Summer has ended and that means we’re in the thick of baseball playoffs and well into football season, with most taking place under artificial light. The first Major League baseball game played at night, under a lighted stadium took place in Cincinnati, at Crosley Field on May 24, 1935. The Reds beat the visiting Philadelphia Phillies and a new era in sporting events was born. Along with baseball, high school football games are typically played on Friday nights under the lights. There was even a movie and popular television show that co-opted the term – Friday Night Lights. The NFL regularly schedules professional games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights and NCAA football features numerous games on Saturday night. (Should Tuesday and Wednesday feel slighted?) Lighted fields are de rigureur. We might wonder, without light, would these games be as popular? Without popular nighttime competition, would we have fewer self-centered, millionaire, adult-teenagers? One thing is certain, it would be as smaller business.
Before electric lighting, people awoke with the sun and went to sleep at sunset. Work in the fields was impossible in the dark. Candles and fire could provide only a few additional hours of light, before prudence forced their being extinguished. Light substitutes were expensive. Tallow candles in 1880 cost 40¢ per 1000 lumen hours. A fluorescent lamp cost about $0.001 per 1000 lumen hours for the same amount of light. The kerosene required for three hours of light cost about one hour of a workers wage at the time, while today, one hour’s pay buys about 300 days of light.* Sure, baseball would be different, but home life would be equally affected.
Would there be positives to an absence of nighttime illumination? An agrarian economy would likely still exist, forcing most of us to heed the dictates of the sun. Dark nights and blue-rich, sun-filled days are exactly what our body wants and needs. This circadian balance would, with a few exceptions, end sleepless nights and insomnia. There is mounting evidence that cancer rates would be lowered as melatonin levels are no longer suppressed. Of course we’d all need to balance that against the grueling hours of backbreaking physical labor.
We are living in a bit of a lighting renaissance today. The engineers have abandoned 130 year old incandescent technology and continue to escalate improvements in LED. That has allowed designers to reimagine what light could be. Doctors and scientist are developing a better grasp on how light impacts humans (and animals and plants and sea life and….) Both will allow us to enjoy the advantages of light and avoid all of the bad parts light used to deliver.
So is there a happy medium between Laura Ingalls and Aldous Huxley? We are still a few years away from definitive directives on light from the scientific community, but the direction is becoming VERY clear. If we think about a time when farm families arose early, spent most of day out of doors and prepared for sleep around the reddish-amber color of firelight, the closer we can replicate that, the better off we will be today. Our bodies have not changed, the surroundings in which we place them have. In short, we need to consider attending more day-games and fewer nighttime gridiron matches. Despite its impact on team owners’ player’s and groupie’s pocketbooks.
*Steven Johnson, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World 2015.