Today, I read the final chapter of Roger Ekirch's book At Day's Close titled, "Cock-Crow." In it, Ekirch brings together his main ideas, as any good conclusion will do, and gives us a few consequences of our ever-illuminated society.
Beneficially, with a light-saturated nightscape, "reason and skepticism triumphed over magic and superstition" (325). Rather than fearing ghouls, ghosties and witches, we began to look at the night as an extension of day - a time when we could go for night walks and entertain. Gone were the days when we believed night air to be toxic (can you imagine?).
Enter the days of gas lamps and organized metropolitan police. Ekirch reports that in order to combat night attacks from persons with devious intentions, "First in Westminster, then elsewhere, partrols grew more regimented, more numerous, and more aggressive, ultimately culminating in the creation in 1829 of the Metropolitan Police, followed several years later by parliamentary authorization for provincial police" (332). I found this very hard to believe, since the existence of police goes much further back in time than 1829, but here, Ekirch is apparently talking about a specific police force. Eventually though, people came to think of street lamps a a means of surveillance, and in times of turmoil and revolt, they would destroy the glass and break the poles - a symbolic gesture as much as a tactical one.
Most affectual however, is Ekirch's claim that by losing the night, we are somehow losing a bit of ourselves: "With the transition to a new pattern of slumber, at once consolidated and more compressed, increasing numbers lost touch with their dreams and, as a consequence, a traditional avenue to their deepest emotions" (335). And several pages later, Ekirch writes, "truly a twenty-four/seven society in which traditional phases of time, from morning to midnight, have lost their original identities" (339). As I have conducted this experiment, I have come to think that maybe Ekirch has a point. I'm not sure I agree with him in a lost of 'original identity' - who could ever say what that is? - but I do agree that I feel much more in touch with my individual self - my self apart from the bustle of societal pressures and guidelines. I still am unable to tell whether or not my dreams are more vivid when I sleep in segments, but this may be due to the fact that my dreams have always been vivid.
Someone asked me (in jest) whether or not our movement out of segmented sleep counts as evolution - clearly it wasn't an evolutionary move, as people changed to seamless sleep in their own singular lifetimes, but did they lose their identities in some way? I don't think so - I envision identity to be akin to matter - it doesn't ever disappear - it just changes into something else.