Live blog, TEDxColumbus

Randy Nelson – Live Blog

2011 TEDxColumbus

Where we live now, where information is everywhere on bright screens and illuminated spaces and continuous 24-hour cycles of this just in and here’s where I’m at and here’s what I’m thinking, darkness, both as a trope and as an environmental circumstance, is diluted.  Even the bleakest circumstances, deep in a cave with a dimming headlamp and a backpack abandoned miles back, the iPhone can shine the way back to civilization … or, in this case, back to where your ten-year-old son and his friends and their parents are waiting for you to catch up. Such was Randy Nelson’s moment of dual discovery, shared as the opener to his talk about light and night and when, exactly, those two got so entangled. Before he remembered he had his iPhone tucked safely inside an interior pocket when he was underground in that cave, Randy spent time in the dark. In the real dark. The first darkness he’s ever felt incapable of changing through illumination.

I recently – finally – hung curtains in my bedroom, a room where the glorious beacon that is a Broad Street street lamp shown through thick and thin and darkness. I felt better. And that, Randy shows through experiments with mice and changing how much time they spend in the dark, made my glucose levels, my happy hormones, and my actual brain structure better.  Our circadian rhythms are being disrupted, which impedes our normal homeostasis-supporting body systems. Would Randy have been better without the iPhone and its light in that dark cave? Maybe not. Would we be better without them, would we be better left behind in the dark more? Yes.

Only in the last 130 years have we had artificial light. Billions of years passed where there was clear day and clear night (clearly delineated, I mean … weather can only be good for so long, a reality slowing sinking in to me this chilly early morning). How did the mice in the studies Randy reviewed get better? They were allowed to spend more time in the dark. Literally. That’s all it took. Two weeks of steady, regular nighttime dark. They lost weight, they were more active, and they were happier.

I’ve always liked the comment that goes “well, the light’s on but nobody’s home” (clarification: I like saying it, not necessarily having it said of me). Now I like it even more, and I want it applied to me. When the light’s are on at night, we shouldn’t feel ‘at home’ in them. We should buy those blackout curtains, abandon fashion sense and put on those sleep masks, and work to create a more energy efficient life. We’ll be happy. The next time I find myself in the dark, I’ll let it sink it and work its magic.