Of all the dire harbingers of civilization’s end, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend that sent chills through me. Entitled When Life Begins at 5: A New Wake-Up Call, it describes a trend wherein Americans are getting up ever earlier (I’d link to the article, but it’s subscription-only).
By a wide variety of indicators, from electricity usage to water consumption, more U.S. households are starting their days before dawn. In the last six years, PJM Interconnection, which supplies electricity to more than 50 million people in 13 states, saw its largest uptick in usage between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., while in Atlanta, Southern Co.’s peak winter electricity usage shifted to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m. in 2003. Aqua America, a water supplier for 13 states, has seen everything from toilets to washing machines starting up earlier: The company’s booster pumps now kick into gear at 5:30 a.m. in Philadelphia instead of 6 a.m., providing 20% additional water pressure to meet higher demand.
I can see how the utility companies might be able to detect the shift in usage patterns. I’m curious to know how the water company knows whether I’m flushing a toilet, using a washing machine or giving my pet gorilla a high colonic enema (which he prefers in the evening, so I guess it’s moot).
The reason I regard this as a dire trend is because it moves in the opposite direction of my personal body rhythms: I’m a late-to-bed, late-to-rise person, and this is just the sort of shift in the cosmos that moves me into Darwin’s crosshairs. I’ve never been able to go to bed much before midnight and, though I’m not oblivious to the charms of rosy-fingered dawn, the concept to me is more of a geoplanetary theory than something humanly observable.
According to the article, many folks are rising earlier in response to traffic conditions in their areas, so that they can engage their morning commutes at less-congested times. As a Seattle resident, I can understand why one would make an extraordinary effort to avoid the mind-numbing gridlock that afflicts our area from at least 7 - 9 every morning. But, as with the sunrise, the possibility of unfettered commutes at 5:30 am is a merely theoretical concept. I find that the same off-peak dividend is available at 10 am and, since I run my own business, I simply never make appointments outside the house before then.
Others, however, have made the 5 am bugle call a lifestyle choice, a way to cordon off an hour or two of quality personal time. I guess “quality” is open to a wide swath of interpretation. Here are a few examples:
Videogame designer Frank Rogan used many techniques to train his body to ease into 6 a.m., the only time he can steal for himself. He’s experimented with a “dawn simulator” alarm clock that gradually illuminates the bedroom, searched for wake-up tips on the Internet and even forced himself to go to the gym, which he was appalled to find packed at 6 a.m. “It’s like these people are a different species,” says Mr. Rogan.
I would be more likely to go with the “Saturday Simulator” alarm clock. I’m totally down with his anthropological assessment, however.
Getting up earlier comes fairly easy to Chris Oberbeck — it’s his family that sometimes balks. The private-equity investor in Greenwich, Conn., says that between his 11 p.m. conference calls to India and an ever-buzzing BlackBerry, dawn is “the only shot we’ve got.” Among the new morning activities he’s lined up: family birthday parties with waffles instead of cake. But with four boys to drag out of bed, Mr. Oberbeck says rebellion is inevitable
The guy with the dawn birthday parties will be dead long before the first son reaches puberty. There are 4 chances a year to catch Dad from behind with a red-hot waffle iron. Even in the unlikely event of a conviction, juvie only lasts until you’re 18.
In Phoenix, Skydive Arizona has seen a spike in prework parachuting. “These are Type-A personalities — doctors, lawyers,” says jump coordinator Betsy Barnhouse. “Once they face their mortality in the morning, they can just walk through their day.”
I’ve always felt that the afternoon coffee break was the perfect time for a dive, a way to get a little kick-start after the pilot and I have overindulged in martini at lunch. I would just feel awful knowing that I’d pulled EMS, the NTSB and a reconstructive mortician out of bed at that ungodly hour. I used to disdain people who said that they hit the ground running in the morning as either liars or freaks. Now, that’s not even good enough - in Phoenix, at least, you’ve got to hit the ground screaming.
Now, don’t misinterpret the fact that I’m writing this at 3:30 am to mean that I’m getting with this program. My sleep pattern for the last year or more has been donut-like - with a hole in the middle somewhere between 2am and 4. I’ll be blissfully asleep again by the time these early-birds are up and about. They can have all the worms they want.