Busting a Few Myths About Electricity

Like fire, electricity is a mysterious and dangerous servant; and also like fire, myths about electricity abound

It’s not surprising that there are all kinds of myths about electricity floating around out there. After all, it’s a constant in modern life; even a necessity, in the sense that people consider living without it a hardship. All such necessary things have their myths.

I recall my first electricity myth. As a precocious child, when I first read about electricity at age six or so, I thought you pronounced the word “Electro-City,” like some major metropolis. Don’t laugh; I was in high school before I learned that “misled” was pronounced “miss-led” rather than “my-zulled.” Oy!

But I digress…

Myth #1: Thomas Edison invented electricity.

Er, no. Electricity is a basic force in nature, so it’s been around since a split second after the universe formed about 13.7 billion years ago. Nor did Edison discover it. Humans have been experimenting with electricity for hundreds of years, possibly thousands.

Admittedly, it took us a while to realize that lightning represented huge bolts of electricity. You might remember that Ben Franklin helped with that.

Edison didn’t generate electricity first, either; nor did he did invent the light bulb. He did, however, refine the light bulb and make it better, for which he deserves our great thanks.

Myth #2: Magnetism and electricity are two different things.

Actually, they’re flip sides of the same basic universal force, electromagnetism. And thank goodness we figured that out. Electromagnetism helps us start our cars, charge batteries, and otherwise provides most of our electrical power.

That’s because when you rapidly pass a metal (usually copper) coil through a magnetic field, it causes the electrons to move through the metal, generating an electric current. Doing the opposite — passing electricity through a metal coil — creates a temporary magnet that can be switched on and off at will.

Myth #3: It uses less electricity to leave a light on than to turn it on.

Nope. This assumes a power surge when you turn something on, which does happen — but only at an almost undetectable level. It’s better to turn off a light, computer, or anything else, even if only briefly, so it’ll draw less power.

Myth #4: Items that I’ve turned off don’t draw electricity.

Not always true, sadly. Appliances, computers, and other electronics plugged directly into a wall socket sometimes draw a “phantom load” that can drive up your electricity bill. If you want to make sure they’re not drawing power, pull the plug, or else use a surge protector you can turn off easily.

The Bottom Line

This article barely scratches the surface of the electrical mythos…which means we’ll have to revisit the subject someday. Until then, don’t fall prey to these four myths about electricity!