From Computers to Hotel Rooms: How AC Controls Changed The World

Being from a city where seasons change drastically every four months, I have become accustomed to the ubiquity of air conditioning. Air conditioners are on full blast everywhere I go during the summer months, which is why I was so shocked to feel its absence when I recently visited a southwestern town located on the coast. During that first night in the hotel room, I was amazed at how comfortable the air felt from merely keeping the windows opened and allowing the ocean breeze to cool the room. As I lay there, it hit me; AC controls my life in ways that I had never realized before.

Air conditioning is one of the greatest innovations the world has ever seen. Beyond merely cooling someone off when the temperature became uncomfortable, it allowed early computers to burn through electricity for decades until engineers learned how to reduce the amount of heat computers produced. As I sit here typing, it is quite humbling to think about how the AC controls on my thermostat are also in essence what allowed for the growth of computers and the creation of the Internet.

Although air conditioning has clearly allowed for advances in our civilization, I cannot help but recall those nights when I neglected to turn the air conditioning on only to sweat myself into insomnia. Worse still, I remember how frigid the night air has felt when I have set the temperature slightly too low. Experiencing each of those extremes taught me that I need to temper my environment to conditions that are appropriate both for me and for the moment, and I make that distinction because I recognize that my preferences are subject to change due to a variety of unforeseen reasons.

If you take a moment to step back and think about what AC controls truly are, you will see that they are a technological materialization of choice in its most abstract form. Each turn of the knob and press of the key is a decision that one makes, which determines the conditions of their existence. I am aware that this abstraction is extreme for something as mundane as an air conditioner, but I feel that something so present in my life deserves some reflection, if even for a moment.

When thinking about air conditioners in this way, what does it say about the people living in places with no air conditioning? By living in a city where needing air conditioning is a common fact of life, am I missing something by not letting the air condition itself? Am I missing the opportunity to practice accepting life as it is by reaching for the AC controls whenever I feel discomfort? I am sure that there are answers to these questions, which may offer insights into the human condition. However, rather than try to answer them, I’d rather just be grateful that my AC works. I also take comfort in knowing that if it does not work, I can probably find a great technician without too much worry.

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