Time Measurement Should be Scientific. Instead, it’s a Global Hodge-Podge.
“What time is it?” may turn out to be more of a trick question than one might think.
For quite a while, the world, for the most part, had a pretty good approach towards time. Ground Zero for time keeping was set up at Greenwich, England. Twenty-four one-hour time bands spread out from there around the world. These matched the 24-hour cycle in the dance between the Earth and the Sun.
Simple, right? But of course, we could not leave well enough alone. Everyone started messing with time keeping. All sorts of political, economic, and other reasons popped up. In an era of the Global Village, this mess makes no sense. I for one vote for a cleaner, more accurate and as universal as possible time keeping system.
For a period in my life, I frequently travelled internationally. I had phone conferences around the globe. Lately I do much less of this, but still have conference calls across time zones. For one who engages much of the world in these ways, the time systems are obviously a mess.
But even those who stay close to home should know that variable time zones affect even the homebody. Airlines, trains, all sorts of movement are at risk. All because someone missed a time change or made the change in the wrong direction. I know I have showed up at church an hour early and at a restaurant an hour late more than once in my life. I bet you have, too.
How big a muddle do we have? Let’s take a look:
- Most of North America and Europe practice daylight saving time (DST). That bit of uniformity went by the wayside when the US Congress, having given the matter several minutes of consideration, changed the US start and stop times for DST from the dates used by most of the rest of the world.
- Some of the Middle East uses DST, some of it does not. Most of Africa and Asia do not. South America is a mixed bag.
- In the US, it is up to the states, although they need congressional permission to make a change. At one point in our history, Iowa alone had 23 different time zones. Even the corn got confused.
- Today, all US states have DST, except Hawaii and Arizona. Those two already have plenty of sunshine, thank you very much. Oh, except the parts of Arizona controlled by the Navajo nation – they use DST. Indiana used two zones over DST. They finally agreed to one system, under DST in 2006.
- California voted to go to permanent DST. Their legislature still has to vote on it, then Congress has to give permission. Florida has been waiting on permission to do this for some time. No decision yet.
- Over 20 states are considering either permanent DST or opting out altogether. Alaska, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts seem furthest along in this process. Much of Western Europe is on track to phase out DST completely in a few years.
- China, to ensure all citizens had a daily reminder of who is in charge, set the whole country to Beijing time. We were in China recently. It felt weird that it could be pitch dark outside your window at 9:00 AM. All because some bureaucrat decided this was 9:00 AM everywhere.
Having millions of people jump ahead or back an hour twice a year is more than an inconvenience. A lot of people have sleep problems after the change. Accidents, heart attacks, missed travel connections and more are well documented. The idea that this saves energy has is a marginal proposition at best. Why are we doing this again?
And so, dear reader, a modest proposal. Let’s keep Greenwich as the center line, for old times’ sake. Everyone else take a number based on where we are in the natural 24-hour cycle. Let’s work through the UN and regional organizations to beat the drum for this approach. Set it up everywhere we can. Then leave it alone.
No fiddling, no fudging. Live with what Nature provides and quit trying to cheat on time. Life will be simpler and more honest.
No more Spring Forward and Fall Back. Instead, Set Your Watch and Forget About It.
I like the sound of that.
A Footnote on the last blog, about Veterans Day:Thanks to all who sent emails of private reflections and remembrances. These are always welcome.
I encourage you to use the comment box in this blog – I wish others could enjoy your comments as I have. Don’t be shy! What you have to say has merit and power.
If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:
(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here.
(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts. Let’s grow our circle.