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Student life at the University of Edinburgh now and then turns up some quirky little social-media knick-knack. @edisleepzzz is a new Instagram account that had started posting on 31 October. It shares images of students who have been snapped sleeping in public places around the university. To date, there are twenty images. If a student is lucky they will have been photographed slumped forward with their face buried in their desk, a sleep position that renders them largely anonymous. The unlucky ones are leaning back, noses up, and fully identifiable.

There are only photos so far. With some people, eighty per cent of their sleep is the snoring, but @edisleepzzz has not yet featured a video with the unearthly audio of the almighty snorer.

@edisleepzzz would probably say that they are a platform rather than a publisher. If you see somebody who is asleep on campus, you are meant to tiptoe around them, get as close to them as is humanly possible, take the most vivid photograph that you can, and then message it in. There is no apparent reward for a photograph, merely the same satisfaction that, say, a hunter might experience after bagging a pheasant. You have been lucky enough to get a good shot.

There is certainly a thrilling quality to these images, because the students who are being photographed could jolt awake at any moment. They would look up and straight into the eyes of the perfect stranger who was lurking over them. They would demand an explanation. There might be punches thrown and noses broken. On their side, @edisleepzzz state that, “If you need us to take down a picture of you, just dm! ;)”           

If @edisleepzzz ever got into trouble with what they are doing, they might insist that they are providing a useful educational incentive. If you are a student and you go early to bed, after a single half pint of weak shandy, then you will not suffer the ignominy of appearing on this platform the next afternoon. @edisleepzzz thus fits into Edinburgh University in more or less the same punitive place that the stocks or the scarlet letter had fitted into previous societies.

I find @edisleepzzz very frightening because when I was a student I had fallen asleep in all sorts of unlikely locations, including and outwith all of the lecture halls and microlabs that feature on their page. I once fell asleep on a sofa at a flat party holding a full glass of red wine in my outstretched hand. A group of partygoers had responsibly gathered but none of them had been able to prise the glass out of my fingers. I once fell asleep in the jazz bar on Chambers Street, head back and directly facing the live band. I suppose I could say that I had slept with hundreds of people as a student. If @edisleepzzz had existed back then I wouldn’t have made a cameo appearance. Instead, it would have been more like Hamlet, with me as the Prince.

It is indeed very lucky that nobody has ever thought of setting up a sleep-shaming account at the Edinburgh Fringe. I had used to fall asleep routinely at theatres across the Fringe and then refer to this damningly in my consequent reviews, as if this was somehow evidence of negligence on the part of the performers. To be a theatre critic who has been photographed asleep during performances on multiple occasions is probably, however, an untenable position to hold over the long term.

Yet the paranoia with @edisleepzzz cuts both ways. At one point the accountholder admits that, “I’m Questing [sic] the realness of this sleep… Pls no fake sleeps on my page 😪. ” Of course, it is impossible to tell from a photograph whether anybody is really asleep or not. All of these sleeps are unreadable and some are feasibly staged, by people who reckon that they can eke out a kind of meagre local celebrity from appearing on the account.

I have previously used the term “anonymous” but I find myself asking whether anybody really possesses any identity when they are asleep. The sleeper is always hauntingly blank, with their body now reduced to a coat that their mind has discarded. Whereas on Insta people will typically pose for the camera, freezing their bodies into a jarringly unnatural grinning teapot, @edisleepzzz locates the opposite extreme. Bodies flop meaninglessly, without any personality.

I am reminded a little of the fairytale “Sleeping Beauty.” On @edisleepzz we might be walking through an enchanted university where everybody is magically unconscious. If we keep going we will get to the very top of the David Hume Tower, where the princess lies waiting for the spell to be broken. Once the spell is broken, all of the photos on @edisleepzzz will show people glaring groggily at the camera.

[Previously on Tychy: “The Meaning and Significance of Theatre Ghosts.”]