Home and Screen, Covid Routine

We live in a digital world. We were already rapidly cyberfying our lives, and the current crisis has just sped up the journey to our new lives in the Experience Machine. It feels safer to socialise and study and work from home. And now, the old conventions preventing us from fully immersing into the virtual world have been well and truly broken and fallen away.

Working and studying and attending appointments from home has been a welcome respite for many of those who live busy lives. Now you can pick up the kids straight after school (as long as you get back for a few hours more work in the evening that is). Now you can sleep in, roll out of bed, open your laptop and attend university lectures. You can buy and rent in a cheaper place, you don’t have to live near the Uni, or your job.

It feels great to be able to smash the rigid structure of the work week to better suit your life. Aren’t these things brave new technologies helpful and efficient? What’s the cost?

Part of the cost is the intrusion of work into ever-later hours of our day, and the effect that this has on sleep. This is a problem because…

The stimulated mind needs to unwind.

In the old days (good old days?, bad old days? Who can tell?), leaving work at 5-6pm gave your mind three to six hours of wind-down before bed. These hours might have been taken up by a stimulating TV show or trip to the gym. But every minute that passed after leaving work was another minute to reorient your neurons to an activity which was (usually) less high-stakes than your paid employment.

Jumping onto work after the kids go to bed does not give enough time to properly set yourself up for the deep relaxed state of pre-sleep. The blue light of screens stimulates melatonin. Our worries intrude into our mind. Stress hormones flood the circulatory system.

“Big deal”, you say, “I’ll never go back to 9-5, I have too much freedom this way!”

And I can’t argue with that. Except to say, yesterday’s freedoms have a nasty habit of becoming tomorrow’s oppressors. This is because…

Good individual decisions often lead to bad collective outcomes.

The freedom of the individual motor vehicle became the oppressor of heavy traffic and pollution. When one individual drives a car to work, she saves time. When 100,000 commuters drives a car to work, they collective lose time.

Another example comes from Elizabeth Warren, former democratic nominee for president, and her book The Two Income Trap, which she wrote with her daughter. The freedom women gained by joining the workforce allowed many individual families to make a little extra money to get ahead. But the extra money gained by the second income soon became watered down by increased housing and childcare costs (which went up as everyone got onboard). Before too long, the nice extra income, become an absolute necessity. Freedom again becoming oppressor.

And so, we’ll see what happens when we work/study predominantly from home. Maybe we’ll be expected to respond to work at all hours of the evening. Maybe we’ll be expected to use the “dead time” left over from commuting productively. Maybe our effort will be tracked more efficiently and ruthlessly via our remote workstations than it ever was by our warm, human boss.

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