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.