Vehicle designers at London's Royal College of Art have unveiled prototypes of futuristic "autonomous cars" that will permit their drivers (if that's still the right word) to work, relax -- and even sleep.
The Guardian's Sam Wolfson trials a new app that enables random strangers to provide wake-up calls for one another. The logic is that a brief conversation with an unfamiliar person is likely to provide more "mental engagement" than the average alarm clock, and thus prevent people from slipping back into snooze mode.
From n+1 magazine, a fascinating piece on the "relentless acceleration" of modern life. Drawing on Hartmut Rosa's concept of "social acceleration", it ponders the paradox that the widespread availability of labour-saving devices in the modern world has coincided with the perception that we have less time to ourselves than ever before. "The feeling comes about", it is explained, "because the variety of social experiences available is ceaselessly proliferating: the number of things you might be able to do becomes impossibly large, and expands every day with implacable speed". Technology thus seems to save time with one hand even as it steals it with the other. But where is sleep in all of this? No mention is made of slumber in the n+1 article, but if we follow its logic then we might speculate that we enjoy less sleep nowadays not because we have less free time, but because the notion that there are other things to do than sleep -- better things to do than sleep -- has never been broadcast more enticingly or insistently through our waking lives.
An article on the latest wireless sleep-montoring gadget, the "Sense", which not only tracks sleep also enables users to correlate their sleeping patterns with changes in ambient noise, light, temperature and humidity.
In a fascinating article for Aeon magazine, Jessa Gamble takes a surprisingly upbeat look at the array of sleep-enhancing, sleep-curtailing and sleep-eliminating technologies that are currently being developed by scientists, the military and commercially-minded "techno-pioneers". The latest tools for mastering somnolence include the "Somneo Sleep Trainer" mask, which screens out ambient noise and carries a heating element around the eyes; "transcranial direct-current stimulation" (tDCS) technology, which combats insomnia but also helps to consolidate sleep; and "transcranial magnetic stimulation" (TMS), which may be able to "launch us into deep sleep at the flick of a switch." Should we welcome this brave new world of sleep-conquering gadgetry? Gamble certainly thinks so. "[A] life lived at 150% may be within our grasp," she concludes. "Are we brave enough to choose it?"
One notable casualty of the recent 6.0 magnitude earthquake in northern California, which struck at 3.20am on 24 August, was the sleep of residents in the vicinity of the epicentre in Napa County. Extrapolating from data collected by Californians wearing activity trackers, scientists have estimated that over one million hours of sleep were lost in Napa alone.
Sleeping Time is an online application that gives the approximate sleeping schedule of Twitter users, basing its calculations on their periods of downtime from the social networking site. A quick survey of some notable tweeters reveals that Barack Obama's sleep schedule is 1am-8am, Oprah Winfrey's is 12am-7am, whilst the Dalai Lama's is 9pm-5am. Are these approximations at all accurate? There's really no way of knowing, and in any case It probably doesn't matter. What's intriguing about the site is not the information -- or conjecture -- it contains, but rather the assumption underpinning it, which is that social networking now pervades our lives to the extent that "being on Twitter" has become synonymous with "being awake". If we are not tweeting (or Facebooking, or GooglePlusing) then we are "asleep" socially, if not biologically. Also intriguing is the question of whether high-profile Twitter users are at all conscious of the story that their online behaviour tells about their (virtual) sleeping habits. Given that the online presence of eminent politicians and celebrities is presumably managed and scripted by teams of proxies, it would be interesting to know how much thought these ghostwriters give to scripting an appropriate virtual "sleep life" for their illustrious employers. To take the examples given above, Obama's sleeping hours seem broadly appropriate for America's commander-in-chief. As for the Dalai Lama, his early bedtime is very much in keeping with his status as the world's most famous ascetic -- but it's good to see that he enjoys a full eight hours like the rest of us.
Google Naps is a new crowd-sourced application that enables users to share recommendations for favourite sleeping spots in their areas. The app is the brainchild of the Dutch creative agencies Kakhiel and Venour, who describe it as an affectionate "parody" of Google Maps. Whether Google Maps will tolerate the existence of this cheeky impersonator remains to be seen, but it is nevertheless tempting to discern, in Kakhiel and Venour's mischievous project, some of the possibilities that there might be for harnessing digital technology to the pleasures of sleep rather than the demands of hyper-alert productivity.
An article in The New Yorker about a phone app designed to record and archive the dreams of people across the globe. Says Hunter Lee Soik, the app's creator, "We feel this is a huge data set that is literally forgotten every night if it's not written out."