According to the sociologist Murray Melbin, night is the last frontier and since the invention of artificial lighting we have colonised it in much the same way and in much the same spirit as the Americans colonised the West in the nineteenth century. Time is a dimension like space, says Melbin, and people have moved into the realm of night as the hours of daylight have become more congested. The first night people were like the trappers, hunters and drifters who went west ahead of the pioneers; they were misfits, solitaries, criminals, people who, for whatever reason, were uneasy with the straight world and had very little to lose. Then came the businessmen, the exploiters, who realised that, with the advent of gaslight, expensive machinery no longer had to lie idle for eight hours out of twenty-four, and factories could keep producing around the clock. Shift work brought other services in its wake: transport, eating places, bars and grocery stores. Gradually, as lighting improved, services expanded until now there is a whole afterhours community — everything from evening classes to supermarkets, night courts, discos and massage parlours, as well as a great army of maintenance people who service and repair the daytime world while its inhabitants sleep. The defence establishment, the financial markets, broadcasting, transport, communications now work on a 24-hour-day schedule. As Melbin sees it, night and day will soon be interchangeable; as we have transformed our environment, so we will transform ourselves — physically, socially and psychologically — to fit the new 24-hour cycle of work.
Night: Night Life, Night Language, Sleep, and Dreams (1995)