Papa Rules

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Ernest Hemingway

If you’ve been a follower of Typewriter Review, then you’ll know that I’ve long railed against the computer as tool for composition. When you turn off the switch and turn onto the typewriter, something happens in your brain, that magic spark, a subtle shift in the way words and phrases begin to appear on the page. In fact, it might be startling at first, as if an unseen force is exerting a weird form of mind control. Don’t fret, amigo, it’s all good. It’s your natural voice emerging from the clutter, awakened from a long slumber. The thing that’s responsible for all the confusion, the dark cloud that has muddled your thoughts and stymied your true voice, yep — you guessed it, that digital demon.

Nothing new here, right?

I don’t normally pay attention to the scientificos, but there’s emerging evidence [1,2] from our team in the white lab coats that harmful rays bombard us from these wonders of productivity. I usually don’t ascribe much to double-blind placebo induced studies, since there’s loads of confounding factors that often throw dispersion on even the best intentions. But when your own experience corroborates the findings, you take notice.

If you’ve run with the Windows PC crowd, then you might remember a phenomenon called The Blue Screen of Death. This happens when you boot your machine and the operating system fails to launch. All you get is a blue screen with scary hexadecimal error codes. Muerte.

This should’ve have served as an omen. But your addicted self called The Geek Squad, who reinstalled the OS and you went along your merry way, unaware that the problem wasn’t really fixed. While The Blue Screen of Death is not as prevalent in crashing your computer, it crashes your brain. It’s now called blue light and it’s coming from your computer monitor.

Researchers now tell us blue light inhibits the production of melatonin molecules. Well regulated melatonin is crucial to sleep. No problem, right? Inject loads of caffeine and you’re good to go! Not so fast, Speed Racer. As the Hemingway quote suggests, he left a bit undone at the end of the day, that way he’d be primed for the next round.

And perhaps you’ve felt the same thing. While you’re sleeping, your muse is busy mulling, tweaking, inventing and creating new ideas in your noggin. If you’re never fully asleep, your writing will never fully wake up. You might be getting stuff down on the page, but it’s flat, generic and struggles to express itself. Your willpower suffers. You distract easily. Your writing sputters in fits and starts. And the sad thing is, you’ve been unaware that your creative juices have been sapped by this seemingly benign contraption. Before you reach for the off button, read on, there’s help!

Because, face it, you have to have it. You might even have an evil overlord who forces you to stare at the blue screen of death eight hours a day. If you’ve followed this blue light story in the news, you might’ve been told that you should eliminate screen time for an hour prior to slumber. But who can follow this advice? To keep you comfortably glued to your smartphone, you might have a nighttime mode setting that’ll reduce the harmful spectrum of light. But what about your computer monitor?

Since you’re not a worker drone, you’re the creative type, you need to regenerate your melatonin to max levels and whatever other juices are also being suppressed. And before you pop a bottle of melatonin tabs and call it good, it’s not the same as the home grown stuff your body produces. No, the only solution is to block the blue. Fortunately for us, George Ure, a regular follower of TR has found the antidote!

After struggling with his own vision problems, Ure came across software that’ll adjust the color spectrum of your screen as daylight dims. F.lux is a freebie and its website is full of useful information. [3] The other is called Iris, which offers a free “lite” version in addition to the “pro” version for ten bucks. The Iris author gave a TED talk on this topic. [4,5] Both programs work on Windows, MacOS and Linux.

I’ve been using F.lux with great results. It determines your geospatial coordinates and automatically sets a recommended color restriction schedule based on current daylight and when you normally wake up. You can tweak as you go and temporarily disable if you need to view true colors. If you’re a gamer, you can set it to auto disable on full-screen. There is a bit of a graphics and battery drain with the app on, so if your FPS lags, quit from F.lux and resume the action. But be warned: the further you go into the dark with a full-spectrum blast, the more likely you’re inhibiting the Mr. Sandman from sprinkling his magic sleepy potion.

If you insist on tapping the keyboard into the night, set your muse free, block the blue! Or if you’re brave, go for the digital detox, light some candles, drag out the typewriter and see where your writing leads you.

  1. Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047226/)
  2. Protecting the Melatonin Rhythm through Circadian Healthy Light Exposure (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284776/pdf/ijms-15-23448.pdf)
  3. F.lux (https://justgetflux.com)
  4. How Technology is Killing our Eyes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN30fO2I2aU)
  5. Iris (https://iristech.co)

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4 comments

  1. I have Flux on my computer and whole-heartedly believe in what blue light does to one’s sleep. I’ve had a long history of sleeping problems, from being sensitive to light and full-on apnea (that thankfully faded with weight loss and corrective surgery to open the nasal passages). I have set Flux to dim my screen around 6-7pm, well before bedtime. I still take melatonin in small doses to help get to sleep faster, and while this combination doesn’t always give me a perfect night, I have noticed that eliminating blue light from my screen helps be feel sleepy when I should. The long-term effects on human health are only now beginning to be measured, and there’s a mountain of evidence that it’s also wrecking havoc in nature.

    I found this quote from an Arthur C. Clarke story “The Road to the Sea” published in the 1950s:

    “There was no night and little sleep in the valley. High above the trees a row of artificial suns burned with a steady, blue-white brilliance, banishing the stars and the darkness and throwing into chaos the natural routine of all the wild creatures for miles around.”

  2. this is all so true–and real!
    great information here–arguably lifechanging (or shall we say, ‘returning’ life–and creativity, energy and focus–to where it ‘used’ to be and wants to be naturally)

    also, let me report that i have been using the FLUX download for a few years now, and can’t rave enough about it–a God send…..very recently, they did a major upgrade to the program and the quality of filters/technology etc., and it’s simply wonderful—

    but here’s my addition to the topic; i use it, slid to it’s ‘almost’ strongest filter setting, 24 hours a day—-by using FLUX, all day, during daylight in the room, my eye strain by the time evening comes is next to nil…and the night time use of the filter is just that much more ‘icing on the cake,’ and leaves you that much more ‘healed’ by the time you want to sleep—-in short–i can’t even look at the screen–day OR night–unless this FLUX system is on in full force—-working with their new upgraded technology (a slider affair, amongst other things), you’ll quickly see how to set it to go around the clock nice and ambery gold (take the time to get used to this drastic look…(you’ll soon LOVE it!)
    PS–although it’s a free download–after a few years, i felt so guilty freeloading that i made a $10 donation–hey, it’s the thought that counts—they have a convenient “donate” button…

  3. My writing space for the last five years has been a Motorhome. No internet and not power. I use a Hermes Baby and a battered Lettera 22 I inherited forty years ago. My Motorhome was christened with the name. Hemingway. It is a moveable feast.

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