Thursday, November 9, 2006

Setting Clocks Back Ticks Me Off

So, as usual, we set our clocks back this fall. It has become a ritual. As I understand it, this “daylight savings time” was first enacted to give farmers and others who needed it more daylight to do chores in the short days of winter. But I got to thinking about it this year, and feel that it’s really a bunch of malarkey.

First of all, we’re not really saving any daylight. We have the exact same amount no matter what we do with our clocks. We’re merely shifting our schedules. And while this might seem to be a benefit when there is more light in the morning for a while, we lose this perceptual benefit very quickly. In a few weeks, after the sun has continued on its seasonal quest for the southern hemisphere, we in the north will drive to work in the dark and drive home in the dark whether we shifted our clocks or not.

But of course we have to mind the time. Everything is coordinated by hours and minutes in modern society. Schools, work, transportation schedules, and of course, the big one—television! If there were no time, we would fall apart.

I also wonder why the clock changing happens around Halloween. We enact this futile attempt to save daylight right about the time all the little pre-school pirates and wee witches come out begging for candy. They’re all dressed to scare the living daylights out of us, thus negating any savings of said daylight we might have actually accrued.

Actually, speaking of ancient customs like Halloween, the whole concept of a “clock” is pretty ancient. Around the year 1000 I’m sure men and women and children merely woke up when it was light. They then made us of available daylight until it was time to return to the hut or cave to build a fire for warmth, light and cooking. Eventually they went to sleep, and started the process over again the next day. There was no real concept of time. It was irrelevant. In fact, if anyone referred to time they would have been clubbed on the head. Can you imagine some guy named Grog stretching by the fire and saying, “Well, I’m gonna turn in early. I need to get up at 6 a.m. to hunt and gather.”

It’s a bit funny that we consider ourselves so civilized today. But in creating time and timepieces, we have imprisoned ourselves to a degree. We are addicted to knowing what time it is. We ask each other that question frequently. We have appointments set by time, not by when we are ready to do something. Our work is measured by time, “time and a half”, over time. We are delighted when we have time off. In fact, it is when we are most like the cavemen of millennia ago that we feel privileged now. How often have you heard someone boast about being on vacation and not even looking at a clock? Exactly. It’s freedom.

But, for better or worse, civilization is guided by time. And we try to manage the inevitable rotation of the sun and the planets according to our schedule. How laughable. As the Bible says, we can be certain of the “rising of the sun and the setting of the same,” so why get in such a dither about changing our man-made time-measuring devices. I hear that for our neighbors to the south, in Indiana, coordinating time zones was a key ballot proposal this election day. It’s as if a majority of voters can take on God and say, “Let there be more light in certain regions of Indiana.”

This business of time zones has me fascinated too. Having traveled internationally, I know how such time measurement can have practical value. You want to avoid calling someone when they are sleeping at 2 a.m., so being aware of different time zones is important. It can also be bizarre. One time when returning from Asia, I flew from the east to the west, going backward through time zones. When I landed that I realized that I had arrived home one hour before I left. At least according to the way mankind keeps track of dates and time. In reality I had been in the air some 14 hours. Period. No big deal. But these self-constructions of time can blow our minds on occasion.

I suppose nothing will change. As hard as it is to change clocks twice a year, it would be even more difficult to change the way the world perceives of this thing called time. But as for myself, I’m going to try to not get so obsessed about it personally.

“Time waits for no man,” the saying goes. I say, that’s fine. Time, you go on ahead without me.