Now that it’s back to Standard Daylight Time (for a few weeks now), we’re confronted by the shortness of days. When it was still dark when my alarm went off at 7:30, I was more ready to go than I am now, when 7:30 is already bright. Sometimes – not every single day, but most – it’s special to get up before dawn and watch the world come to life. At the bird observatory, we’d have to get out there to the tip of the island a half-hour before dawn, and I liked moving through early-morning traffic. And as the day begins, my three squirrels come to the door, hoping to see some life on the inside, too. In Denmark, where winter days were 7 hours long (8:30 to 3:30; summer nights seeming even shorter), I revelled in the gloaming. So do the Danes: they consume more candles per person than the rest of the world. It’s called “at hygge” [ah hoogeh], being cozy and comfortable.
In the mornings, my brain is not up for deep thought (she says as she writes this at twenty after 8 o’clock, having slept on it the night before) or for being on the ball, so that is when I prefer having physical work. Winter has less physical work, so it changes that tendency. Winter also changes my afternoon habit, where six months out of the year I take my reading and whatever paperwork I can muster and sit in the sun or shade to do it (back deck, front step/stoop, doesn’t matter: outside! My parents raised me well in that regard). Whatever the time of year, when I take my afternoon nap – 20 minutes when I get that postprandial dip, which some people erroneously think is a bad thing – I do it in a patch of sunlight. Being sequestered for winter is when I do the most cuddling up to the computer, when in other seasons, I can’t get that game on until the sun is on its way down. Winter is, therefore, productive time, and it has been throughout the world a time of cultural production.
I really like living and working by natural light, so much so that it bothers me when people assume that electric light is just as good or better: flipping on a light just because a room or a corner is dim, when daylight is full and you can seek it if you need it, or designing office and shopping spaces so that the ambient light is constantly electric and takes one out of time-of-day (and, usually, providing way more flourescent than incandescent and halogen for work lighting.) It’s a hugely unnecessary draw on the electrical grid system we depend upon, and I say that if that’s what you want to do, then do it yourself by setting up solar and wind power on the building’s roof. I also say North America needs to develop a low-watt high-output incandescent, like they have in Europe, because incandescent bulbs provide pleasant light and it is not a negative loss of heat energy when they are used in winter. So: make all our buildings passive solar; get all employees into natural light (and alter the tempered window glass and turn off the lights at night to stop killing birds), and let some kinds of light such as reading and desk lamps produce heat when we need them. Because not only have our artificial lighting needs crept upwards, our assumptions about proper room temperature during the seasons has, too.
Working late is going to happen, but we need to eliminate shift work except for essential services (police, hospitals, hotel accommodation, limited transport and gas stations, emergency veterinarians, security). The health and social information about the detriments of nightshift work have long been in, and yet we still (jobs jobs jobs) allow it to go on. It is the implied agenda of the industrial design going into public and work spaces, setting the world alight on the dark side of the planet, killing billions of migrating birds, disturbing sleep and peace, implicating itself in cancer, increasing prescription drug use through these two effects, and making the streets more secure for illicit trade as much as for walking/bussing/driving home.
I reject the assumptions that we should have a 24/7 world. Every person I’ve heard “but we should” from is a dolt with a university degree, feeling that faster spending makes the world go round and with a sense of entitlement about shopping hours and how much urban activity should be available right outside their front door. If that sounds like you, question your assumptions and the imposition of your preferences, and even that “times have changed.” Times have always been that we have 18 hour days and some things will happen overnight. Try to imagine everyone having the same day off per week, or a level field in that one common social day off per week is taken. It is the presumption that everything should always be open, that “if I don’t do it someone else will,” that breaks down the fairness of a day of rest and increases our pressure on resources and each other. Imagine the benefits to society of it being built not for 24 hours, but a standard that takes full advantage of the day, and does not apply day standards to the night.