Bumps on the Lighting Road



A few years ago I was driving the family minivan with camper in tow when my trusty Google app pointed out a shortcut that would get me to the Grand Teton’s campground 18 seconds faster.

“In one mile, turn right onto Mormon Way.”

Later I would discover the words “Four-wheel drive only” written on the park map.  Google didn’t tell me that.

I tried to turn around when I caught sight of the rutted dirt road.  In my frustration I did not keep an eye on the backup camera in our van that in turn was keeping on eye on the Scamp trailer behind us.

That’s when I skillfully managed to kink so tightly that my van bumper met the propane tank on the camper.  The propane tank won and my van suffered $3,000 worth of damage in about 3 seconds.  And the shortcut was far from over.

I gave up on the turn-around and decided to try the road.  About a half mile in we came to a water-logged area I knew would be a permanent home for us if I tried to drive through.  Picture this: my wife and kids in the back of the camper using their body weight as counter-balance while I physically lift and spin the camper 360° using my bare hands.

The kids still laugh about it today.  Maybe someday I will, too.

“In one mile, turn right onto LED Way.”

If there is a GPS app guiding the lighting industry today, it may be taking us down what we now call a Google Shortcut.  The lighting GPS (L-GPS?) app isn’t warning of us of bumpy muddy roads.  It isn’t telling us that we’re going to suffer greatly if we take this shortcut to save a few minutes (or reduce our energy footprint, or save money, or make money).

Maybe it’s time to unplug the app and use our eyes.

Maybe it’s time to simplify the route, remove a few twists and turns, skip the shortcuts, and stick to paved roads.

It may take longer- or, in the case of lighting, it may take a few more dollars- but we are more likely to arrive at the destination with less damage from the journey.

The trouble is, we don’t know where we are going.  We don’t know what is ahead in lighting.  We don’t know which companies will be bought and sold tomorrow, which LED bulbs will last as long as they promise, which tech giants will introduce a product that makes our fancy new light bulbs obsolete tomorrow.

We need an L-GPS to help us on our journey, but we need a destination first and foremost.  So we read the signs announcing the next roadside attractions:

“Next Exit: Circadian Lighting!”

“Turn Left Now for Color-Changing Lighting!”

“Exit Now for World’s Largest Trendy Chandelier Showroom!”

“Click Here for Today’s Stupendous Lighting Products!”

“As Seen on TV: These Light Bulbs will Make You Healthy!”

“Smaller aperture downlights!”

“Linear lighting!”

As we drive, alerts pop up to let us know of accidents and construction ahead:

“Alert: Streetlights may be harmful to your health.”

“Alert: Lighting Manufacturer Construction Ahead, expect shipping delays.”

“Alert: Company Acquired.  Seek alternate manufacturers.”

After I smashed up our new van, added a couple of hours to our trip just five miles from our destination, got into a bad mood equaled only by my annual how-can-I-get-this-dang-Christmas-tree-to-stand-straight rage, and got a sore back lifting our camper like Superman, we made it to our campsite.


That week in the Grand Tetons is still one of my favorite camping experiences ever.  It was late September with warm days and cool nights, the sky was blue and sunny, and the majestic mountains were dusted with snow.  We hiked, explored, sat by the campfire, played in the streams and lakes, saw moose in the campground and elk and bear and more.

We want to live better lives through the scientific and artistic application of the magical gift of light.  We can do it- we can get there and enjoy the benefits.  But we might need to shut off the L-GPS, hire a guide, or trust our instincts.  And there just might be a few bumps on the road.


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