Christmas lights. A sign of winter's arrival, a major representation of the holiday season, and my theme for ethnographic research. I conducted a couple interviews discussing christmas lights and did some background research into uses and traditions associated with them. I put together the responses and information I collected and came up with a couple opportunities for improvement in the area of christmas lights, which I will discuss more in depth below.
To start I felt it would be appropriate to do some historical research into christmas lights. According to a 2011 Forbes article, Thomas Edison first crafted a strand of electric bulbs together in 1800 to decorate his laboratory. In 1882, his business partner Edward Johnson made a slight innovation, putting red, white, and blue bulbs in a strand around his christmas tree. From there, the White House adopted the use of electric lights on the christmas tree in 1895, and improvements in the hardware were made by GE in 1903, and Noma Electric Company in 1917. I was amazed to find that there is a thriving service industry today because of consumer concerns with tangles, safety, and storage. In general there is a huge market as christmas lights fall into the $6 billion industry of holiday decorations.
Another interesting topic I came across in my research was the vast amounts of additional energy consumption associated with christmas lights. I don't want to do the math, but an article in Wired did just that, and found the energy cost in the US for christmas lights to exceed $230,000,000. Of course, that was done assuming incandescent bulbs, which are becoming less typical as consumers switch to more efficient LED bulbs.
After conducting my initial research, I interview three people. The first was Carly, a self-proclaimed christmas light enthusiast. She currently has christmas lights as ambient lighting in her apartment and does a lot of holiday decorating by use of lights. She said christmas lights bring up memories of decorating for the holidays with her mom when she was younger. She said one of the things she likes most about christmas lights are their level of lighting. It is not too intense and is dispersed as a string more than a single light source. On the other hand, the strands of light are easily tangled or kinked, and a pain to store. Putting them up, especially outside, is a hassle with the untangling and safety issues of using ladders in often unfriendly weather conditions. One thing I found especially interesting was her mention of netted lights for bushes, which cut back on some of that hassle.
Second, I interviewed Liz. Some unique insights she gave were on the topic of the harshness of LED lights, and on series vs. parallel circuit strands. She talked to how LED's don't give off nearly the same type of light, and the LED bulbs are much more harsh and less pretty. Also that when outside, sometimes the lack of heat created by LED bulbs allows them to get covered by snow and ice. The other big point she made, along with the others I interviewed, was how strands of lights that are wired in series will go dead if one bulb goes out, and when that happens it is almost always just easier to replace the strand than try to find the bad bulb, which ends up being expensive.
Finally, I interviewed Matt. He talked about the enjoyment christmas lights add to the season, making it much more festive and positive in the face of worsening weather. His biggest set back with them comes from the process of hanging them. His words were "It seems as if they want to do anything but hang where I want them to."
Finally I tried to do an AskReddit post, but that didn't go over so well, getting a grand total of three responses.
From my data, I came up with a couple problem statements. The first is that Matt and Carly need a better way to hang christmas lights, because it is currently a hassle and can be unsafe. Secondly, Liz needs a light that is as efficient as the LED strands but provides the same type of light as incandescent bulbs. Lastly, there needs to be a better way to store lights to make them easier to use when putting up and generally more consumer friendly.
To close, I will link to a video from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation fitting into the christmas light theme.