A fixture atop console TVs in the 1970s, the Lava Lamp was a godsend to anyone who wanted to tune in, drop out, and stare.
With its colored molten wax that tumbled, floated, and sank for hours to our bleary-eyed amusement, the lamp stole hours from our lives long before the Internet.
Invented by a British accountant named Edward Craven-Walker, the Lava Lamp just turned 50. Yet it will be forever hitched to that decade of the truly awful, the 1970s, a “what were they thinking?” era of burnt-orange shag carpet, avocado-green appliances, skin-tight bell bottoms, polyester leisure suits, and the variety show.
Unlike most ’70s relics, the Lava Lamp was welcomed back into homes as a trendy fad more than once, and is still sold in a variety of designs via lavalamp.com.
Like 1980s novelty Rubik’s Cube, the Lava Lamp remains popular enough that it’s still sold in stores such as Spencer’s. But it will never again approach its heyday as a pre-eminent form of casual distraction from the world. There’s simply too much competition from other time wasters that are vying for our attention.
For example, I found myself alone on the couch in a quiet room last week. Naturally I reached for my iPhone. Rather than seizing the “be in the moment” bliss, I was overcome by the urge to get connected to the online world and ignore the physical world around me. Even worse was the panicky feeling I had when I realized my phone was upstairs. I had been abandoned by technology and was now — perish the thought — forced to sit in stillness and stew in contemplation over thoughts of: “Hey, remember Stretch Monster, the reptilian foe of Stretch Armstrong? I bet there’s a commercial for it on YouTube.”
Having instant access to such a global repository of information, especially for the most trivial of knowledge, is like being trapped in an endless library.
In the Internet age, serenity now is represented by Google searches and mindless Internet surfing, reading and responding to emails the instant they appear, checking sports scores in real time, and posting all of this activity as trophies of accomplishment on social media.
And in that moment on the couch as I deplored the fact that I wasn’t content without my iPhone in hand, I found myself missing the simpler days of sitting and staring at something more than a 4-inch screen.
And so I unboxed a red “Lava Lite” with pinholes in its gold stand that my wife bought in high school. It had been packed up years ago and put away in the basement after our move, where it sat largely ignored with a busy computer nearby.
I put the Lava Lamp in a niche over our fireplace mantel in the living room. The bulb was burned out, so I replaced it and fired it up. Instantly, the late-afternoon room was aglow in groovy red.
The wax was still clumped in a clumpy mass at the bottom of the lamp and hours away from gooey bubbles, but already I didn’t feel the urge to grab my iPhone, located several feet from me. Nor did I care about being plugged in.
I was transfixed.
A few minutes later, so was my daughter.
And so we sat together, watching our Lava Lamp slowly warming up, oohing and ahhing as the wax broke apart and began to float and sink.
Some things never go out of style.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.