Daylight Savings Time

I don’t understand daylight savings time. No one I talk to has a clear idea of when and why it was invented. What country started it? What countries adhere to it? Why is Europe still doing it a week before the US?

It seems clear to me that having extremely accurate measurements of time has become an indispensible part of our society. Computers and many other timekeeping devices are synchronized regularly with servers maintained by (or synchronized with) our standards bodies’ equipment, so that their inherent inaccuracy can be overcome. Very nearly, there is one nearly standard idea of time.

Why, then, do we have this sloppy period where times start changing all over the world. At the company where I work, we have employees everywhere with whom we meet regularly by phone. One of them works from Morocco, and we missed a meeting with him last week because he had already gone to daylight savings time and we hadn’t, and we all forgot.

It’s not so much that this really bothers me, because I don’t care if we have a somewhat loose notion of time &emdash; when we make it too strict, I start to feel a bit dehumanized. Rather, what I find interesting is that we’re so inconsistent. We seem obsessed with the exact microsecond of time, and we do all we can to get univeral agreement among our devices, at least locally, while at the same time we don’t keep very good track of the hours.

All this was an overly elaborate way to link to a CNN story (via Slashdot) about Congress considering extending Daylight Savings Time by a couple of months. That would make eight months of DST out of twelve. Doesn’t that sound strange? It drives home how arbitrary time is anyway – why not call the other four months “Daylight Wastings Time”? When I saw the headline mention changing DST, I assumed they were trying to do away with it! I assumed that the confusion and loss of maximal human efficiency caused by the change would be declared to be a drag on our economy or something.

Of course, there are reasons it seems DST is a good idea. I guess it saves energy to move the daylight hours around. That’s all fine and good, but do it everywhere in the world at once, or else let’s just admit we don’t really care what time it is.

Machine Learning Engineer

I am a software engineer and mathematician. I work on NLP algorithms for Apple News, and research homotopy type theory in CMU’s philosophy department.