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Short book, too long
on 11 July 2014
If, like me, you are a chronic insomniac, then it must have occurred to you, in the long watches of the sleepless night, that if sleep was on sale, you would buy it. The very ambiguous message of Jonathan Crary's book is that you probably soon will be able to - but it will have compulsory advertising content incorporated in it.
The book's basic argument, well expressed and supported by a great deal of evidence, is that sleep has always been an irritating anomaly for the capitalist system. Not only was it unproductive, it was also undisciplined and impossible to control. And for modern financial capitalism, the mere idea of a part of life that cannot be commercialized, bought and sold, is utterly unacceptable. And how do you commercialize the sleeping hours? Well you make people wake up at least once during the night to check their Facebook page, not because they have to, but because they have been trained to want to.
So far so good. The problem is that, to expand a very good pamphlet into a short book, the author has been obliged to include a whole lot of other reflections on modern technology and society. He has some interesting, if not very original, things to say, but it's obviously not an area where he is particularly knowledgeable or confident, and it shows.
Pity, really, because the underlying thesis is excellent, and deserves a wide audience.