by Rafaela Prifti/*
Most agree that we have asked ourselves or someone the question What day is today? much more often in the course of the bleakness of the yearlong pandemic. In many ways, the specifications of time mattered less whereas time, perceived as moments shared with loved ones and on earth, mattered much more.
In its definition as a social construct, time is both complex and simple relative to human activity and purpose. As the saying goes, we cannot give ourselves more time but we can make the relationship with the clock more meaningful. Keeping and losing time might sound arbitrary because it is. One example that most of us are still adjusting to is the existence of Daylight Saving Time. In the early hours of Sunday morning, clocks “sprung forward” due to an over half a century legislation designed to give us one more hour of sunlight in the evening. If you are of a curious nature or a trivia driven person, you might know that since 2007 in the US the clock spring forward on the second Sunday of March, and they go back, the first Sunday of November. In many countries in Europe, Britain, France and Germany, the clocks change on the last Sunday in March, and the last Sunday in October. There is a law called the Uniform Time Act signed by American lawmakers in 1966, that decided that the right time of day for this shift was “2 o’clock antemeridian,” better known as 2 a.m.
The idea of passing legislation about time and the Daylight Saving Time does help create a false sense of control. Why does it exist? A popular myth blames the farmers for whom the daylight saving time not only is not helpful, it disrupts their schedule in serious ways. For the business community, gas stations, golf courses, moving an hour of sunlight from the early morning to the evening, drives the sales at the pumps or at the registers of the local convenience store.
There are records from the 18th century that credit Benjamin Franklin with the idea of reducing candle consumption at night and suggested to French to fire cannons at sunrise, after he realized he was wasting Parisian mornings in bed. The Industrial Revolution ushered the railway and with it the rising need to deliver passengers and freight on time. It meant that companies had to agree on whose time it was. Setting the time to the sun and by the people who ran the clocks in towns and cities created headaches and conflicting schedules. In the 1840s, British railroads adopted standard times to reduce confusion. American counterparts soon followed. Also scientists were urging a standardized system for marking time.
A coalition of businessmen and scientists introduced time zones. In 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads adopted four (Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific) to streamline service. Records indicate that the event prompted fears of a kind of Y2K hysteria.
The time, seen as business, partnered with the industrial world and in the 1900s when it was understood that shifting the clocks could reap economic benefits. In 1916, under the pressures of World War I, Germany enacted the policy in an effort to cut energy costs and boost production. And several Western nations followed suit shortly after. In the United States, the federal government took oversight of time zones in 1918. And in March of that year, the country lost its first hour of sleep.
The daylight saving time started as a World War I energy- and cost-savings measure — with the added value of giving people more daylight hours to go shopping which grew into a myth about helping farmers. Fifty years later, Arizona opted not to observe Daylight Savings, with the exception of the Navajo Nation. As the locals would say “in Arizona, we don’t engage in such silliness” because they don’t participate in the Daylight Savings Time. Nor does Hawaii. Several U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands also do not apply daylight saving time. China, India and Russia do not use daylight saving time.
What Is the Point? Is it Really About Energy Costs?
The much talked about intent of the policy enacted by lawmakers is not fully supported by data. We have heard one of the oldest arguments that daylight saving time saves energy costs. Yet, there are conflicting studies on the topic. A 2008 report issued by the Department of Energy found that extended daylight saving time saved about 0.5 percent in total electricity use per day. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the shift in daylight saving time, “contrary to the policy’s intent,” increased residential electricity demand by about 1 percent, raising electricity bills and increasing pollution emissions. Among the most fervent supporters of the policy are the business advocates who argue it helps drive the economy. Nowadays, various special interests of pro-daylight-saving-time include golf course owners and candy manufacturers related to Thanksgiving. Making the case that a permanent schedule is more beneficial to our sleep habits and overall impact on health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine called for the abolition of daylight saving time. The 2020 statement by the Academy said that by disrupting the body’s natural clock, the shift could cause an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular events, and could lead to more traffic accidents. There is a counter argument about public safety as crimes of opportunity increase after hours.
“Daylight saving” time is relatively new and not even that popular. You may even be in the group that believes that the reason we probably resist switching back and forth is the simple fact that it makes us feel in control of the one thing we absolutely cannot dictate: time. Yes, the ‘extra hour’ is a mental trick that requires some practice. Now you may be facing a choice of picking either daylight saving or standard time and stick to it.
Fifteen states have passed some sort of legislation to make daylight saving time the permanent time in their state. The European Union and several U.S. states, including California, Florida and Ohio, are either considering dropping the shift or taking steps to do so. A group of senators of both parties have introduced a bill to make daylight time permanent year-round. Passing a full year of a pandemic has revealed that it is not the clock that matters, not even the time on it when it comes to maximizing the year-round hours of light available.
*Correction: In the early hours of Sunday morning, clocks “sprung forward” due to an over a century legislation designed to give us one more hour of sunlight in the evening.