It's time to adopt Cosmic Time, one time for the entire world

sandford fleming
Public Domain Sandford Fleming tells the time. (Photo: Canada Archives)

Time zones are an anachronism in the Internet age. Let's get rid of them.

Every year about this time I go on about how it’s time we changed the way we tell time and that we should schedule events using Universal Time (formerly Greenwich Mean Time). I have screwed up many a meeting and a few plane flights by getting out of the zone. It is not a new idea. I wrote earlier:

In 1876, Canadian engineer Sandford Fleming missed a train because he arrived at 6 p.m. for a 6 a.m. departure. He then proposed Cosmic Time, a 24-hour clock for the entire world — one time for everyone, irrespective of meridian. When that idea got rejected, he developed the idea of Universal Standard Time with 24 time zones, and he became known as the Father of Standard Time.

Cosmic Time is an idea whose time has come -- and I am not alone in thinking this. Writing in the National Post, Andrew Coyne says that we should Forget the daylight savings time debate, we need to get rid of time zones altogether. He adds a little history of what life was like before time zones:

Before then every town had its own (sun-based) time, a quaint local peculiarity that became intolerable with the advent of the railroad, and railroad schedules. A similar phenomenon now argues for making the whole world a single time zone. Indeed, in an age of instantaneous global communications, when people are working together in real time in offices half a world apart, it already is. As [economist Stephen] Hanke told the Washington Post last year, “The railroad annihilated distances and made reform necessary. Today the agency of the internet has annihilated time and space completely, and set us up for adoption of worldwide time.”

time zones© via Quartz

In fact, we should all run our lives on solar time; that is how our bodies are designed. I wrote earlier:

…noon should be noon wherever you are, not at 11:34 in Boston today and 12:42 in Detroit. What works for the convenience of Sandford Fleming and the railroads (and later, Walter Cronkite and the TV networks) doesn't work for our bodies.

Time zones are so wide and artificial that it can cause real disruption; look at Spain, which was moved into Germany’s time zone because General Franco liked all things German, including Hitler. According to Paul Kelley in the Guardian, “The reason they might appear to have a sleepy approach to life is that they really are sleepy all day long. Spain has a dysfunctional time system that deprives everyone in Spain of an hour of sleep every day.”

We need a mix of Cosmic Time (I like that term better than Universal) to tie the world together, and local time that suits our bodies and our circadian rhythms. Then everybody can set their schedules to what works for them. As Coyne concludes: “You say it’s too dark in winter for kids to go to school at 14:00? Fine — start the school day at 15:00. 15:00 in the morning.”

Want to find solar noon where you are? Here’s a calculator from the NOAA that hasn’t been closed down yet.

Tags: Technology

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