The lights are on but nobody’s home



This makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve been writing Future Files 2 from my home office for the last few months and things are going well. I can pick tomatoes from the greenhouse on the way to work and the office is full of natural light. Contrast this with the situation six months ago when the office was dark and I couldn’t seem to get anything done.

I read today that a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine says that working in a windowless, or dark, office can result in disturbed sleep patterns. Workers who sit close to a window, or other source of natural light, have better moods and more focus.

Prolonged lack of natural light can result in poor sleep, which is itself linked to obesity, diabetes and heart problems. Interestingly, positive effects are only achieved with exposure to daylight, which contains what’s known as blue light, and not with exposure to general office or household lighting, which does not.

Overall, my home office (the other one is on a ship in the Thames) is great for six months of the year (when it’s warm and light), but even then there’s something important that’s missing. It’s people. I think this is what the whole telecommuter, flexi-working, work anywhere you want thing misses and why it’s so hard to get a seat to drink your coffee in Starbucks – because the place is full of people working.

There are times when a lack of people is a really good thing. There are times when peace and quiet reign supreme. But at other times we need to interact with people, even if all we do is sit alongside someone and say nothing.



8 thoughts on “The lights are on but nobody’s home

  1. According to Da Vinci, the ideal creative space is a well-lit small room, solitude is preferable. He says that with each additional person in your space, you halve the degree to which you are actually with yourself. So I wonder just how much ‘work’ actually gets done in Starbuckland?

  2. You must be psychic – I was writing something on people ‘working’ in Starbucks yesterday!

  3. Hehe, synchronicity . . . . in fact the more I think about it, the idea of doing any ‘meaningfull work’ in a coffee house seems like a fantasy, unless the aim is merely to be ‘seen’ to be engaging in something quasi-hipsterish!

    I suspect it’s more about displaying a somewhat artificial ‘lifestyle facade’ rather than engaging in any meaningfull production. Perhaps I’m being too cynical!

  4. There’s a line I read recently (possibly from the French film Juliette) about people leading “vacuous lives with a sense of urgently”.

  5. OK, last comment. This is the bit from the new book. It may be edited out. We’ll see.

    I was in a coffee shop recently. I say coffee shop, but it was more of a substitute office. Power cables were strewn everywhere and almost everyone was on a phone or other mobile device. I’ve heard about the internet fuelling conformity and herd behaviour, but this was ridiculous. The atmosphere was both vacuous and urgent, which is an odd combination.

    Were they really thinking? Were they feeling the sensation of time pressing against their skin? Not as far as I could tell. They were all writing meaningless meeting notes or were glued to Facebook, Twitter and Instragam. Most seemed set on broadcast rather than receive and were engaged in what the informed and bewildered writer Christopher Lasch once described as “transcendental self-attention.”

  6. Christopher Lasch sounds about right.

    “This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the
    text is superseded.”

    The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond
    Alan Kirby

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