What's the sitch with static electricity?
Many decades ago, before microwave ovens, before remote control cars, back when Sylvester’s Special Revitalizing Tonic was the best treatment we had for pneumonia, when email was still delivered by mammals; back then, science was boring. Not only was science boring, it was lame, and often times necessitated physical attacks against those who thought otherwise.
It was a dark and lonely time for science (especially back before the lightbulb). But science knew, even then, that it would eventually have its day, if it could only change public opinion; science had to figure out how to make new friends.
“I know people will think dry-erase boards and waterproof watches and iPhones are super awesome, even those dumb jocks. But how do I get my message out? That methodically observing and recording the structure and behavior of the physical world will eventually pay off, in a big way. Not only with life-sustaining medicines and jet-powered transportation and renewable sources of energy. But also with crowd-sourced restaurant review programs and videos of chubby kids dancing, streamed right into the home, at any time of the day. How do I reach these dumb humans?” That’s what science was thinking.
Science knew it couldn’t just jump right to the Wifi era; that it had to coax the humans, little by little, into accepting science into their hearts and minds. That’s when science had a great idea. It invented static electricity.
Static electricity is an imbalance of electric charge on the surface of a material, which remains there until it is able to move by means of a current or discharge, most often when two surfaces contact or separate. Interestingly, lightning is thought to be a display of static electricity on a grand scale, as charge imbalance between ice particles in a storm cloud resolve. Objects with static charge imbalance can also exert electromagnetic force on another surface with an opposite charge, which is why hair stands on end when rubbed with a balloon.
At least, that’s how we humans understand it today. That’s how we’ve explained it to ourselves. In truth, static electricity, as we know it, doesn’t exist. There is no such thing. It’s not a thing. There are no laws of nature that predict the phenomenon.
Science invented it to keep us interested. To keep us searching for answers. Back when most humans had little interest in sciencey stuff. We were mostly like, “Really? Pythagorean theorem again? Yawn City bro.” So science, in its infinite wisdom and ability to create universal axioms with the snap of its large, celestial fingers, was like, “Alright dummies. You want something strange, that you can touch and see and get excited about? Here. Here is something silly enough for even you.”
With the creation of static electricity, the magic of the world was finally tangible to the primitive humans. Siblings began rubbing their feet on carpet and shocking each other, as if they had harnessed the power of a great sorcerer. Grandmas got a lark, even from beyond the grave, by giving their grandchildren bad hair days through the power of the itchy woolen sweater.
From this humble catalyst, humans began studying other, more subtle wonders of the natural world, a cascade that led to our current capabilities, where we harness moving pictures from thin air, carry centuries of orchestral music on sticks the size of a child’s thumb, and translate rays of sunlight into energy we can use to power other lights; but these other lights, they can be any color we want, and they can be turned on or off at any time of our choosing.
Thank you science, for helping us find you. But you can stop the annoying shocks when we touch a metal thing, we get it.
~ Sitch inspired by the wily AW and MS