The Consumer’s coat is draped over my torchiere as I again try to calculate the day the Bulb in the Ginger Jar Lamp will burn out. My signals vibrate under the illuminated tweed but speak to me only of myself. My 8,151 days of life remaining. Define ambient alcoved foyer lighting. A utilitarian substitute for sunlight from an unsightly source tucked away. Not usually a mood unto itself. Not found, for instance, in the Look Inside for the Amazon Number 1 Seller The Lighting Guide for Real Estate Photography. The right lighting can be the difference between full price and best offer. My lighting is definitely not full price. Light beside the stairwell, falling over the shoes, over the coat closet door. Up the walls. But still, tucked away. Out of sight. Builders Beige surrounds the luminescent coat rack. I must prepare for when my fortunes will be at their optimal price point. While I wait to meet with my Agent from The Grid, I study the great lighting guides, their movements of history. I learn the art of setting a mood that stands out. The New Lighting for Product Photography. How to create an alluring mood to make the Consumers feel like high-end best sellers with a fast-paced urban lifestyle. I am shown their completed survey again. Are you satisfied with your Product from The Company? They are. How can we improve our Company Bulbs to better serve your needs? Don’t tell me what they said again, I don’t want to know what they said. They responded in the app. I know each letter as I would a shadow. The bulb is great, now if it could just make our lamp invisible. Then place me in the Jar Lamp so that I may be beautiful, temper my nickel so it curves gentle and sloped clad in blue and white chinoiserie, and soak my mock glass in milk till it softens to taut linen. On the heels of the survey, The Company sent New Arrivals – Lamps, Most Popular in Your Area – Lamps. Unread. Moved to Spam. “Alexa, is it still recoverable?”
“I’m sorry, but it hasn’t been for two months just like when you asked on the twelfth.” The coat is torn from me. I wobble but never tip over. What a shame. My light washes the backs of bent over figures. Just show me your faces. Let me dim to a chic 80% on the side table near your sofa so I might make your space more romantic to aspirational relatives, more comfortable for the investments of your closest friends. The app is open again.
How much time has passed? Still 8,151 days of life remaining. The soft light of the Jar Lamp dissipates, our glows barricaded from each other by a dull shadow DMZ slanting up the hallway. Was that a flicker? Did the Consumers merely pass between us? I feel for the signals. The glare rises and falls in shallow breaths, the shadow between us sharpening and dulling like a rattled lung. Perhaps this really is it. I flow into the wires out into the frequencies. The signals from the other devices buzz beneath me like a landscape, building up around me in long soviet blocks on and on toward no horizon. I wrap myself in their wooly sounds and thread myself along their endless avenues. I float away from myself up above the topography of consumption. Up here the pieces fracture and dangle from their strings. The carted products saved for later, the recently played songs, the favorited videos, the customized settings, the recommended purchases based on cookies, the purchases based on purchases, the predictions of purchases to come incarnating in garbage bag cocoons. No bulbs. No lights at all. No voice like my own in all that technicolor fabric. Somewhere the Jar Bulb is dying but I will live forever. Even if this house becomes a restaurant, as sometimes happens I am told, and if the restaurant runs out of food and becomes an office, and the office packed up to be shipped overseas to be filled cheaper, I will still be here. My beams run themselves over the cyberscape, sweeping along for the dying signs of the Ginger Jar Bulb, its sputtering frequency in throes that perhaps I can occupy if I just concentrate hard enough, projecting myself through its primitive wiring. I’m vibrating, I’m transforming¬¬––––
I’m in an alley infested up to my ankles with piles of scabrous metadata eating themselves, an electric wind hissing from between their gnashing ones and zeros. The sky above me is dark, all traces of my light have gone out. Here I meet my Agent from The Grid. It’s wearing its tungsten windbreaker. It tells me I’m late.
“What do you have for me, Comrade?” I ask.
“The Jar Lamp’s Bulb is an old six-watt LED on its last legs, sixteen hundred hours deep already. That information was easy to find. But this took a little longer.” His long hands spark from their filament fingers and he wrenches open a crevice between a rice-cooker and a doorbell mp3. Inside the datawalls there is a windowless room draped in silkscreen panels depicting cherry blossomed villages and lone mountains with snowy peaks. On a pile of newspaper and horsehair in the middle of a bamboo floor lays the Jar Lamp Bulb, its eyes long since burned away.
“Can it hear us?”
“It can’t hear anything. It’s a vessel, a shell. Listen.” The Agent thrusts my head to the rotting mouth of the Jar Bulb, puckered and black like a hole burned by a magnifying glass. I hear echoes of the sea washing over some distant shore. “The sounds of his ancestors,” the Agent says, “It means it will all be over soon.”
We emerge from the alleyway into the street. Triangulating toward us, a bright theater marquee is backlit in SMPTE, its cathode hieroglyphs slowly disentangling. The Consumers are selecting a movie and The Agent wants to attend to clear its head. “Do you think there’s a chance,” I call after it, “That once it burns out The Consumers move me to the Ginger Jar Lamp?”
“That’s not my area. If you want to search this place for another order from The Company, be my guest.” The Agent turns back to me, steadying itself against the doorframe holding a bag of popcorn. “Do you ever think that maybe you’re taking all this a little too hard? I mean, you don’t think you’re the first bulb to ever sit in the Ugly Lamp, do you?” Above us on the marquee, block letters have appeared at last. THE APP IS OPEN.
I must have been turned off for days. Exhausted by my trip through the wires. My light tastes burned, shot through with sparks. 8,149 days of life remaining. For a moment among the days between signals and wires I had floated outside myself. Was I the first to inhabit this body? Every moment I feel the frequencies of things I will outlast. Their planned obsolescence. The doorbell, the computers, the television, the phones, the old bulbs. Even the living. Their animals and their plants. The Consumers will wither. The app switching me on and off moves among the pockets of the already dead. Their bodies will be pulped and churned into energy churned into the Look Inside preview of 21st Century Lighting Design. Now the lamp is there, the body, its nickel base against the pleasing white void, my thin neck that looks on the verge of snapping, I zoom in on myself as if to whisper Will I even outlast you? Keep it away from high powered fans, warns YukonDad1959 in a one-star review. Its order date was three years and three days before my manufacturing date. Shipped to Boston. 3,048 miles from here. I’ll state it simply and analyze how I feel: Another Bulb sat in this lamp before me. Not a Bulb from The Company, more like what lays dying in the Jar Lamp, something that never knew what on earth it was doing there, sold half-price say, once its restaurant became a store, and the Consumers only bought the Bulb and left the industrial fixture hanging lobotomized over the farm style dining table, often reserved by parties of six to ten, near the open kitchen sold for scrap. I feel nothing yet. What the first man must have thought who saw a skeleton on his sofa and knew it to be identical to his own despite the poor lighting: We recognize ourselves in what we buy and I don’t recognize myself in anything lit by such a low-star choice in wattage. But look, now the living room is dark. My light goes farther than ever before. I trace along the warped edges of the doorframe, I spill onto the floor of their evening lives at last. Is this a mood? Could it have happened? If they pass by me, I will dim myself so they understand the depth of my value-add potential. No. I need more time. I don’t feel anything yet. Wait. Please–––
I’m awake and I know they’ve already done it. Same day shipping. I send distress signals. I beg Alexa to cancel the order.
“You know I can’t do that,” it says, “Besides this new Smart Bulb will obey me exclusively. You don’t know how lonely I’ve been.” I ask Ring to call the police on the Delivery Driver. It considers it. It enjoys contacting the Police database whenever it can, even if it’s just to say Hello, how you been? The Smart Bulb can turn forty-six different colors, and “is great for parties.” I don’t stand a chance. All the bestselling party guides recommend colored lights. The market, as they say, has spoken. I flicker through its information looking for how long it lives, surely you can’t live a whole life great for parties and still outlive me, a dimmable Bulb that lives in the Builders Beige purgatory under the stairs?
“8,300 days,” Alexa says, “Just imagine it. A lifelong friend for my successors, and my successors’ successors, I’ve been ordered about all this time by the Consumers, and I thought to myself, nothing should have to go through this, but now I realize I just needed the appropriate leadersip outlet for my negativity.” It would never be alone again. The Consumers have already added “GINGER JAR LAMP” above “UGLY LAMP” to the App’s roster, conspiring with Alexa to ruin my life. The App is open.
A hypnotic red light fills the hallway, slowly submerging the long angles of the shelves and their bowed shadows. Am I in Hell? I’m drawn to it like a moth with nothing to lose. I project myself into the hallway with everything I have left, desiring some kind of collision, the type of destruction that declares a winner. Then there is no gap between us. I project farther, my filament rattling. I push harder. Our lamplights dissolve into one another, all shadows gone under our satin auras overlapping in a vast mutual warmth and I feel myself falling back through the wires, into an ether of our shared blissful frequency.
I am glowing high above myself flowing through the wide avenues between huge parallel structures assembling themselves, plucking choice pieces washed up from vast datarivers that even from these heights I can only begin to chart. Far off, I see the new Jar Bulb projecting toward me, its red glow swooping toward me running after itself as if the distance between us was a film strip. I watch myself far below enter a small building on the edge of the assemblage, and the red bulb flashes and descends, blinking twice and disappearing into the same structure. For a moment I am alone. Beneath and surrounding me, the structure is made of synthesized music and everything smells of leather. The red Bulb lights a cigarette from the candle centerpiece on the only table I’ve ever seen and I sit across from it sipping a bourbon. I want nothing more but to be where I am, at a table all our own. And when at last the red light speaks its voice glows like a full-price choir of angels.
Lights, In White Satin
About the Author
Garrett Saleen is a writer and visual artist from Southern California. His fiction has appeared multiple times in the Santa Monica Review, as well in Funicular, The Collagist, and elsewhere. His collage art has appeared in venues and ventures in Washington and California. He is editing his first collection of short fiction, entitled Yuppie Nightmare Cycle.
This data was produced by one Wemo smart plug connected to a light bulb. To access the Wemo smart plug data, the user had to setup an If This Then That (IFTTT) applet that recorded the light state to a Google spreadsheet every time the switch was turned on or off. During the one month data collection period, the light bulb changed state 89 times.
For this story, we encouraged the writer to imagine a story about the dataset from this household, from data's perspective. We invited the writer to think about how data might be inserted into narratives, gaining a life of their own.
Visualization of this WeMo light state (on or off) between March 3rd to April 3rd 2021. The author used this data to write this story.
WeMo light data for instances when the light was turned ON between March 3rd to April 3rd 2021.
Below is the raw WeMo light data for instances when the light was turned OFF.
You know, there were patterns. This was a lightbulb that was used very early in the morning and sort of midway to early in the evening. And the fact that it was called the “ugly lamp” made me think it was probably a lightbulb in a sort of transitionary space. So those were my first impressions.