The bedside story


Consider the bedside table, a modest domestic surface that nonetheless offers as concise a portrait of human aspirations, anxieties and appetites as one could hope for in 2013. It' s a mess.

Look at the tangle of electronics and other items that hums next to the head of David Rose, 46, a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab, as he sleeps. Rose, the inventor of what is known as "glanceable technology," which embeds digital interfaces in objects like light bulbs and cabinetry, has a Zeo sleep monitor; a Philips Sleep light; an iPhone; a wristwatch; and a few paperbacks. It' s all jammed onto the 18-by-24-inch landscapes of a pair of Ikea night stands that he and his wife have had for decades.

But it's the gear atop the night stand, and the attendant tangle, that is the real issue. Or, as Alexa Hampton, president of Mark Hampton, the interior design firm, said recently, the collision of "electronica and nostalgia" that occurs nightly on the bedside table is a challenge. Hampton keeps photographs of her family there, along with her iPad, her iPad Mini and her BlackBerry each with its own charger, as well as a riot of cosmetic equipment like tweezers, cuticle clippers and a magnifying mirror. All that, plus her eyeglasses and a stack of books, sits in a jumble on a silver tray.

"You can see it' s not simply a problem of technology," Hampton says.

But in the last half-decade, it is the addition of new technologies that has roiled this already crowded space. And designers and manufacturers are puzzling over how to mediate the mess.

Sleep surveys confirm the digital invasion of the bedroom. In the most recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to "sleep health", conducted in 2011, 72 per cent of respondents reported that they take their phone to bed with them; 49 per cent said they take a computer or tablet; and 13 per cent, an e-reader. In 2010, a Pew Research poll found that 90 per cent of those between 18 and 29 slept with their cellphones next to the bed.

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