Getting up in the dark is one of the things I find hard about this part of the year. I’m invariably sluggish, rising at the call of the alarm clock, and reluctant to face a day that hasn’t really shown up yet. In summer, I become a much earlier riser, often active by six. It’s not about indolence or failure to be a morning person, my body resents getting up in the dark.
Of course this whole business of having to get up in the dark to go to work and school is relatively modern. Back before electricity, before gas lighting, and street lighting and the industrial revolution, people more usually got up with the light, because there wasn’t much point doing anything else. Only in emergencies or those few lines of work calling for overnight vigil, would people be getting up before the sun.
It’s a fine example of the double edged nature of progress. Yes, having energy for lighting makes it possible for us to do so much more. And what do we do? We work longer hours. We work night shifts. We haul reluctant teenagers up at times their bodies are especially clear just aren’t a good idea. We live by clock time and not by the inclinations of our own bodies.
If you don’t have modern artificial light, there’s not much work you can do in the near darkness of firelight, and you need good quality candles to be able to read, or do any of the more fiddly crafts. In the absence of light, winter evenings must have been a time of conversation, music, storytelling, or just gazing absently into the fire. Progress means we can now each sit in a brightly lit room and stare at the screen of our choice to find out what everyone else’s evening meal looked like. I’m not sure in what way this counts as progress, I am increasingly confident that we are no better off for these uses of our technologies.
This morning I had the luxury of being able to rise with the light. It creates a more relaxed pace. I work more effectively when I feel settled in myself, starting later can mean getting more done. However, our culture has little interest in effective work, or efficient, or clever work. What we celebrate is hard work and lots of it, where putting on the lights to work longer is simply the way it has to be. Where being ever less natural is seen as a virtue. These are things we need to be questioning.