If you’re spending Sunday running around your house changing the clocks, you might be relieved to know that some people are proposing getting rid of time zones—including Daylight Saving Time—altogether.
“All around the world, time zones make little sense,” writes Adam Taylor in the Washington Post. “Russia currently has 11 time zones, while China just has one. Nepal is—inexplicably—the only country in the world to have a time zone that is set to 45 minutes past the hour.” And North Korea recently changed its time zone to be a half hour different from everyone else, he adds.
That’s why Steve Hanke, an economist with Johns Hopkins University, and Dick Henry, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins, are suggesting just trashing the whole idea, Taylor writes
Why can we do this now? Computers, of course. “Today the agency of the Internet has annihilated time and space completely, and has set us up for adoption of world-wide time,” Hanke and Henry tell Taylor. “Local solar time was fine, when almost all activity was local! Today, much activity is global, and ONE time is called for.”
Ironically, while technical innovation is leading some to suggest that time zones are no longer necessary, it was another innovation–the train–that partly led to their adoption in the first place. Every town with a clock had its own idea of when noon was, and that was fine until you had train logistics to keep in mind. In the 19th century, each American city calculated their own solar time for noon, which led to more than 300 different time zones – a nightmare for train operators and passengers. The adoption of four standard time zones in the United States in 1883 was necessitated by the railroad industry.
Hanke and Henry note that airplanes have already adopted a universal time zone for the same reason. “The reason all the airlines in the world use, today, now, Universal Time (Greenwich time), is so that planes don’t crash into each other,” they say. “Every pilot and navigator knows what time it is.”
Hanke and Henry aren’t the only ones suggesting time zone changes. Noting that Alaska, which is nearly as big across as the continental U.S., uses a single time zone, writer Allison Schrager proposed in Quartz that the U.S. move to two time zones and eliminate Daylight Saving Time. “Why stick with a system designed for commerce in 1883?” she writes. “Research based on time use surveys found American’s schedules are determined by television more than daylight. That suggests in effect, Americans already live on two time zones.”
Admittedly, adopting universal time would be an adjustment. “Most people in the world would have to change the way they consider their schedules,” Taylor writes. “In Washington, for example, that means we’d have to get used to rising around noon and eating dinner at 1 in the morning.” Hanke and Henry contend, though, that people can adjust. Henry notes that even his mother has gotten used to measuring temperature in Celsius and now considers 30 degrees a hot day.
Even Hanke and Henry admit, though, that businesses and other offices would probably need to adopt local regional “opening and closing” hours. “No one wants people having to work without the sun being up,” they say.
Moreover, all the convoluted code that programmers have written to deal with time zones could be eliminated. “Our calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate what we call the ‘rip off’ factor,” says Hanke.. “Determining how much interest accrues on mortgages, bonds, forward rate agreements, swaps and others, day counts are required. Our current calendar is full of anomalies that have led to the establishment of a wide range of conventions that attempt to simplify interest calculations.”
On the other hand, like any rewrite, eliminating all that code—even in the name of simplicity—might introduce its own problems. And skeptics doubt such a universal time change could ever happen. “Moving to a single time zone would mean asking billions of people to completely reformulate their notions of time,” writes Talal Al-Khatib in Discovery News. “For a plan whose entire basis is simplicity, that obstacle presents an awfully complicated challenge.”
But while they’re at it, Hanke and Henry have designed a new universal calendar as well, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, which they propose adopting on January 1, 2018. The new year would always start on a Monday (which would mean Christmas would always be on a Monday as well), and there would never be a Friday the 13th. It would also eliminate the notion of Leap Year, though it would impose an “Xtra week” every five or six years. And “30 days hath September…” would go right out the window as the calendar moves to a regular pattern of 30-30-31 days.
Of course, implementing the new calendar would involve rewriting—well, basically every program that involves days. Worst of all, the universal calendar would also eliminate Halloween, because October would no longer have 31 days. The significance to IT? We’d no longer be able to make the 31 OCT = 25 DEC joke.
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