Dear Time: Would You Please Stop Being So Stupid?

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This is not me, but it could be. Thanks, stock photography.It doesn’t seem right that something as basic as time should be so annoying.

No, it’s not time itself that’s annoying. I’ve more or less made peace with the fact that it’s marching on. The thing that’s annoying is when the stupid time keeps changing.

In college, I appreciated that extra hour of sleep in the fall, even if I lost an hour in the spring. The longer it goes on, though, the more ridiculous it seems, this whole business of switching clocks twice a year.

Last week I left work in daylight; this week it’s pitch black at quitting time. I hear that the change is even more annoying when you’re working with children or animals who keep soldiering on, waking up at ungodly hours expecting breakfast. Even for those of us who can read clocks, it can take a bit of time to adjust. Giving billions of people jet lag twice a year is just silly. And, darn it, I like my evening light.

Time zones make it even worse. Sometimes I call people in the UK or Europe to interview them. They do daylight savings, too, but they don’t switch at the same time as us. For a week in the fall and a week in the spring, we’re only four hours apart behind Britain instead of the usual five. Great if you remember to check or if you let computers schedule your meetings for you. Less great if you don’t.

Basically, the entire world is a crazy patchwork of time zones and daylight savings. Want to know what time it is in Australia? Good luck. Nobody knows what time it is in Australia. We don’t even all operate on the same minutes; in Nepal right now, it’s 10 hours and 45 minutes later than it is in D.C.

Here’s a solution: We could all just agree to use UTC. (That’s the concept that has replaced Greenwich Mean Time. Right now, the UTC time is the same as the time in Greenwich. Most of the year, though, it’s not, because of daylight savings.) (Annoying.)

We could still live our lives based on the sun. Here on the East Coast, the 9-to-5 work day would become the 1400-to-2200 work day. Lunch would fall around 1700. On the west coast, they’d work 1100 to 1900. Primetime would start at 0100 (0000 Central).

If we all used UTC, you wouldn’t get confused about time when you have to change planes in Chicago. If you wanted to talk to someone in Australia, you’d just agree on a time. Although you’d probably have to check a chart anyway, to find out when people work in Australia.

Ok, there would be some complexities. Even if you could convince Nepal and Newfoundland to line up with everyone else’s minutes, there would be the problem of when a day ends. As I write this, at 7:30 p.m., it is already tomorrow in UTC. In Hawaii, the new calendar day would start at high noon. In Japan, the calendar would flip over when you got to the office. Would “see you tomorrow” change its meaning? Could it be Tuesday when you eat breakfast, but Wednesday when you eat dinner?

Fine. Forget it. That sounds worse than forgetting to reset my camera clock.

But wait! Maybe we could fix time zones in the U.S., at least. We could be like China: One nation, one time zone. This morning in Beijing, the sun rose at 6:45; tonight it sets a little after 5. In Xinjiang, much farther west, the sun didn’t rise until nearly 9, and will stay up until almost 7. A friend who lived in China and married a guy from Xinjiang reports that official businesses there run on Beijing time, and Han Chinese generally keep to Beijing time, but a lot of Uyghurs observe an unofficial time that’s two hours off Beijing time.

So we could end up with a situation where the time you think the meeting starts depends on your ethnic group, say, or where you come down on the culture wars.

Yikes.

I give up. Time zones are useful. But changing clocks is still stupid. Somebody should pick a time – daylight, standard, whatever – and we should stick to it.

Photo: stockyimages, Shutterstock

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5 thoughts on “Dear Time: Would You Please Stop Being So Stupid?

  1. I honestly like the idea of using UTC everywhere, exclusively. And the next calendar day starting while you, are for example, at work, shouldn’t be a problem because many people doing shifts are experiencing this already anyway. After all, “day” is simply* the next greater unit of measurement above “hour”, and no one complains when the clock switches to the next hour while they are working on something.

    (*Not really simple if you consider things like leap seconds, but in principle it is just a bigger unit.)

  2. The calendar date could change, but the day you’re calling it could stay the same? So right now it could be Wednesday Nov 5th 2014, but soon it could be Wednesday Nov 6th 2014, depending on your time zone. After all, we live with the fact that the days move round the dates as the years go on… That said, as I live in the UK it wouldn’t affect me much, good thing we invented time, eh?

  3. You could move to Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, or the Virgin Islands where they do not observe Daylight
    Savings Time!?
    Otherwise, you could petition your DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
    Although, good luck with that one!
    She is a non-voting Delegate both in Committees and on the Floor of the House!?

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