Thursday, March 16, 2023

My Growing Hatred of Daylight Savings Time and Why We Should Eliminate Time Zones Altogether

As I write this at 7:30 in the morning,  I'm gulping coffee, trying to get awake.  I woke up a half hour ago, when it was still pitch dark outside.  My body was screaming at me to stay in bed, but I couldn't sleep any longer.  I had to get up to go to work.

Thank you daylight savings saving time.

Last Sunday at 2 am, we Hoosiers had to set our clock forward an hour so that, as Spring approaches, we will have an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day.  Of course that means one less hour of sunlight at the start of the day.  You can't magically create an extra hour of sunlight by adjusting the clock.

Several years ago when then Governor Mitch Daniels pushed for Indiana to observe daylight saving time, I never bought the claimed financial benefits of DST that he suggested.  Still, I was agnostic about the concept.  But in the years since the adoption of DST, I have grown to hate it.  My internal clock very much does not like it.  I am so tired of these groggy late winter, early spring mornings.  And I think it's a bit weird that the sun doesn't go down until 9:30 pm in the middle of the summer.   Seems unnatural.

I also question why Indiana is in the eastern time zone instead of the central.  Chicago is in the central time zone, while New York City is in the eastern.  Last time I consulted a map, Indiana is closer to Chicago than New York.

But I will go one step further.  Why do we need to have time zones at all?  The idea of time zones is that at noon, everyone, regardless of where they live, will have the sun (approximately) directly overhead.  Why is that important? 

Sir Sanford Fleming, a Canadian engineer, came up with the idea of time zones back in 1878.  His idea was to divide the world into 24 time zones, each 15 degrees of longitude apart.  That's because the Earth rotates 15 degrees every hour, or 360 degrees in 24 hours.

Fleming was trying to address the problem of "local time."  Communities were setting their time based on the sunlight, again with noon being the time when the sun was directly overhead.  Fleming noticed the problem of train passengers continually having to reset their watches as they traveled.

Well, you know what...155 years later, we are still having to reset our watches when we travel across time zones.  Fleming's innovation didn't change that.

Given our modern world, an era of instant communication and rapid travel, there is no longer any reason for the antiquated concept of time zones.  In fact, in an era of worldwide commerce, we'd be much better off with a universal clock, and in fact many professions use one - Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

When I bring the notion of everyone in the world being on the same time, people are baffled.  If under universal time, it is 8 a.m., then they'd have to go to work even if it's the middle of the night, right?  No, of course not.  Instead of adjusting the clock for the sunlight, let local businesses, schools, etc., adjust the hours they are open for the daylight hours in their area.

Of course, acceptance of this concept would be made easier by discarding a.m., p.m. in favor a of a 24 hour clock.

Andrew Kluth, writing for Bloomberg, seems to get what I'm talking about:

The whole notion of time zones rests on a fundamental delusion. It suggests that a number — seven, 12 or 21 — should tell us when to get up, eat lunch or go to bed. We should instead be taking our orders from the interplay of planetary rotation and circadian rhythm.

Hence the idea of transitioning to a simpler but superior system. It would combine one global time with several billion individual — and biological — times.

The single global time is necessary because the railways and telegraphs of the 19th century represented only the beta version of globalization, whereas our Zoom-and-Slack era is the real deal. That’s why pilots, who’d rather not crash in the multinational airspace, already use Coordinated Universal Time. It’s the successor to Greenwich Mean Time, but abbreviated UTC rather than CUT, to appease (whom else?) speakers of French.

We should all use UTC. Initially, this would be weird, even hilarious. New Yorkers would have to get used to having breakfast when the clock seems to say noon, Shanghainese when it shows midnight. But we’d quickly sort it out.

Tell me: At 70 degrees temperature, would you be comfortable, boiling or frozen dead? That rather depends on whether we’ve chosen Fahrenheit, Celsius or Kelvin, wouldn’t you agree? But the temperature hasn’t changed, and we know the one that feels right.

In the same way, after adopting UTC everywhere, we might also reconnect with natural time. We’d start listening to our bodies again, and associate different numbers with dawn, noon, night and so forth.

Better yet, almost all of us (except those along the longitude of London) would have to revisit our conventions — when school should start, when work should end, and so forth. This would force even bureaucracies to become temporarily flexible. School might start later to accommodate the patterns of teenage brains. Work should finish before dark, lest the blue light of our computers wake us and ruin our subsequent sleep.

Making time in one sense absolute — setting the clocks to the same number worldwide — would be efficient in our global economy. Leaving the interpretation of that number up to us could help re-synchronize us with natural light, aiding everything from digestion to sleep. Albert Einstein meant it differently, but in that most important sense, time really is relative. 

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