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On techno-insomnia and techno-mobility

Is insomnia the big disease of the twenty first century? Famously, markets are now open for business twenty four hours a day, and have been for several decade. Someone somewhere always to buy or to sell, and has the electronic trickery to do it.

Goddaughter 2: One of her teenage bizarrenesses was doing social media – gossipping as we used to call it – until 5am, while still starting school on time. The word is she’s over this now, thank goodness. But, it wasn’t just her. She was gossipping with fellow teenage insomniacs.

Me: My sleep during the winters is now deranged by cricket matches all over the world, most of it played in my night time. (I have recently learned how to watch such cricket, at no monetary cost, on my computer. I’d rather not say how.) Last night, I woke up at 3.30am, to watch England beat India in Kolkata. I also got to bed last night, again, at 5am.

Everyone: Just able to live, virtually, all around the clock. And it’s a positive feedback loop, a network effect. The more people are doing things all around the clock, the more excitements there are everywhere, all around the clock, and the more sleep patterns everywhere are deranged.

In former centuries, without the ability to communicate cheaply and interestingly with places where it was broad daylight, there was, at night, a lot less to do. Other than the obvious. The obvious has always caused insomnia, for those who can’t get enough of it. Now all the fun you can have with your clothes on (or not, it doesn’t matter) has joined the obvious. As culture (including politics) goes ever more global, there are ever more inducements to keep paying attention to your particular thing, as the small hours get bigger.

The other big techno-trend I think I see now is computerised mobility. For my generation, the two big technological dramas were the arrival of television and the arrival of computers and the internet. But perhaps historians will see those two dramas as just the one. People stopped going out, and instead stayed at home, staring at electronic screens and listening to electronic boxes. The first upheaval did indeed culminate in television, having been preceded by radio and gramophones, because all of that stuff kept people at home, as did the early internet. The second upheaval was all these toys becoming mobile. Looking at things this way, the Sony Walkman becomes more significant than the first personal computers. The first computers made the telly a bit more intelligent and a bit more fun, but you still stayed at home and got fat and lazy. The Walkman got people up off their fat arses and out and about again. And now the iThings and their non-Apple progeny are making the Get Out More life even more attractive, to the point where you can do all your work on the move.

Mobile technology is all still a bit clunky, I think. All those wires and headphones and little thingies to put in your pocket somewhere. Which is why I think the development of computerised glasses – or spectacles (merging the two meanings of that word into one again) – may prove to be so significant. And in the age of total surveillance and universal face recognition, great big non-see-through glasses are going to become very popular, even if they merely look like head-held TVs. (Clever spectacles will of course make photographing other people, literally in a blink, even easier and even harder to spot.)

I have the feeling that somehow or another techno-induced insomnia and techno-mobility are pretty closely connected. One rather obvious connection is that people who take exercise sleep better. But there are surely many other connections.

Here’s one. There is a class of semi-mobile technology which I find invaluable for getting to sleep. A problem for insomniacs is that whereas they (we) can doze off in front of the telly with ease, once in bed, the combination of the effort involved in actually getting to bed, and then the silence, can be hideously arousing. Silence now being an oddity, it keeps many of us awake. (This may be why I write better when no music is playing.) Two tricks I have learned for getting to sleep are (a) watching dvds on my little portable telly, and then (b) playing music very quietly beside the bed. I soon get drousy, and the slight effort involved in putting aside the telly and swtching on the music, or just switching the telly over to music, is not enough to seriously wake me up.

So anyway (I have only recently noticed that “anyway” means “I am about to disconnect from you, for no obvious reason other than that I just am”), blah blah blah. Discuss. Or, I have bored you so completely that you will now go to sleep.

13 comments to On techno-insomnia and techno-mobility

  • A moment of pedantry. I’m not sure that what you’re talking about is “insomnia”. This is usually taken to mean a desire to sleep but an inability to do so.

    What you’re talking about is rather a desire not to sleep, to stay awake and so something else.

    Which is called something or other but I don’t think it’s insomnia.

  • Well, I think the two are pretty closely connected. Because if you choose to stay awake tonight, you will find it harder to sleep tomorrow night. And that’s especially true if you make a habit of choosing to stay up late.

    In other words, the “insomnia” I talk about is a major cause of … insomnia.

  • If I really, absolutely have to get some sleep there’s nothing like putting on some live football.

  • CaptDMO

    (US-maybe elsewhere)Gee, let’s make sure folks who “can’t afford” them get NEW, web-access (GPS tracked/text “monitored”) cellphones, uh..for their safety, or somehow for the children, as well.

    Along with (ie)food stamps, the whole Bread and Circuses thing is covered- all without the whole
    icky employment-of-”educated”-colluseum-builders/maintainers/entertainersthingy.

  • CaptDMO

    Which is called something or other but I don’t think it’s insomnia.

    in (not) + somnus (sleep)
    Plain and simple.
    No need to assume psychiatry’s (or poli-sci’s) subsequent awe ful “usage” abuses.

  • I think it is called jetlag. (Circadian rhythm disruption?)

  • veryretired

    I’ve been plagued with insomnia over the years, but find it is driven by internal demons and personality issues, not some external source.

    In my younger days, I often stayed up most of the night, which was handy for schoolwork left undone until the deadline, but not good otherwise. Since I always worked during my school years, there were some rough days.

    I sleep very well these days, mostly because of the extremely fortunate presence of my wife, and a reasonably healthy and happy family.

    I used to sit up and read all night, but now it’s a sure fire method of getting sleepy, with a few exceptions for the really good books that come along only rarely.

    Anyone who truly struggles with insomnia has my sympathy—there’s nothing worse than being wide awake at 4 AM when your whole body and mind longs desperately for sleep.

  • Myno

    My POSSLQ (US Census term: Person Of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters… Darling, darling love me true, Won’t you be my POSSLQ? There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do, If you would be my… ok, ok, enough already…) hit upon the trick of plugging into her iPod playing a spoken novel that she knows by heart (e.g., The Time Traveler’s Wife) and finding that she would awaken only momentarily through the night, mildly surprised to note that she had “missed” several chapters, then falling blissfully into the story and thence to sleep again, and again, and again… to awaken refreshed from a full night’s sleep. Works for me too, but I find that the story has to have just the right amount of interest, with scenes not too heavy on rousing action, and be something I’ve listened to enough while awake so that there’s no mystery where I am in the storyline at any time my mind might rouse enough to actually hear those words during the night. Of course, that means one of those headband headphone thingys, on top of my C-PAP apnea-defeating headgear, plus blinders since my own sleep schedule starts at about 3 AM. Anyway…

  • Laird

    I usually have no trouble falling asleep, but on those rare occasions when I do it’s because something is worrying me. My wife long ago hit upon a solution: if she talks to me I’m out almost immediately. Which she didn’t take very well at first but it now seems to generally amuse her.

  • veryretired

    My second son spent an entire semester trying to read “Jane Eyre” in high school and never got past page 5 or 6 before he was asleep.

    We were laughing about it a few years ago and he said he still keeps a copy in his nightstand because its the only foolproof method he’s ever found to be asleep in 15 minutes or less.

    Old movies do the trick for me.

  • bobby b

    “The more people are doing things all around the clock, the more excitements there are everywhere . . . “

    Well, maybe except for those live-human-interaction kinds of excitements that you mostly only get when you’re awake and functioning concurrently with the rest of your local humanity.

    The more wee small hours you spend on line, the fewer daylight hours you get amongst the people. It’s a simple trade.

    that are the eventual price for movement into the virtual world.

  • Alisa

    Some times a bug is actually a feature. Just saying:-)

  • David Gillies

    I have a pedestal fan which I turn on before I go to bed. It produces white noise which is extraordinarily effective at suppressing other noise sources. Also it circulates air (a good thing in a tropical country) and breaks up the column of CO2 emanating from your mouth, which is how mosquitoes home in on their victims.