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The Importance of Time a Relatively New Concept

by Lynn Walker
Times Record News, November 5, 2011

Here we go again. Time to change the clocks tonight.

Most of the country reverts from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time at 2 a.m. We set our clocks BACK one hour. At 2 a.m. it will magically become 1 a.m.

Some people like time shifting, some don't, and some -- like me -- really don't have a strong opinion. To the extent I think about it, I prefer Daylight Saving Time over Standard Time (and yes, it is Saving with no "s" on the end).

Actually, there was a time when time wasn't such a big deal. Until the 1880s in this country, the time of day was determined by individuals, families or communities. If Farmer Bob who lived down the road wanted it to be 2 p.m. and you wanted it to be 12:45 p.m., nobody cared. In towns, time was determined by the clock in the City Hall steeple and folks set their watches by that. The notion of having a universally agreed upon time of day didn't come along until the railroads came along.

A Canadian railway engineer named Sandford Fleming saw the need to have standardized departure and arrival times for trains and began the move that led to the adoption of the time meridians we still have in the U.S. and Canada. Thus, our modern concept of "What time is it?" didn't even exist until 1883. We have been stressed out ever since.

Good ol' Benjamin Franklin was the first to suggest that time of day should adjust to maximize the availability of sunlight, but Daylight Saving Time didn't come about until World War I. The reason then -- and the prevailing reason it has been used and extended since then -- is energy conservation. If the time of day is adjusted to maximize sunlight, less electricity is needed to keep the lights on around the world. President Franklin Roosevelt mandated year-round Daylight Saving Time in World War II, but local communities largely disregarded the order.

Though the federal government tried to implement a regular pattern of Daylight Saving Time during the 1960s, the move didn't really stick until President Richard Nixon imposed Emergency Daylight Saving Time during the 1973 energy crisis prompted by the Arab Oil Embargo. Since then, the U.S. has become largely accustomed to the notion of switching clocks twice a year -- and much of the rest of the world does the same thing. Arizona and Hawaii are the holdouts in the U.S. that insist on staying with Standard Time year round.

Congress has adjusted Daylight Saving Time on a few occasions, extending its length. The latest occurred in 2006 when the end of Daylight Saving Time was moved from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November. The rationale was that Halloween on Oct. 31 was the deadliest day of the year for children getting hit by cars. The move gave the trick-or-treaters an extra hour of daylight to knock on doors (and boosted candy sales significantly).

Time shifting has had some bizarre side effects.

One man successfully argued he should not be drafted into the Army based on the draft lottery drawings of the time. The lottery was determined by birth dates. Born just after midnight, he argued that his birthday occurred under Standard Time whereas his draft lottery date was based on Daylight Saving Time. The swapping of dates qualified him for a higher lottery number.

In 1999, the West Bank was on Daylight Saving Time while Israel had just switched back to standard time. West Bank terrorists prepared time bombs and smuggled them to their Israeli counterparts. Because of the time difference, the bombs exploded an hour earlier than planned, killing three terrorists instead of the intended victims.

In 2007, a woman in North Carolina gave birth to a son at 1:32 a.m. and to a daughter at 2:06 a.m. Because Daylight Saving Time had reverted to Standard Time at 2 a.m., the younger daughter was officially born before her older brother.

Time is nothing more than a concept, I suppose. It's only importance to me is that I'm three minutes away from deadline for this column and if I don't finish now I will face the wrath of the Editorial Page Editor. That's real.

Related Pages:
Musings on the Nature of Time by Dick Dorworth Idaho Mountain Express 5/5/99

Lynn Walker
The Importance of Time a Relatively New Concept
Times Record News, November 5, 2011

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