In Wall Street Journal article (which seems to have been trundled behind a pay wall) based on his book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkoff writes about how technology is changing our sense of time:

Present Shock“Thanks to the Internet, we travel more on business not less, we work at all hours on demand, and spend our free time answering email or tending to our social networks. Staring into screens, we are less attuned to light of day and the physiological rhythms of our housemates and co-workers.”

The appeal of technology is that it serves to extend and magnify our efforts.  The steam engine and mechanical loom allowed a few men do the work of hundreds; the car and airplane moved us further and faster than our feet could; the phonograph and telephone threw voices far beyond what our vocal chords could achieve.  Each of these is a remaking, an expansion of the self.  As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, though, technologies that amplify the person also amputate the person.  The steam engine severs work done from muscular effort, the car disconnects travel from the movement of our feet, and the phonograph spews sound independent of the voice that originally produced it .  So, too, with computers and the internet, which cut our activities off from the cycle of day and night.   Using these technologies, we seek to abolish the limits imposed on us by circadian rhythms.  As Rushkoff puts it:

“But too many of us also aspire to be ‘on’ at any time and to treat the various portions of the day as mere artifacts of a more primitive culture–the way we look at seemingly archaic blue laws requiring stores to close at least one day a week. We want all access, all the time, to everything–and to match this intensity and availability ourselves: citizens of the virtual city that never sleeps.”

Unhappy are those to whom God grants all their wishes, though.  Rushkoff’s article emphasizes the inefficiencies in this way of doing things; I’m more concerned about the human cost.  The Centers for Disease Control have called  insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic.”  A quarter of US adults get insufficient sleep at least half of the time.  In a survey of adults in 12 states, 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month, and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving.  The 24/7 self is bleary-eyed and nearly stuporous.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw our selves as a synthesis of opposites.  We are, he says, a combination of finitude and infinitude.  When we emphasize one and deny the other, we are in a state of despair.  To deny that we can only do so much and to think we can ignore the daily sleep-wake cycle is to fall into the despair of infinitude, in which we imagine ourselves as being without limits. This is a dangerous illusion, though. Though our technology may be ever expanding, our abilities aren’t.  That being the case, let’s shut down computers/tablets/phones at night and get some sleep.