SUNDAY TRIBUNE: 8 MAY 2005


After midnight



It's well after midnight at the end of an evening that tried it's best to be balmy. Everything is still. Emails drop into the inbox, messages from those who are wide awake in America. New York in particular, a city that views sleeping as the enemy.

More and more people around the world are apparently going to bed later than before. That's according to a global survey on sleep habits released recently by ACNeilsen.

It found that 32% of Europeans and 34% of Americans are not usually asleep until after midnight. In the Asia-Pacific region it was 40%. The same region also scored high on early rising, with 91% of Indonesians getting up before 7am.

Of course the finger is being pointed at the consequences of modern technology, but a glance back at the past shows it wasn't much better. Burning oil at midnight or both ends of a candle couldn't have been good for personal health and safety.

So what is keeping people awake? Could the machines have anything to do with it? Well they might, if raging against them counts.

Professor Kent Norman conducted an online survey last year to research anger and frustration caused by computers. Among the things that brought the red mist down were problems with email, having to wait for the computer to finish a simple task and having to upgrade obsolete software.

When glitches happen, the outcomes are not pretty. "I often show my PC the middle finger", was one response. "I'll admit it, I'm always swearing at my computer", was another. One person described taking a hockey stick to an old monitor as "very satisfying".

Being America there was the obligatory "I once shot a computer with .50cal BMG super rifle". Another took a stepped approach: "I often just squeeze my mouse real hard when I'm angry at something on the computer. Then when I'm more angry, I start smashing it on the table".

The best though was the manager of a restaurant who was "so frustrated that my laptop was going so slow, I threw it into a fryer", which he had to replace.

Professor Kent, a psychologist, believes that "computer rage is becoming a big problem in our world today" and warns of the dangers of misdirected and inappropriate behaviour, such as taking anger out on a spouse.

On the other side of the world, though, another machine has been developed to tip the scales towards beleaguered spouses.

Spanish designer Pep Torres was approached by a washing machine manufacturer to come up with a novel Father's Day gift. He designed a washing machine called 'Your Turn', which won't let the same person use it twice in a row.

"I thought it would be good to finish with macho man from the ice age who doesn't do anything around the house except drink beers", Torres told the BBC. 'Your Turn' has a sensor which registers fingerprints. The machine will only start if a different finger is placed on it each time.

"Spain is changing a lot and I wanted to come up with an invention to enable men to do more around the home", Torres said.

In England, Nik Roope also decided to do something about people shirking their responsibilities. "There are those who willingly accept their tea-making duties and those that don't", Roope told Wired.com. "There are also those who, like a child, mess up the order so as to not be asked again. Some people are very determined not to make tea".

He was equally determined to put an end to this and created Teabuddy.com where he declares: "Everything you need is here - to keep track of who made the last round of tea, how long it is since someone made their last round, and perhaps most important of all - to nail the tea-slackers!"

Stuart Payne, who runs NiceCupOfTeaAndASit Down.com is not so sure. "Call me old fashioned", he said "but asking someone across the office 'Would you like a cuppa?' seems to work fine".

It's tempting to blame a computerised world for keeping people up late, but it's more than likely the tea.