Bad Kissingen appears to be like any other small resort town in Barvaria. With a population of 20,000 it is sizable and almost impossible to imagine that all of its residents are the subject of tinkering chronobiologists. Chronobiologists study the cyclical phenomena in living organisms, and their adaptations to solar and lunar related rhythms. Although not necessarily focused on sleep alone, Chronobiologists also investigate other biological rhythms, development, reproduction, ecology, and evolution among others.
Okay, so what does this have to do with Bad Kissingen? Well, Thomas Kantermann wrote a book called, "Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World" , which has some petty interesting ideas about sleep. A team of scientists and Kantermann are conducting a civic experiment with the goal of promoting optimal sleep. Kantermann has nicknamed the city "Chrono City".
But, how can someone monitor, analyze, and improve an entire town's sleep? Well, residents of the town are first equipped with a wearable devices with a sophisticated app that tracks sleep in relation to a wide array of waking variables, from diet to social activities. According to the scientists the goal is to gather "significant insights into the interactions between chronobiology and the manifold structures of the society....[and then] to design innovative and directly applicable solutions" to sleep issues.
So we answered, what and how...but what about why? Well Kantermann and his team would then analyze the collected data to make important decisions based on our cyclical time - like when school starts or work ends. In fact, there have even been talks about rigging the town's light or handing out "intelligent alarm clocks" (whatever those are).
Although this project is still underway, it is a massive undertaking that I believe will allow them to make interesting conclusions about how we structure our lives, especially when one considers we spend 1/3 of it asleep.
However, this strange experiment is not without its hurdles. Benjamin Reiss, a writer for Popular Science, doubts how useful these conclusions will be, and how effective the changes made because of them will be. He further explains that he thinks they are fixing a, for lack of a better metaphor, broken system with broken tools. The inclusion of alarm clocks, no matter how smart they may be, is one thing that broke the sleep cycle in he first place. Not to mention the use of all-seeing screens, mountains of data, and even apps concerned with productivity.
Personally, when i first began reading about Kantermann and his ideas i found them enchanting. However, Reiss brings up important points - won't all this new data and tracking lead to stress and concern about how one's data is being produced....thus leading to negatively affected sleep schedules.
I still stick with what I said earlier in this post - hat I believe i will allow them to make interesting conclusions about how we structure our lives. I remain wary of how the data has the potential to be skewed due to added stress/general weirdness and what tools they would use to improve it. However, if everyone consents...why not find out more about sleep and cycle?
The above picture is from Flickr user Maria Morri and is liscensed under creative commons 2.0.