Living Madly: Lost Time

Photo courtesy of Tima Miroshnichenko

Living Madly: Lost Time

By Emilie-Noelle Provost

Ever since I was old enough to understand how timekeeping works, I’ve hated Daylight Savings Time. Every year when we’re forced to “spring ahead” and move the clocks forward by an hour, I feel like I’ve been robbed. Having to get up an hour earlier when there’s no good reason to do it makes me irritable. It typically takes a couple of weeks, sometimes nearly a month, before I get used to the time change.

Part of the reason for this is that I’m the kind of person who thrives on predictability. I generally dislike surprises; even happy ones can throw me off for days. Changes that affect my daily schedule, especially unnecessary ones, are not appreciated to say the least. Plus, I really like sleeping.

Although you’d think I would have looked into it before now, I’ve never really been sure why Daylight Savings Time exists. It turns out that the oft-repeated story about DST being created for the benefit of farmers is an urban legend (one likely concocted by a DST sympathizer).

From what I’ve read, farmers are among the reasonable group of people who would like to see DST go away. Farmers’ schedules, which are based on factors such as when cows need to be milked and when livestock need to be put out to pasture, are dictated by the sun. It makes no difference to a cow what time the clock says it is. Setting the clocks back by an hour in the spring and forward by an hour in the fall just adds an extra layer of complication to farmers’ lives.

It turns out that DST was thought up by a New Zealander named George Hudson in the late 19th century. Hudson, an entomologist, wanted some extra daylight hours to spend outside searching for insects after he got out of work in the summer.

According to some sources, DST was almost simultaneously dreamt up by an Englishman named William Willet. Willet, an avid golfer, wanted sunset to come later in the day so he could squeeze in a few more holes.

Neither Hudson nor Willet was successful in getting DST established though. That honor goes to the Germans.

In 1916, during the First World War, Germany was the first country to implement the use of DST, supposedly as a way to save on energy costs. It should be noted, however, that the German people didn’t like the government messing with their clocks, so after the war ended DST was discontinued.

Following Germany’s lead, the United States also first implemented DST during the First World War. Known as “War Time” (a much better name for it if you ask me), DST was enacted by Congress in 1918 as part of The Standard Time Act, which also created our current time zones. According to the U.S. Department of Defense website, Americans hated DST so much that the U.S. government had to launch a marketing campaign to get people to accept it. Needless to say, DST was discontinued in the U.S. after the war ended.

But during the Second World War, DST came back with a vengeance. Adding insult to injury, Germany imposed the practice on every European country it occupied. Although most countries ditched DST after the war, for some inexplicable reason DST stuck around in random parts of the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. Individual states or even parts of states often switched to DST and back again whenever they felt the need.

In an effort to make sense of this haphazard timekeeping, in 1966, U.S. Congress passed The Uniform Time Act, which standardized the dates upon which DST begins and ends. When the law was enacted, DST began on the last Sunday in April and ended the last Sunday in October. These dates have changed over time so that today DST begins on the second Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in November.

We are now forced to live with DST for more than seven months each year. (I often wonder how Standard Time (aka Real Time) can be called “standard” when we get to observe it less than half the year.) The rationale for this, of course, is that observing DST helps save energy. But how much energy does it really save? And what, if any, are DST’s costs?

According to some sources, DST reduces electricity usage by 0.3 percent during the periods it’s observed. Other sources, though, say that DST’s energy savings are inconclusive. This is partly due to the effects of global warming. As the planet gets hotter, people are using more energy to keep cool, a practice unrelated to the clock.

Daylight Savings Time’s costs, however, appear to be many. Clock shifts such as DST have been charged with creating economic chaos to the tune of billions of dollars being lost in the world’s stock exchanges. DST is known to cause negative effects on human health including increased rates of heart attacks and strokes. It seems that the beginning of DST in the spring also correlates with a large increase in automobile and industrial accidents.

Proponents of DST argue that increased daylight hours in the evening allow people to spend more time outside and participate in more health-promoting outdoor activities, like sports. There’s also an argument that DST helps the economy because people are out and about longer after they get out of work, consuming goods and services.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, National Safety Council, and National PTA argue that we would all be better off if we permanently adopted Standard Time. According to some polls, nearly 45 percent of Americans would prefer to permanently adopt DST rather than switching back and forth. Somehow, I don’t think either of these things will happen.

I’d be happy to compromise by returning to DST’s original 1966 Uniform Time Act calendar, which would give us another glorious five or six weeks each year in which to enjoy uninterrupted sleep.



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