24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep
When I close my laptop, it goes to sleep. It’s a curiously domestic metaphor but it also implies that sleep in humans and other animals is just a kind of low-power standby mode. (Do computers dream of electric sleep?) Last year, Apple announced a twist on this idea: a new feature for the Mac operating system called “Power Nap”. Using Power Nap, your computer can do important things even while asleep, receiving updates and performing backups.
The name Power Nap comes from the term describing the thrusting executive’s purported ability to catch a restorative forty winks in 20 minutes but the functioning of Apple’s feature symbolically implies a yet more ultra-modern and frankly inhuman aspiration: to be “productive” even while dozing. It is the uncanny technological embodiment of the dream most blatantly sold to us by those work-from-home scams online, which promise that you can “make money even while you sleep”.
Sleep, indeed, is a standing affront to capitalism. That is the argument of Jonathan Crary’s provocative and fascinating essay, which takes “24/7” as a spectral umbrella term for round-the-clock consumption and production in today’s world. The human power nap is a macho response to what Crary notes is the alarming shrinkage of sleep in modernity. “The average North American adult now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night,” he observes, which is “an erosion from eight hours a generation ago” and “ten hours in the early 20th century”.
Back in 1996, Stanley Coren’s book Sleep Thieves blamed insufficient rest for industrial disasters such as the Chernobyl meltdown. Crary is worried about the encroachment on sleep because it represents one of the last remaining zones of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity. Isn’t it quite disgusting that, as he notices, public benches are now deliberately engineered to prevent human beings from sleeping on them?
While Apple-branded machines that take working Power Naps are figured as a more efficient species of people, people themselves are increasingly represented as apparatuses to be acted on by machines. Take the popular internet parlance of getting “eyeballs”, which means reaching an audience. “The term ‘eyeballs’ for the site of control,” Crary writes, “repositions human vision as a motor activity that can be subjected to external direction or stimuli … The eye is dislodged from the realm of optics and made into an intermediary element of a circuit whose end result is always a motor response of the body to electronic solicitation.”
You can’t get more “eyeballs” if the people to whose brains the eyeballs are physically connected are asleep. Hence the interest – currently military; before long surely commercial, too – in removing our need for sleep with drugs or other modifications. Then we would be more like efficient machines, able to “interact” with (or labour among) electronic media all day and all night. (It is strange, once you think about it, that the phrase “He’s a machine” is now supposed to be a compliment in the sporting arena and the workplace.)
Crary’s denunciation of the 24/7 world’s saturation in web-enabled media results in some splendid formulations – such as when he argues that activists who organise on the internet “voluntarily kettle themselves in cyberspace, where state surveillance, sabotage and manipulation are far easier than in lived communities”.
It also tempts him into some portentous exaggeration. He claims, for instance, that “wireless technologies” have accomplished an “annihilation of the singularity of place and event”. (Radical thinkers often seem to take pleasure in noticing some putative extreme violence in cultural change.)
There is an unfortunate passage arguing that our age has universally dulled everyone’s faculties – except, implicitly, those of the percipient critic: “24/7 is part of an immense incapacitation of visual experience,” Crary declares. “The contingency and variability of the visible world are no longer accessible.” Really, to no one? What’s more, he writes: “Contrary to many claims, there is an ongoing diminution of mental and perceptual capabilities rather than their expansion or modulation.” To this sentence is appended no footnote offering evidence.
Despite such rhetorical surfeit, Crary’s book is, on the whole, a humane and bracingly splenetic counterblast, with a lot of interesting micro-theses along the way. (Forget the heavy breathing of the celebrants of gadgets and networks; according to Crary, “the most important techniques invented in the last 150 years” are “the various systems for the management and control of human beings”.)
Into the baleful realm of 24/7 he draws, too, the diagnostic inflation of the pharmaceutical industry (always “discovering” new mental disorders for which it solicitously offers new pills), the pseudo-mandatory self-fashioning of social media and what he sardonically calls “the absolute abdication of responsibility for living” represented by all those bestselling “bucket-list” books that instruct us on “the 1,000 movies to see before we die”.
For him, the antidote to all of that is sleep and also its cousin daydream or “reverie”. At the end of the book, Crary waxes poetic about this and laments that few people these days besides New Agers are interested in their dreams. Crary complains that films such as The Matrix portray societies of sleepers as inert and duped and so work as propaganda for 24/7. So, too, he argues, do films such as Inception, in portraying dreams as, in essence, like movies: in theory, commodifiable and “sharable”.
After finishing this book, I had a dystopian nightmare. One day, through clever magnetic stimulation of the brain, it might be possible to insert adverts into our dreams. You could even volunteer to have them interpolated into your sleeping life in exchange for money. (“My dream last night was sponsored by Facebook and Walkers Crisps.”) If that day ever comes, we won’t be safe anywhere – even in the arms of Morpheus.
By DAVID BROOKS
NY Times Published: September 10, 2012
You’re probably aware of the basic trends. The financial rewards to education have increased over the past few decades, but men failed to get the memo.
In elementary and high school, male academic performance is lagging. Boys earn three-quarters of the D’s and F’s. By college, men are clearly behind. Only 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to men, along with 40 percent of master’s degrees.
Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent. In Friday’s jobs report, male labor force participation reached an all-time low.
Millions of men are collecting disability. Even many of those who do have a job are doing poorly. According to Michael Greenstone of the Hamilton Project, annual earnings for median prime-age males have dropped by 28 percent over the past 40 years.
Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.
Over the years, many of us have embraced a certain theory to explain men’s economic decline. It is that the information-age economy rewards traits that, for neurological and cultural reasons, women are more likely to possess.
To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks.
But, in her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.
Rosin reports from working-class Alabama. The women she meets are flooding into new jobs and new opportunities — going back to college, pursuing new careers. The men are waiting around for the jobs that left and are never coming back. They are strangely immune to new options. In the Auburn-Opelika region, the median female income is 140 percent of the median male income.
Rosin also reports from college campuses where women are pioneering new social arrangements. The usual story is that men are exploiting the new campus hookup culture in order to get plenty of sex without romantic commitments. Rosin argues that, in fact, women support the hookup culture. It allows them to have sex and fun without any time-consuming distractions from their careers. Like new immigrants, women are desperate to rise, and they embrace social and sexual rules that give them the freedom to focus on their professional lives.
Rosin is not saying that women are winners in a global gender war or that they are doing super simply because men are doing worse. She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men. There’s a lot of evidence to support her case.
A study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that small businesses owned by women outperformed male-owned small businesses during the last recession. In finance, women who switch firms are more likely to see their performance improve, whereas men are more likely to see theirs decline. There’s even evidence that women are better able to adjust to divorce. Today, more women than men see their incomes rise by 25 percent after a marital breakup.
Forty years ago, men and women adhered to certain ideologies, what it meant to be a man or a woman. Young women today, Rosin argues, are more like clean slates, having abandoned both feminist and prefeminist preconceptions. Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and their movement.
If she’s right, then men will have to be less like Achilles, imposing their will on the world, and more like Odysseus, the crafty, many-sided sojourner. They’ll have to acknowledge that they are strangers in a strange land.
This bad article, nicely rebutted by John Gruber, uses a common argument against Apple: that, inevitably, other hardware manufacturers will figure out why Apple products are so popular, create their own good-enough copies, sell them for much less money, and relegate Apple to the same level of market obscurity that they held with Macs in the 1990s.
People also often apply variants of this theory when guessing how other huge players such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon will fare when pitting similar products against Apple’s. For instance, Microsoft has effectively infinite money and overwhelming dominance in many software markets. Google has effectively infinite web traffic. Amazon is ruthlessly efficient to sell and ship products at lower prices than nearly anyone.
But all of the money, web traffic, and cheap cardboard boxes in the world can’t buy two huge factors that contribute to Apple’s modern success: time and taste.
Time is twofold: nobody can time-travel to launch a product in the past, and nobody can change how they’ve allocated their time in the past.
No matter how much money Microsoft pours into Windows Phone 7, for example, they can’t travel back in time to 2007 when its limited feature-set and almost nonexistent software library could be more competitive.
And no matter how much Samsung, HTC, Amazon, or Google want to offer high-quality platform software, rich app ecosystems, and well-stocked digital media stores (except Amazon), they can’t change their unfortunate history of minimal investments in these areas over the years.
The iPhone and iPad were built on years of work, experience, relationships, and reputation. There’s a lot more software than hardware in these products. It wasn’t enough to just glue a glass screen to a battery and use an off-the-shelf OS — any hardware manufacturer could have done that. (And indeed, they since have, with some success in phones and little success in tablets.)
Most people don’t have great taste. (And they don’t care, so it doesn’t matter to them.) They usually like tasteful, well-designed products, but often don’t recognize why, or care more about other factors when making buying decisions.
People who naturally recognize tasteful, well-designed products are a small subset of the population. But people who can create them are a much smaller subset.
Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership. If it’s not, great taste can’t guide product decisions, and great designers leave.
No amount of money, and no small amount of time, can buy taste.
Improving poor taste in upper leadership is almost as difficult as treating severe paranoia: people who don’t value taste and design will rarely recognize these shortcomings or seek to improve them. With very few exceptions, companies that put out tasteless, poorly designed products will usually never change course.
Anyone who wants to compete well against Apple is going to need good taste at the top and deep-rooted design values throughout the company.
The web needs another irrelevant little blog like a collective hole in its head, to take up space on some server-farm in some backwater quietly whirring away consuming unjustifiable amounts of non-renewable energy just so someone fortunate enough to have a computer can waste their time reading this post and for a split second share a neurons worth of empathy.. what am i trying to say? That reality is what you can get away with, and while we all outwardly express that we want to make the world a cliche ‘better place’ we inwardly have few motivations to do so other than to look after our own interests, there are levels of power in the casino economy that will never be reconciled and while the status-quo has seen many a uprising and revolution through history, it has never been toppled -nor will be. So re-use your plastic bage, recycle your rubbish and make polite dinner conversation about how we need to save the world -but remeber there’s fuck all you can do about it -your just along for the ride..