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Back in the Pleistocene, or at least pre-1800s, humans had a different kind of relationship with light. Nights were dark unless lit by fire — a very different quality of light than that of our digital age.
As the days get shorter and shorter in December, and the longest night of the year only five days away, we find ourselves bathed more frequently in the bright cold, bluish glow emitted from various technological devices. The eventual crescendoing of natural light is one of the best parts of this season, while the increase in electronic screen glow-time is the less welcome consequence of being able to keep the same screen schedules no matter the time of day or solar season. Many have suggested that exposure to certain spectrums of bright light can over-stimulate our senses, especially at times of day that our biological clocks expect us to be in darkness. When our eyes should be sending end of the day, “winding down” messages to our brains and nervous systems, they often aren’t. And this can disrupt deeply engrained circadian rhythms.
We recently had the pleasure of attending a class on lighting at the Brooklyn Brainery. And for more than two hours we received an incredibly in-depth introduction to the science of light; how to playfully surf the NYC electricity system during off-peak hours in order to pay the lowest rates (via timers and the modlet); and to how to use our cell phone to turn our lights and heat on and off even when we aren’t home.
The quickest adaptation we made as a result of our evening of light immersion was inspired by a side-note to the main program. A comment from an audience member introduced us all to F.lux, a free software application that “makes your computer screen look like the room you’re in, all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again.”
We quickly installed F.lux and have begun adjusting to the eerily calm, warm glow now beaming from our screens ever since. It takes some getting used to, but once you’ve made the switch, it’s jarring to see just how bright 6000 kelvins of “daylight” feels across your whole body when you’re sitting in a dark room. Light becomes a material force that undeniably shapes everything in the surrounding environment. The F.lux creators have posted a page of research documenting the health and cognitive effects of the blue screen at night, in case you want to learn more.
F.lux is literally synced to the sunrise and sunset, and self-adjusts based on the coordinates of your zip code. It can transition to “night” lighting gradually over an hour, or it can change in a quick 20 seconds at the moment the sun rises or sets at your location. You get to choose the degrees of nuance you want to experience. The application has several settings, allowing you to adjust night screens to match your home lighting and/or choose custom preferences that include “halogen,” “daylight,” “tungsten,” “candle,” and “fluorescent.”
We appreciate how suddenly our computers are signaling back to us an attentiveness to change that would otherwise be lost in the frozen pool of constant blue glow. The planet is moving and each day it presents a new and shifting rhythm of light. Suddenly, with this slight affordance, we can re-sync with deep evolutionary patterns and cosmological movements unfolding around us, while acknowledging the reality that we are biological-cosmological assemblages. What we do in response to experiencing the sun “rise” or “set” through a gradation of screen color day after day, is left up to us. We can simply enjoy the lowered sense of eye/brain stress immediately, or maybe we can be prompted to ask whether it’s time to get out from behind this screen and experience the sun-earth dance more frequently.
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