dynamic lighting vs. the compression of memory

I recently found some terrific design inspiration in a Lifehacker article titled “Why You Don’t Remember Your Commute” by Thorin Kklosowski.

In brief, the author describes how the brain writes new memories when encountering new activities or environments, effectively making the memories of those time periods seem longer and richer.  Conversely, when encountering repetitive, monotonous experiences, the brain doesn’t write new memories, making it feel as if that time has vanished, without you being conscious of it.

“…the longer it takes for our brain to process information, the longer the period of time feels. So, when the brain isn’t doing a lot of processing, like, say, on your commute to work that never changes, the time it took to do so doesn’t feel that long…the more attention we pay to an event, the longer the interval of time feels…”

Effectively, habitual occupancy in steady-state environments is wasting away the precious minutes of your life.  As the author states:

“…this explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older…why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass…”

This compression of “memory-time” during the routine experience of highly consistent environments helps ground my belief that dynamic lighting significantly enriches people’s lives.  Spending a day of your life in a horrible office cubicle — or classroom, hospital room, nursing-home, wherever — with steady-state & highly uniform lighting, droning acoustics and never-wavering air handling — and it feels painfully long as you suffer through it, but then like a completely empty experience once over.  Providing dramatic changes in the environment stimulates the brain to pay attention and to record memories.  That’s why you pay attention and enjoy theater productions, concerts, candlelit dinners, the course of daylight throughout the day, the change of the seasons — the delta change in experience is highly variable and quite stimulating to the brain.

My contention is that designers need to utilize the latest LED and control technologies, in combination with great daylight design, to create far more dramatic, dynamic change in lighting scenarios over the course of a day.  A convenient side-benefit of this should be energy savings:  Let’s use darkness to artfully stimulate people’s minds:  Don’t anesthetize them in perfectly uniform, glare-free, “comfortable” lighting.