Is sleeping a form of public communication? I wouldn't think so, but lately I've noticed a lot of snoozing going on at public policy meetings, which makes me wonder whether, by keeping my eyes wide open, I've missed a trend.
Recently I was at a state public utilities commission workshop. The topic was tedious: a presentation of California's possible energy futures, which focused not on an array of colorful Future Shock-style possibilities, but on the statistical methods driving the predictions being presented.
During a pause in the proceedings, I glanced to my left. A row behind me a fellow's head was in his bent arm, his eyes closed. To my right; a guy was slumped in his chair, chin to his chest, his eyelids fluttering like he was enjoying REM sleep. At the podium the speaker didn't seem to notice that he'd lost a chunk of his audience to dreamland.
Maybe the sleepers were practicing a New Age method, the speaker's words seeping into their brain in an extra way. Or perhaps they weren't sleeping at all, but engaged in Supreme Court-style extra vigilance, their eyes ready to snap open to make a pithy point. I heard a noise to my left: the guy with his head in his hands had started to softly snore.
I've always thought sleeping in public to be the ultimate transgression, not as bad as relieving oneself on the carpet, but close. The kids at school who folded their arms and laid down their head on their desk were always in trouble. And anyways, weren't the people at the workshop being paid to be there, in which case they were sleep-stealing?
Then it dawned on me. They weren't so much sleeping as practicing a sophisticated performance art cum advocacy position. Dozing represented a protest against the slow process by which change occurs, mimicking the greater public, who themselves slept as a myriad of environmental and energy-related threats born down on them, their eyes closed to ecosystem destruction and climate change.
I shifted in my seat to get more comfortable, and let my eyelids drift gently downward. Next time I'll bring a pillow.
With a Perspective, I'm Steven Moss.
Steven Moss is an energy consultant living in San Francisco.