Daylight Saving Time renews an old debate
The Short Version
You’re going to lose an hour of sleep tonight, no matter when you go to bed. That semi-annual ritual known as Daylight Saving Time rears its ugly head again tonight, stealing an hour from us in the middle of the night, waking us before we’re ready in the morning. For those who still have manual watches and clocks, as I do, it means re-setting everything before you go to bed. Failure to comply means you’re late for everything on Sunday. Resistance is pointless.
Messing With TimeI moved to Indiana in April, 2005, a year before this state began observing Daylight Saving Time. The experience was rather surreal because where Indiana sits on the globe makes it extremely susceptible to messing around with time. For most of the summer, I had workable light by 6:00 AM. I could schedule a shoot call time for 4:30, be ready to start shooting as the sun came up, getting in that wonderful morning light, and be completely done before most people even arrived at work. On one hand, it was glorious. I loved getting photos in the can so early. At the same time, though, it made the days feel impossibly long. There was still sunlight at 9:00 PM despite the fact that the state was still on standard time. Summer days in Indiana last forever whether one messes with the time or not.
Twice a year we enter into this all-too-brief an argument as to whether this exercise in time manipulation is necessary. Everyone in North America, Iceland, and Western Europe participates in this time warp. Governments say it saves energy, but those claims are dubious at best. The actual percentage of savings is like 0.03% and is offset by the fact we do more running around and keep air conditioning running longer. Roughly 44% of Americans are in favor of it, but 40% are against it and 15% don’t care. Sounds like how we’re split on just about every other issue on the planet, doesn’t it?
What amazes me, though, is that we spend all this time and energy worrying about something that doesn’t actually exist. Time is a totally human construct that, while based on naturally occurring events, is itself quite unnatural. Hours, minutes, days, weeks, months, and years all exist only for humans. Animals, especially those in the wild, have no concept of time. Fish don’t feel years go past. Lions note changes in seasonal migration patterns and adjust their hunting accordingly, but you don’t see them carrying around day planners scheduling when the next herd of Impala are expected to run through their territory. Time is make believe. Time is a socially-induced alternative reality designed to keep us in line with authoritarian mandates of when we should or should not participate in certain activities. Ignoring time is anti-social and socially disruptive.
Consider, for example, what would happen if you showed up at the front door of your favorite restaurant shortly after sunrise and demanded to see their dinner menu. Unless you prefer the greasy-spoon setting of a 24-hour diner, one is not likely to be greeted with warm enthusiasm. They are going to tell you that you are too early. The restaurant is not open because no one eats dinner at sunrise.
Inversely, we all know the panic of rushing to our favorite fast food place to order a muffin before “breakfast hours” end. That dining establishments dictate when we can or cannot eat certain foods is rather absurd when one gives it any decent amount of thought. Yet, they do so in an effort to group all the biscuit and gravy eaters into a specific time-space for the sake of profit. We’re told it’s unprofessional to start drinking before 5:00 PM, when most people presumably finish work, but why should the millions of people who work mid-shifts be forced to wait when they get off work at 3:00 PM?
The more we mess with time, the more we mess it up. Yet, there have been moments in history when time was crucial to our development. The industrial revolution would not have happened had their not been clocks and watches and a set, uniform measure of how a day passes. Science needs the ability to measure and quantify what happens within a precise measure of time. Synchronization of things such as flight schedules and traffic lights could not happen if there were no uniform measure on which such events could be based.
Yet, the amount of control we give time is enslaving. Not only do we allow time to dictate when we eat and work, we allow it to dictate our most primal instincts. When we sleep, and how long, is measured by an artificial time. When and how frequently we procreate is dictated by the settings on a mechanical device. Adjust that artificial measurement, as we are about to do, and one messes up our entire perception of reality.
Don’t believe me? What do you think causes jet lag? As we travel across continents, our perception of time is altered and we arrive with the physical sense of what we should be doing out of alignment with the rest of society is doing. I have problems every time I visit California because there is never a coffee shop open when I’m ready for coffee. The same thing happens on a slightly different scale when we invoke Daylight Saving Time. We confuse our bodies (and our pets) by arbitrarily saying, “no, it’s not that time anymore, now it’s this time and you just have to adjust.”
Even as I’m writing this, I realize that I abuse time as well. When I tell the family, “We’re leaving for the store in five minutes,” I fully expect everyone to have their shoes and coats on and be heading toward the car within that five minutes or I’m likely to get very upset. Just this past week, we had a day completely upended by continual interruptions after we had already set a schedule of events. By the end of the day, nothing on our original schedule had happened and we both felt tired and frustrated because other people had messed with our sense of time.
I cannot help but wonder to what degree we might all be better off if we relaxed a bit of our grip on time. Our society is less reliant on strict work schedules now, so why shouldn’t one be allowed to follow their natural body rhythms and work on a project at times when they are likely to be their most productive? We have means of communication that allow us to have conversations separated by hours and miles, why are we not using those more effectively? Perhaps most importantly, why do we limit eating certain foods to specific times of day? Is a burger any more healthy for you at 9:00 AM than it is at 1:00 PM? On mornings when I’m up and working by 4:00 AM, should I not be able to have lunch four hours later at 8:00 PM and dinner by 2:00 PM? Why should I, or anyone else, be forced to adjust to someone else’s artificial concept of time?
I know the theory of less time management and fewer time constraints would lead to more productive and healthy lives. Yet, just like our semi-annual debates over Daylight Saving Time, we ultimately just go with the flow, accepting the change forced upon us.
And so we are slaves to something that we just made up. Incredible, isn’t it?