A dizzying number of trackers are available for health and lifestyle. Enthusiasts can now chart every calorie burned or consumed, have their genetics broken down and backdated for centuries, or follow their stress levels through a family holiday. But while our waking moments become ever more transparent, the one-third of our life spent asleep has remained off limits.
Throughout history, dreams have proved resistant to interrogation. It is not known why we sleep at all beyond a general need to recharge and avoid the negative consequences of not sleeping, while an explanation for the substance of dreams has proved even more elusive, still dominated by the theories of wish fulfillment espoused by Freud and Jung.
But now, digital innovations are picking up the challenge.
The Shadow app seeks to connect users with their dreams, and to make them sociable. Its first function is as an alarm clock that wakes the user gradually over up to 30 minutes, easing them into consciousness so as to preserve more of the dream state, rather than shattering it abruptly. Dream researchers estimate that 95% of dreams vanish upon awakening.
Once the user touches their phone it begins recording and invites them to share the still-fresh memories of the night, prompting them with questions. The input is scanned for keywords and patterns so that the user can build a picture of their experiences over time.
More ambitiously, their personal data is anonymized and sent with gender and geographic data to cloud servers in the hope of building a global dream database. In this social network people can compare and discuss their experiences, while trends can be identified and analyzed.
Scientific rigor is being applied to the project through specialists in psychology, neurology, sleep and behaviorism from leading academic institutions such as Harvard and Berkeley, who will analyze the data and contribute their findings. One study will assess environmental impact on dreams, whether through temperature or war