Street Lights

Listening to another podcast today, I was struck by another genius idea.
PRI’s The World Tech Podcast, hosted by Clark Boyd, out of Boston, is a podcast about technology, generally. The episode that made me think was this on right here, if you wan to listen. The story I’m talking about is halfway through.
Every once in a while, I am dumbfounded by something they report about.

An old lady of 85, Steffie lives in a smaller city in Germany. The local government decided that it spends too much taxpayer money keeping the street lights running all night long. So, they turn them off. But Steffie is safe. She can turn the lights on (for a 15 minute interval) by making a cell phone call. On the way to her bus stop, she makes a cell phone call and a voice message tells her how long the lights will be on. A modem is activated when the phone call is made, and the proper code is entered. How do you know the code? They’re listed online, and they are posted on the street lights themselves.

Joggers run with cell phones, travelers in cars have their own lights, and pedestrians (IF they want the light) have the power to switch on the lights for a safer movement down the street.

Many places in Europe want in on this movement, because the waste of energy is HUGE, and silly.
It’s akin to turning off the lights in a room when you leave it. When you don’t need it, why is it still running full blast? It’s plain and simple logic.

Now, I can already hear what naysayers will say…
“Not everyone has a cell phone!”
“Old people don’t know how to do this…they don’t have cell phones, and this will limit them.”
Steffie is 85. She has a cell phone. She is adjusting to the world around her for the betterment of her life.
Instead of sitting at home, and being a victim, she chooses to go out after dark, and return home alone after dark. She knows that if these are her choices, she will NEED a cell phone, and LEARN how to use it to turn the street lights on. If you don’t adjust to infrastructure change, with fair warning, you deserve to wallow in your lack of willingness to adapt.

It lends itself to the bigger argument of whether newspapers should stop wasting paper (like crazy) and simply go online.
“But that means only rich people will get the news!” is a line I’ve heard from some.
But what if this decision needs to happen for the business to stay afloat? What if you have two choices. A) Get news online from newspaper that has made shift to the web or B) Paper goes out of business, and you get nothing.
Trust me, people will adapt. People will get what they need to adjust. And I take issue with the lack of foresight and strategy to move ahead technologically, waiting on a grumpy, unwilling public because they fear basic change.

The solution isn’t necessarily that everyone would need an internet provider either. Mesh networks, and GROUPS of people choosing to equip a neighbourhood or apartment building with wi-fi internet would allow groups of people to have the internet, cheaper, and available for all those folks who think the internet costs a fortune.
On the far end…I believe, if one wants the news bad enough, that the libraries have free web-ready computers to use.

I digress. This technology of energy saving is beautiful. So simple. Energy savings. Tax dollars saved. And the elimination of light pollution?! Hello?! We could see the stars again at night! Imagine that!

Is this kind of move too advanced for your hometown? Is it asking too much to keep streetlights off unless otherwise needed by making a simple phone call? I think it’s exciting to think about, and something to consider for communities across the country.


4 responses to “Street Lights

  1. about your “paper saving”: i would love to see a thorough and believable calculation of the respective costs and benefits of paper newspaper vs. online newspaper. at the moment, i would not be too sure that online newspapers, much less the amazon kindle, use less ressources than paper distribution of news.

    computer technology is not really that excellent in respect to sustainability. if everybody bought a kindle to read newspaper, i am not sure where the “break even” concerning the use of ressources and energy would be – 3 years from now? 30 years? 300 years? i think we need good, thorough comparison before we should jump in at the deep end.

  2. as great as that sounds on paper (on the internet, actually) in practice, i don’t know how well that would work. i didn’t listen to the episode, but i you had to call every street light, that would become cumbersome.
    if there was a way to say call in your destination, and turn the lights on shortly before you arrive to them, and turn them off after you leave their area, it would be amazing. not to mention entertaining to watch… if it’s totally black out, you would see a solitary figure walking out of the light of one lamp, into a small amount of darkness, and then the other light would switch on.

  3. i don’t think i agree with tom on this issue. not simply because i think we shouldn’t evolve technologically but more so because of what i believe the role of the local government to be. we have to remember that one of the cornerstones of a democratic society is that there is protection and policies in place to protect minorities and people that are living in poverty so to speak. a basic service like street lighting should be accessible to all not just those that have cell phones. in this city especially, the people who walk are generally in a lower income bracket. that would lead to the assumption that they don’t have cell phones because they can’t afford them. we shouldn’t relegate people who can’t afford a cell phone to walk in the dark. i’m sure there is other technology available that can help reduce the usage of power. maybe they can be on sensors like home light. i like the direction that this conversation helps bring us to but i believe there is a leap between the idea and actual public policy.

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