The Undark Night


Out here on the Cape, I'm reminded always of the existence of the moon and stars. The big skies and the distance from major cities brings them to the foreground of the night sky in ways you just don't see in D.C. It doesn't surprise me that some people have found sleep disorders emerging from urban mankind's banishment of the darkness of the night sky. From a 1996 Cullen Murphy article on modern sleep patterns:

...the implication of electricity in the sleep deficit seems hard to argue with. Whatever it is that we wish or are made to do--pursue leisure, earn a living--there are simply far more usable hours now in which to do it. Darkness was once an ocean into which our capacity to venture was greatly limited; now we are wresting vast areas of permanent lightness from the darkness, much the way the Dutch have wrested polders of dry land from the sea. So vast are these areas that in composite satellite photographs of the world at night the contours of civilization are clearly illuminated--the boundaries of continents, the metastases of cities. Even Wrigley Field, once a reliable pool of nocturnal darkness, would now show up seventeen nights during the baseball season.

In the United States at midnight more than five million people are at work at full-time jobs. Supermarkets, gas stations, copy shops--many of these never close. I know of a dentist in Ohio who decided to open an all-night clinic, and has had the last laugh on friends who believed that he would never get patients. The supply-side theory may not have worked in economics, but it has certainly worked with regard to light: the more we get, the more we find ways to put it to use. And, of course, the more we get, the more we distance ourselves from the basic diurnal rhythm in which our evolution occurred.