A Life in Batteries

This past Christmas, after ten years of asking, my grandfather finally received the gift he had always wanted: the Battery Daddy. As seen on TV, the Battery Daddy is a clear plastic suitcase that holds 180 batteries in individual compartments. From tiny coin cells to big boy D cells, the Battery Daddy organizes them all, and throws in an integrated battery tester to boot.

My grandfather is 86 years old and now nearly blind; the Battery Daddy gives him agency to replace a remote control or smoke alarm when the time comes. A lifelong contractor, he is used to working with his hands. Now he sees with them. Shucking batteries from a device that’s no longer working, finding the new one in the case, and replacing it by feel is an empowering thing.

Fifteen years ago, I ran the audio for a lot of live events in a small theater – PTA meetings, community theatre, talent shows, that sort of thing. Wireless microphones would use a 9-volt battery, the rectangular one with the battery terminals on top. The way you’d figure out if someone had enough juice to get through a two hour presentation was to touch those two terminals to the tip of your tongue. If you get that Sichuan peppercorn jolt, then you’re good to go. Eventually it becomes addictive. I ate at Xi’an Famous Foods probably once a week at work between 2017 and 2019, for example.

I didn’t think much about where those spent batteries went. I don’t think my grandfather does either. I may have put them in the trash. I know he does. John Wilson has an answer for NYC, but for me, my grocery store accepts them, and that’s good enough. It’s not a very common occurrence though. It’s the occasional AAA pair that came with a remote, or a leftover littleBits branded 9-volt back when they were being liquidated. Most of my batteries in my house that would be thrown out are rechargeable. Big portable Casio keyboard? Six AAs. Gameboy Pocket used as an occasional webcam? Two AAAs. Pop em in the charger, good as new.

Everything else has a battery locked somewhere inside it. Electric toothbrush, ornamental mood lantern, vacuum cleaner, kitchen scale, laptop, phone. You can’t get at the battery, but you know they’re in there. They announce their charge level through small blinking LEDs.

Increasingly, batteries are part of the skeleton of what we carry around. Not only are batteries non-removable in phones and laptops for internal space-saving reasons, they are also a part of the structural integrity of the frame, helping avoid twisting and bending.