This weekend, we will all go through our annual ritual of groaning about losing an hour of sleep — or, for the young and young at heart, an hour of infinitely more important activities.
We will gripe to each other, as we always do, about whose bright idea it was to have a 23-hour day once a year. But we, and our initially confused pets — as we always do — will adjust.
Usually just in time to fall back again.
The idea behind daylight saving time is to backload sunlight into the hours “after work” by borrowing an hour of sunlight from the morning.
Although Benjamin Franklin is sometimes credited with first proposing the idea, he actually brought it up only as a joke in an essay while living in Paris. After all, what kind of maniac would suggest we get up an hour earlier so that we could conserve candles and oil at the end of the day? The French, naturally, found it uproarious.
At the time, there really wasn’t any need for that kind of standardized, precise timekeeping (though one could argue that particular tradition continues in France even to this day).
It wasn’t until the railroad and industrialization that a need for widespread, synchronized timekeeping became important. And with that, working hours and train schedules weren’t tied to daylight hours, but hours on a clock.
Daylight saving time didn’t catch on until World War I, as a measure in several countries, including the United States, to save on fuel — as Franklin had joked. Whether daylight saving time actually does that is a matter of significant debate.
But what is not in dispute is that Americans overwhelmingly agree that we should stop changing our clocks twice a year: A Monmouth University poll last year, for example, found that only 35 percent of Americans think we should keep the way we’re doing it now.
Even more astonishingly, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill last year that would make daylight saving time permanent. Unanimously! The U.S. Senate!
The bill did not make it to the president’s desk, though, because some in the House were unsure they wanted to go with making daylight saving permanent. After all, why not standard time?
Some opposed to the idea brought up a previous attempt to put the U.S. on daylight time: in 1974, as many of us may remember, we actually did switch to permanent daylight saving. Less than a year later, it was reverted — it turns out that during the winter, going to work and school in the dark of night was just as objectionable to a great many people, and some blamed the deaths of children trying to catch the bus in the dark on the time change.
And when examined closely, daylight saving doesn’t seem like a great solution either.
For example, because of the Earth’s axial tilt — which means it doesn’t stand directly “upright,” it’s a little tilted relative to the Sun — folks in New York actually get about an hour more of sunlight on the summer solstice than their eastern time zone counterparts in Florida. On the winter solstice, when the northern hemisphere has shorter days, it’s reversed, with Florida getting about an hour more of sunlight per day than New York. Why have them both jump forward an hour? Or even have them in the same time zone?
And why an hour, anyway? And why in March?
So yes, we agree that the way we’re doing it now has got to go, and no, other ways to do it aren’t necessarily a whole lot better.
But when alarms on Sunday go off an hour earlier from Nome to Miami, we’re pretty sure we’ll all agree:
Isn’t it about time we just picked one and stuck with it?