I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my thinking on this topic. I’m not sure where I will land. I’m not even sure what to call these wandering thoughts. But I have given a lot of thinking to the subject, so consider this a draft.
It’s not really about artificial light or manufactured energy or propped up activity, although these are certainly on the same team. I guess I might call it “Artificial Time.” This thought comes to me whenever I leave my own culture of extended hours. When I visit my friends in West Africa I quickly notice that our day is more likely to slow down and come to an end when the sun goes down. The time of activity is not artificially extended. We shift into a lower, slower gear. Physical activity gives way to quiet conversations, and eventually to silence and sleep. Yes, there is electricity in the remote area where I visit. And, of course, there is a lot of artificial light in the large city two hours away. But even there, in the capital of that country, I notice that the city lights are dim, as our jumbo jet lands in the evening hours. Not so, in Dallas. When my West African friend, Isaac visited me two years ago, his plane landed at night. His first question had to do with the bright lights he saw from his window as he descended. We discovered that he was referring to the many car dealerships that brightly light up the night sky, not to mention the businesses that proudly advertise “we never close.”
If time were not artificially manipulated, when would we begin our sleep, and how long would it last? When would noise subside and silence carve out an end of the day time of reflection and evaluation? As it is, there is no time to think or reflect. Not only is the time awake artificially extended (which means that the time of sleep is artificially shortened), but it’s not given to thought or creativity. We are not actually thinking our own thoughts. No, we have asked the networks to decide what we should think about, and they, in turn, have been told by the advertisers what messages, themes, values and questions we should ponder.
Last week the power went out at my house. I walked outside and confirmed that the whole neighborhood was dark. There was nothing else to do, so we began to prepare for bed. Then, just few minutes before turning in, the power suddenly came back on. I honestly wish that we had correctly guessed and successfully turned off all the lights in our house, because when they came back on, I gave in to artificial time. I got back up. And I stayed up longer than natural time would have allowed.
I don’t know if artificial time has helped us. Not if we sleep less, reflect and meditate less, and operate on less real energy. Not if we walk and talk less. Not if we sit the same room with those we love having no heartfelt conversations. Maybe its time to have less artificial time.