Electric Buzz | Perspectives | Perspectives – KQED
History isn’t just what happened in the distant past to people now dead and gone. We are living history now. It’s just hard to tell what that history says. Les Bloch has this Perspective.
When convicted ax murderer William Kemmler was strapped into the electric chair, no one was really sure what would happen. Thomas Edison was in attendance to witness the destructive force of Tesla’s alternating current in a brutal human experiment. The Current Wars of the late 19th century involved two opposing points of view, both arguing that a magical invisible force of nature — electricity — could best be delivered to the public in the safest, most efficient way.
One hundred and thirty five years later, we are learning how Edison and Tesla fared. Tesla’s high voltage alternating current has the advantage of sending electricity much farther than direct current. Edison’s direct current, presently that which is generated by solar panels, provides the advantage of safe local generation. Both have changed the world.
It takes time for humans to absorb the big picture. Perhaps we will look back at this time, one hundred and thirty five years from now in 2155, and understand what the effects of another invisible force — the internet and digital communication — has had upon us. The digital world is now supplanting the direct electrical current of human experience, challenging human consciousness.
William Kemmler did not die when he was first zapped — the new, more humane way to kill murderers was refined, then deemed cruel and unusual after 66 years. Despite Edison’s belief that alternating current was an inferior and deadly force, it somehow found its way into our homes. And now a new, invisible force surrounds us again. We are living through a time we think we comprehend, and only with time will the buzzing brains of our great grandchildren determine what really happened during the electrical experiment way back in 2020.
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