It's Time To Dump Daylight and Standard Time and Go Local Time

The pandemic has accelerated the trend toward timelessness.

Sandford Fleming showing time zones
Sanford Fleming demonstrating time zones.

Canada Archives

It is a Treehugger tradition; twice a year we complain about War Time, as Daylight Saving Time was known when it was first implemented. We have described how falling back from Daylight Saving Time can harm you, including increased risk of heart attacks, fatal car crashes, muggings, and depression.

More recently, I suggested that we should get rid of Railway Time, as Standard Time used to be known, after it was developed by Sandford Fleming, to coordinate railway schedules. Before he came along, every town and city had its own time, calculated at noon. Nobody cared much about what the time was in the next town before railways.

The problem is that when we run our lives on Railway Time, most of us are out of sync with the true solar time. On October 30th as I am writing this, the sun will set in Boston at 5:39. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Eastern Time Zone in Detroit, it will set at 6:27; people leaving work at 6:00 are facing two completely different conditions at exactly the same time. Why should people in Boston come home in the light and those in Detroit in the dark?

Our bodies are confused, too. Dr. Michael Antle, PhD of the University of Calgary explains the problem in a UC press release:

"Antle explains that humans live by three clocks. These include the light clock, or, solar clock, and the body clock, with the circadian system in our brains. Third is the social clock, governed by the demands of work, school, and other social responsibilities and activities. While our circadian clock is meant to follow the solar day, society dictates that we follow the social clock. 'The problem is that our social clock and our circadian clock are often in conflict,' says Antle. 'When your boss tells you to be at work before your body clock says you should be, that leads to be something we call social jet lag.'" 

A few years ago I wrote about how this social clock, running on Railway Time, used to be so important to our lives, especially when radio and television came along.

Walter Cronkite and the CBS News
Walter Cronkite and the CBS News.

IMDB / Walter Cronkite

Once upon a time, almost everyone with a television would turn them on at the same time to watch Walter Cronkite deliver the evening news. The TV Guide was the best-selling magazine in the country. People would race to catch the 5:39 train to be home by 6:30. The banks opened at 10:00 and closed at 3:00 and if you didn't make it, you had no cash for the rest of the day. And of course, you worked at the office from 9 to 5.

The Pandemic Has Accelerated the Trend Toward Timelessness

I noted that this was no longer true, that there was Netflix that we could watch when we want to watch and if you needed cash, you could get it out of a wall at any time of day. And now, the pandemic has changed everything again and dramatically accelerated the trend toward timelessness. There are no television schedules; almost everything is streamed on-demand. Many people are working from home, mostly during the hours of their choosing. Online banking and shopping have made opening and closing times meaningless. Even people who go to offices and factories are often doing it at staggered times, 9 to 5 has disappeared.

Your Circadian Rhythms
Your Circadian Rhythms.

 YassineMrabet on Wikipedia 

In fact, many who are working from home are working at times that follow their circadian clocks, rather than the social clock; Morning larks like my colleague Katherine Martinko are at their computers at 5:30 in the morning; night owls might start at 9:00. People are paying a lot less attention to the clock and a lot more to the sun.

This is why it's time to not only dump Daylight Saving Time, but to get rid of time zones altogether, and get our circadian clocks and the solar clocks and the social clocks all synchronized. Plant a stick in front of City Hall and determine noon and declare Boston Time or Detroit Time; wherever you are, it's your time. Schedule your company-wide meetings and your World Series games on Universal Time, (what used to be known as Greenwich Mean Time). It's not so hard.

We have phones and smartwatches now, we don't need time zones anymore. It's time to get rid of them and go local and get in sync with the sun.