To counter the tone of my recent postings about hardship, I would like to rant and ramble lightheartedly to ridiculously about how we express time.
This past weekend the USA ended it's annual observance of Daylight Saving Time, apparently one week after most of the observant northern hemisphere. Many rumors run rampant in our intellectual garden about why we ever started this time of shifting daylight. The one that I hear the most is about farmers, as though they were somehow so disconnected from nature (like us city folk spreading the rumor) that they needed a clock to tell them when there was enough light to work the fields. Wikipedia, on the other hand, credits Daylight Saving Time to George Vernon Hudson, who apparently just wanted more daylight after his shift job to collect insects. The further explanation of its implementation in the United Statesis a bit more practical:
During World War I, in an effort to conserve fuel, Germany began observing DST on May 1, 1916. As the war progressed, the rest of Europe adopted DST. The plan was not formally adopted in the United States until the Standard Time Act of March 19, 1918, which established standard time zones and set summer DST to begin on March 31, 1918. The idea was unpopular, however, and Congress abolished DST after the war, overriding President Woodrow Wilson's veto. DST became a local option and was observed in some states until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round DST, called "War Time", on February 9, 1942. It lasted until the last Sunday in September 1945.
Now, you can ask yourself "Why did they change the clocks, instead of their schedules?" as I have been asking for years, or you can just accept that it happened, and move on to fixing it. While we're ending Daylight Saving Time, let's all resolve to not start it again.
If you communicate across state lines, you may have stumbled on the few areas that do not observe DST, or partially observe DST. Feeling good about your ability to translate times across timezones then making the mistaken assumption that someone does observe DST just once can teach a lifelong habit of asking "Do you observe Daylight Saving Time?" This is a frustrating (and ironic) waste of time. It gets even worse when one communicates across national borders with the addition of "and has DST started yet where you are?"
While this tedium may seem like small potatoes, it is also low hanging fruit (to mix a metaphor) that we could easily harvest by collectively deciding to leave the clocks alone, and let noon happen at noon. You might say, "but we like the extra light hour after work, let's just keep DST year-round." I have a better idea: change bank hours from 9am-5pm to 8am-4pm. All the business that depend on the banks will shift their hours, and all the business that depend on them will also. Suddenly, we all have an extra hour of daylight after work, get to get up in the dark, and didn't have to change every clock in the country to do it!
While we're ending DST, there is another point of practicality I would like to address: a 12-hour clock in a 24-hour day. Is there a modern, practical benefit to dividing the day into ante meridiem and post meridiem? Or is it just because it was cheaper to make 12-hour clocks, 500 years ago? The 12-hour clock is so confusing and cumbersome to communicate around that professional fields where clear communication is essential, such as military, medical, and scientific communities, express time on a 24-hour clock. If the 24-hour clock is the clock of choice when it matters, why are the rest of us still fumbling with the 12-hour clock? I, for one, am tired of asking "Is that AM or PM?" Let us, therefore, adopt the 24-hour clock and banish AM/PM to the history books. No more should it pollute our speech!
This question is essential in my place of work. We have over 700 clients in six timezones. When a client asks us to do a thing at "4 o'clock," knowing the timezone is the difference between success and failure; going home on time, and working late. Our staff do what they can to record and track each client's time zone, but with so many, similar names, and new clients added every week, this question comes up often. Worse yet, are the times the question is missed. Our non-emergency support hours are 09:00-21:00. Occasionally a client will call one of our staff at the very reasonable hour of 8 o'clock ... PM ... Pacific Time; only to say "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were on Eastern Time! Go back to sleep!" Of course, if it were an emergency, we would handle it at any hour, but when it's just a confusion about timezones, I can't help but think of how to prevent it.
Let's end timezones. Why not? China did. Would that mean that people on one end of the country would have to get up before dawn while the other end slept in til solar noon? No, of course not. I'm just talking about clearing up communication. When someone says "15 o'clock," it would mean the same thing to everyone, across the country. When interstate businesses schedule a call for "16 o'clock" no one has to ask "Is that your time, or my time?" People would still go to work when they go to work, banks would still open when they open, but instead of calling it 09:00 Eastern, 09:00 Central, 09:00 Mountain, and 09:00 Pacific, we could call it (for example) 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, and 11:00.
Let's get crazy for a moment. Let's get global. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. What if it were "universally" (globally) used? We east-coasters could sleep in til 12:00, and open our banks at 14:00. On the west coast, the banks would open at 17:00. If this seems odd, it's probably just because we're used to our local timezones. Or, because you realized the banks could close at 01:00...
But at least when they schedule an online meeting with someone on the opposite coast they don't have to ask: "Do you observe DST? AM or PM? Your time or my time? And what timezone are you in?"
Great! I've got one last treat for you! Why does our clock depict 24 hours per day/night cycle? Because a long-gone civilization counted in base 12, that's why. So, now that we have a global standard of measurements for so many things in base 10, why do we still have 12 hour days and 12 hour nights?
Presumably asking that same question in the late 18th century Joseph Louis Lagrange proposed a decimal time system with the names déci-jour and centi-jour (deciday and centiday in English) for 1/10 and 1/100 of a day. About two hundred years later I independently had the same idea. Admittedly, the idea is similar to Swatch Internet Time, a system of dividing a day into 1000 equal parts called ".beats". Swatch decided to center its time standard on their local timezone, UTC+1, instead of the "universal" UTC.
I remember when I first heard of .beats, I thought it was an odd idea. I didn't like it. Eventually, while considering all the things I described here, I decided it actually makes more sense than our current 24:60:60 time standard. A day has 86,400 seconds, making a milliday, or .beat, 86.4 seconds -- about a minute and a half. This is a very workable unit of time, being so similar to one we already use, and based on powers of ten like the rest of our world's measuring systems. If expressed without their timezone offset, that is according to the same solar day as UTC, it could become a new global standard on the order of SI units for other measurements.
Next let's fix the Gregorian Calendar!