When we took the steps we needed to develop RGB lighting, the red and the green light-emitting diodes were easier to develop than the blue ones.
We had green LEDs in the 1950s, and red LEDs by 1962. But blue diodes were hard to develop, and we did not have a truly usable one until 1993, at which point we were able to develop white LEDs with such brightness that they could be used in place of traditional light bulbs. It took just three decades for the white LEDs to replace incandescent light bulbs on store shelves entirely.
RGB lighting has gained a long-fascinating image as an ongoing trend in popular culture, associated with gamers in particular.
This week, RGB lighting’s reputation found itself in the crosshairs of the mainstream news because of a decision by Alina Habba, a lawyer for former president Donald Trump, to bring an Asus ROG Strix laptop with her to court. Now, to be clear, the machine is a suitable beast for computing tasks—according to Kotaku, it has an RTX 2070 Super GPU and an Intel i7 processor—but its design stands out in certain settings, especially if you fail to turn off the RGB lighting on the keyboard and on the back of the display, as Habba did.
(I’m not implying anything here, but if your goal is to subtly disrespect the judge by having colorful flashing lights in their field of view, it more than does the job. Blue light, after all, is very distracting.)
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It took a while for RGB lighting to reach its final form. Traditional backlighting became a common keyboard feature in laptops starting in the mid-2000s (with PowerBooks being among the earliest models to have it, and IBM ThinkPads sporting a similar technology, the ThinkLight), and while lighting was a popular feature, the all-colors-of-the-rainbow model we’ve gotten used to since then is a more recent phenomenon.
The company SignalRGB, which produces software for customizing RGB in hardware, did an excellent video on the evolution of RGB earlier this year, crediting Corsair for being the first to put the lighting tech in the keyboard in 2014, though Corsair only showed off the technology first—Razer apparently beat the company to the market.
For what it’s worth I can find evidence that Logitech beat them both to it slightly—there are reviews of the G19s Gaming Keyboard from April of 2013—but ultimately, the fad kicked off just about a decade ago.
(Side note: SignalRGB’s video only has a paltry 3,100 views—let’s fix that; it’s quite good!)
RGB lighting carries a weird place in modern tech history. It is clearly very popular, as highlighted by the fact you can find it all over many tech products, and even many non-tech products. (At first, people thought it was a fad, but it has been around for enough years at this point that it is purely in “trend” territory.)
But it is also not a particularly elegant trend, as it repels many people, especially in professional settings. Which is why Alina Habba’s laptop stuck out like a sore thumb this week. Ken “Popehat” White, a well-known lawyer in his own right, claimed on Bluesky that he rocks an ROG laptop in the courtroom, but presumably he turns off the lights before he enters said courtroom.
I think in a way, it touches on the gradual degradation of “norms” I have written about elsewhere this year. I’m not saying that lots of people will be bringing glowing lights into a courtroom, but in a world where a senator is literally going out of his way to wear shorts to work, it absolutely makes sense.
Let’s make a deal: If we can go to court with RGB-lit laptops, Fetterman can wear shorts and a hoodie to the office.
Loved this profile of Tamara Kneese, the author of Death Glitch, a book that considers the long tail after we all die. I’m glad I’m not the only person thinking about this.
One listen to “Acquiesce,” the classic Oasis B-side, makes you mad that Oasis as a moment really only lasted for three years. (The Masterplan is a banger, by the way.)
Andy Baio has been doing such great work lately, and this piece where he digs into the world of voice cloning from the starting point of Weird Al parodies is so worth it.
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And see you tomorrow!