Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Base Station


Photo courtesy Flickr user OneEighteen
Ma Bell taught me to refer to “the telephone” as a “base station”. Back in the day, a telephone meant a rotary unit hard-wired to the wall with two generous and expensive lengths of insulated copper. For free, the Phone Company would send a guy out to maintain the thing, because it belonged to Western Electric. Phone bills were essentially a rental charge. Official permission was required to hang anything, like an answering machine, on the land line that connected home to the central telephone office.

The telecommunications umbilical cord has been withering since Japanese competition proved the value of user-friendly wall plugs. My early supervisors drooled in envy.

Over the decades, the base station evolved from a straightforward hard-wired unit often shared by several households to a convenient plug-in land line that supported a wireless hand set. It’s not news that many households do without a land line altogether, taking their telecommunications to the air. The step from a hard-wired electrical supply to independent cordless lighting and other battery-powered appliances, like a fan or radio, is a similar move toward that which is decentralized, efficient, ultra-light, portable, versatile, green, easy to maintain, and which amplifies interior space.

Moving into an 1890 building, I realized that low-tech systems of lighting, heating, and cooking suited the architecture much better than the unwieldy dormant amenities of the twentieth century. Going high-tech allows me to transcend the bulk and tonnage of conventional housekeeping systems that lock up so many precious natural resources and generate so much pollution.

It’s gratifying to discover a situation where doing the right thing is easier, cheaper, and far more elegant than lumping along with ill-considered short-lived traditions. The basic domestic agenda to provide for food, clothing, and shelter has not changed in millennia. How that agenda is fulfilled changes with technology. So far, keeping up with the pace of change is both green and cost-effective. I like to choose solutions that are the lowest-tech, most effective, and one or two generations beyond early adoption.

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