Night modes and the new hue of our screens

Information & Culture just published (paywall; or free pre-print) an article I wrote about “night modes,” in which I try to untangle the history of light, screens, sleep loss, and circadian research. If we navigate our lives enmeshed with technologies and their attendant harms, I wanted to know how we make sense of our orientation to the things that prevent harm. To think, in other words, of the constellation of people and things that are meant to ward off, prevent, stave off, or otherwise mitigate the endemic effects of using technology.

If you’re not familiar with “night modes”: in recent years, hardware manufacturers and software companies have introduced new device modes that shift the color temperature of screens during evening hours. To put it another way: your phone turns orange at night now. Perhaps you already use f.lux, or Apple’s “Night Shift,” or “Twilight” for Android.

All of these software interventions come as responses to the belief that untimely light exposure closer to bedtime will result in less sleep or a less restful sleep. Research into human circadian rhythms has had a powerful influence on how we think and talk about healthy technology use. And recent discoveries in the human response to light, as you’ll learn in the article, are based on a tiny subset of blind persons who lack rods and cones. As such, it’s part of a longer history of using research on persons with disabilities to shape and optimize communication technologies – a historical pattern that the media and disability studies scholar, Mara Mills, has documented throughout her career.

 apple night shift

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Journal articles that change how you think

Today I was running a seminar at the MIT Center for Civic Media on the journal article as form: its affordances and limitations. We talked about the shifts in how academics reach audiences, as well as the economic, political and institutional forces that surround journal publishing. Out of curiosity, I asked on Twitter about people’s favourite journal articles – what were the ones that changed your thinking? It became such a great list that I wanted to share it with everyone, in case you also find some gems you haven’t read before. As for me, I’d have to say a very influential one is Paolo Virno’s “Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus.” It’s in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (1996): 189-210;  or you can read it online here.

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