It’s 5:15 in the morning, the sun is still in search of the horizon and I am at my computer writing a post about time. Why am I not still in bed with the cat purring contentedly at my side? Is there something wrong with me?
Actually, no. There’s something wrong with the world outside and I know what it is. It’s the return to standard time that occurred in the US a week ago. It only takes a minute to change our clocks, but the body takes its own sweet time adapting to the change.
Sadly, the world is tilted on its axis. So as it makes its year long journey around the sun, the amount of daylight that falls upon any portion of the earth changes. This variation creates our seasons, regiments the growth of our crops and effects our sleep cycles. By nature, we like to go to bed when the sun sets and get up when it rises in the morning. At least that’s the way it was before the invention of candles and lanterns and electric lights allowed us to make productive use of the dark.
Originally in America, every community set its own time. Noon was generally considered to occur when the sun was highest in the sky. So, if it was 10:00 o’clock in Philadelphia, it might be only 9:30 in Altoona and 8:57 in Pittsburgh. People were just fine with that until the railroads came along. Suddenly, it was vitally important to know what time it was all across the country. You couldn’t tell people in Topeka the Pacific Flyer would arrive at 9 am if they didn’t know when 9 in the morning was, exactly. So, we decided to regulate time all across the country for the convenience of having accurate train schedules. By so doing, we unwittingly agreed to let technology disturb the natural rhythms of daily life that had served us well for thousands of years.
The idea of daylight savings has been around for more than 200 years. Most of the countries of the world have adopted it at one time or another. It’s proponents like that it adds an hour of sunlight to the end of the day, providing us with extra daylight to spend in recreation and family activities after the work day is done. In the US, it has been touted as a way to save electricity and help farmers gather their crops.
Oddly, the ancient Romans dealt with the changing pattern of light and dark during the year by adjusting their water clocks to vary the length of the hours in a day. That way, every day had exactly 12 hours of sunlight, but an hour in winter contained only 44 minutes while hours in the summer were 75 minutes long. Damn clever, those Romans.
The Russians refuse to employ daylight savings time because they think all that wrenching of time forward and back is bad for people’s health. My old Irish grandfather agreed with them. He refused to go along with all this daylight savings nonsense and kept the clocks in his house on standard time, which he called “sun time”, all year long. His only concession was a small clock set to daylight savings time on top of the television. He didn’t want to miss his favorite programs!
Recently technology has wrought other changes in how people around the world lead their lives. The digital age and the internet have brought us the concept of commerce that goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without fail. 24/7 has crept into our vocabulary, and because of it, young people in Spain have abandoned the centuries old tradition of the afternoon siesta. The world of commerce simply does not permit them to be non-productive for a portion of every business day. People in India arise at midnight to staff the call centers and help desks that we in America take for granted will be there when we need them.
Am I making too much out of this time change thing? Maybe I should just accept it and move on. But then again, maybe the change should provoke some deeper thought about the concept of time and how it impacts our lives. A wise person once asked, “Why do we save money but waste time?” After all, we can always get more money somehow but can never, ever get more time. Something to think about, perhaps, while there is still time!