood by most, perhaps even repaired if necessary.
The flashlight and similar technologies have allowed people to work in dark conditions with greater safety. Miners, for examples, were once dependent on flames to work. This often led to explosions when pockets of methane gas were unknowingly tapped by workers. Flashlights and headlamps decreased the likelihood of explosions increasing worker safety; canaries were not as fortunate. Any work being done at night or in the dark has benefited from the flashlight. From bank robbers to surgeons, flashlights have been their when needed.
It’s difficult to say what innovations will influence the next generation of flashlights. As already mentioned, technologies such as solar power, LEDs and Lithium batteries have been integrated into these devices. The main issues with any flashlight seem to be brightness, portability and power. As power sources become more powerful and easier to carry, they will likely continue to influence flashlight design. Perhaps a levitating hydrogen fuel-cell powered light is in our future.
All technology is subject to evaluation and evolution as new advances are made. Some technologies, such as the flashlight, are so universal that it’s often forgotten to be technology. An evaluation of the technology allows one to understand the past, present and future of such devices.