Much like the rest of Singapore, I’ve spent most of the last 2.5 months at home, adjusting to a new and indefinite normal. I’ve been struck by how stressful managing both time and space becomes when one seems to stretch on forever (time) and another becomes impossible to negotiate out further (space). No one can really go anywhere, and whole families are essentially stuck in varying levels of conflict that need to be immediately diffused in order for anyone to get anything done.
I stay home with a retired father and a homemaker mother, and our best bet at avoiding conflict comes from giving each other “time to space” – to sit in the study alone, quietly, reading a book; to go for a walk alone; to make coffee without having to tiptoe around someone else making cookies; to potter around the pantry without having to speak to anyone, after a Zoom meeting, call or long email correspondence; to watch TV with the volume on high, at 11 at night. We probably don’t actually give each other much time or space, but we certainly know what it would look like.
Something else that emerges out of this collapsing of space within what seems like limitless time is that everyone is more aware of what everyone else is using, if only because you want to use it too – the kettle, the oven, the airconditioner (too cold! Too hot!) the lights, from waking up, to preparing and eating lunch and watching Netflix in the middle of the night, all of us become witnesses to our family’s “energy lives” in their entirety, without the interruptions that transit, offices and going out cause. The stray toilet light left on becomes even more annoying when you’re witness to a house that never switches off.
I have read that some homes become “slower” as a result of lockdown. The changing day/night, light/dark rhythms of everyday is bringing about new patterns of behaviour, cultivating periods of higher and lower energy use. Instead of waking up at 6 AM and switching on the lights, new schedules meant I was free to wake at 2 PM, switching on fewer lights generally as the house was already brightened by the afternoon. Eating all meals at home and never buying coffee from outside meant stoves, kettles, coffee machines were all regularly used throughout the day. Late starts to the day also meant that the house was most active – lights on, air conditioning on, TV on – at night, often till the early hours of the morning. It wasn’t so much a perceived drop in activity that changed the tempo of the house. Instead, it was the increasing uncertainty of things outside that resulted in some days speeding up, and others slowing down.
Covid-19 has brought about many changes to everyday life. New patterns of behaviour, powered by the appliances that fuel our bright and cool rooms, both lead and respond to new kinds of lives and energy use. Daily cycles of light and night change as we develop schedules that no longer require the usual 9-5 structure to work. This is important because it shows the flexibility of structures we previously thought would last forever. Time can change and the speed of our lives can change. More importantly, what this could mean for renewable energy is that the way we plan for alternative energy futures can now align more creatively and radically with the ways in which we’ve been able to imagine it happening – the limit simply does not exist where we previously thought it did.
Nurul Amillin Hussain