Work, Sleep, and Accessibility

Here’s what was important this week…

I went home sick yesterday. Even though it is a good decision for my health, I still felt bad leaving work. Often I feel like I might be more productive though, working different hours, or even less hours. Other countries allow for leisure time throughout the work day, like a two hour long extended lunch. America, despite the increasing efficiencies produced by a continuing offloading of human work to machines (computers, robots, mechanization), seems destined (doomed?) to continue down the habitual path of an 8-hour work day (with potential for more work or availability, depending on the profession).

This article from 2010 points out that Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed—this isn’t likely to change:

“the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.”

As the New Statesman has pointed out more recently, workers should exercise the right to be lazy, as the Cult of Hard Work is Counter-Productive.

“We are everywhere enjoined to work harder, faster and for longer – not only in our jobs but also in our leisure time. The rationale for this frantic grind is one of the great unquestioned virtues of our age: “productivity”.”

However, if you take a little time out from your work to check Twitter, zone out, or play a game online, you don’t have to feel that guilty, because “People who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are about 9 percent more productive than those who don’t.” There is, in fact, a way to waste time properly.

Not only can this pervasivity of a hard-working ethic be harmful, but the New Statesman asserts that “Our world has become an ambient factory from which there is no visible exit and there exists an industry of self-help technologies devoted to teaching us how to be happy workers.“

At the very least, our society continually values productivity over sleep. This is especially notable in “startup culture” in Silicon Valley, which practically fetishizes the incessant dedication of an employee that works while they sleep.

Indeed, for that industry, “Sleep only postpones the future and all the productivity it could hold.” But as this Forbes essay continues to argue, this sleep deprivation is producing a high failure rate of startups:

“Could it be that the myth of the obsessive careerist whose dedication to work follows him to bed every night is actually a grand farce of worst practices and general dysfunction? It may be that accepting the normalcy of non-stop work is encouraging a culture of unusually bad thinking, painstakingly propped up by those charged with turning thought into real product.”

The rediscovery of the importance of sleep, one could call it.

yea but sleep tho

This has been studied a bit more increasingly, in a new field called chronobiology. I first learned about it by reading Douglas Rushkoff’s book Present Shock, and this review in the Rumpus details the concept as he illustrates it:

“Chronobiology, a buzz word term for a science not yet fully developed, studies the impact of trying to live our circadian cycles in a 24/7 world. Rushkoff uses the very real syndrome of jet lag as an example of the physiological effects of digital time exceeding our biological parameters. No matter how fast the machines around us move, we’re still built for a world that turns on seasons and the movement of prey — at least for now.”

One town in Germany, Bad Kissingen, is going so far as to actually design their town around sleep schedules, to the point of collecting the townspeoples’ “chronotypes” and use that information to reformulate school hours, among other systems.

Having spent a few years in the workforce now, I’ve realized that I work better when I get to sleep in later and stay up later, but standard hours are standard hours. Having a set schedule, does help, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if, say, more restaurants were open past 9 or 10 to accommodate people who go to bed later (probably wouldn’t happen unless more people were able to sleep in later…)

Museums are a cultural institution. A destination when on vacation. A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Inaccessible to many with limited abilities. But that has been changing. A Dallas art museum has been making efforts to be more inclusive to the low-vision community. But “The museum doesn’t want its outreach to the low-vision community to be in the form of exclusive activities or hours; instead, it hopes to attract a range of learning styles.” And it’s having the desired effect. As museum’s education director, Carmen Smith, describes, “A lot of our national inclination when we describe a work of art is to leap right into what the work is about and what it means instead of telling someone what it looks like and letting them make their own interpretation.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC is also joining forces with Parsons the New School for Art and Design to discover new ways to improve accessibility in museums. Just like the Dallas program, many of the results are beneficial to people beyond the disabled, such as an app that lets you create your own route through a museum based on the art that you want to see. This allows people with low-mobility to conserve their energy while still seeing all the art they want to see, but would also allow busy people to make more use of a tight museum schedule while traveling. (Of course, wandering is not to be discounted in value!)

Even as museums make more of an effort to be accessible, there is still work to be done in presentation of some art. As recounted in a blog post by museum two:

 “I remember a photography exhibition in Boston where one photograph of three young ballerinas was labeled with their names. A second image, of three ballerinas with Down Syndrome, were labeled with their difference. The message, when museums produce targeted campaigns or events or exhibitions for non-white audiences is: we acknowledge you as others in our midst. Not as humans, or artists, or scientists, or dancers. As others."

Libraries also make efforts to improve accessibility, (and they are also cultural institutions devoted to learning, much like museums). As this tumblr post describes in detail, little things like an automated hold system that places all holds in a central pickup location allow for “one-stop-librarying” for not just low-mobility patrons, but anyone with a library card. Again, another benefit that makes a huge difference for people with low-mobility that is beneficial to everyone that uses the library.

One designer is making significant effort to bring the inaccessibility of places to the attention of able-bodied people. One of her projects, a portable ramp, is great for use in “older cities, like Boston and New York. Many storefronts have a single step separating their entrance from street level, and though the ADA doesn’t require any accommodation, that step can be a significant obstacle to anyone in a wheelchair. Or, for that matter, anyone with a stroller, or a walker, or crutches, or a heavy suitcase, or a cart with a delivery to make.” It’s a wonder that inaccessible places are so common, because the changes and efforts made to improve accessibility not only allow a disenfranchised population to gain access to so many great resources, but the everyday life of everyone becomes a little bit simpler.

This week’s music recommendation is Zella Day with her song 1965.

Thanks for reading!