World without glass

I was driving to work the other morning, watching the windshield wipers sweep the water off the glass, and it occurred to me that glass is a pretty miraculous substance. I mean: it's transparent, and yet it's solid! Isn't that cool?

So I started to wonder what the modern world would be like without glass. My first thought was that plastic can replace glass for most uses, so that's not such an interesting question in itself. But that started all sorts of other lines of extrapolation:

  • What if glass had never been developed? Is there a way to do electric lighting without glass?
  • What if all transparent substances were suddenly made impossible or illegal somehow, in the modern world? Can't have car windshields; I was thinking you could have a camera out front and a screen inside, but both camera and screen rely on transparent substances. Computer monitors, windows, and all forms of light bulbs are no longer feasible. Are there equivalent technologies that don't rely on transparency?
  • It seems remarkable to me that there just happens to be this substance that can be made with relatively low technology that's solid but admits light. What if melted silica (plus impurities) didn't allow light through? What if a culture developed on a planet where there wasn't plenty of sand? Sure, there've been plenty of human cultures that didn't rely on glass as much as we do, but what happens when a culture reaches, say, post-Victorian tech levels and still has no transparent solids?

I don't have any desire to write a story that explores any of those options, but I'm intrigued by the possibilities. Maybe I should put together a no-glass anthology.

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