Larry Banman: Shifting time doesn’t mean we save time
November 3, 2008
It has been known as summer time, as war time and as Daylight Shifting Time, but most of us know it as Daylight Saving Time.
This past weekend, we “fell back” by setting our clocks back one hour as we left Daylight Saving Time and re-entered the world of Standard Time. The move gave all of us the potential for one more hour of sleep. It meant that when the sun went down Sunday evening, we all settled into our evening routine and discovered that there was a whole lot more evening left. For those people who are always wishing for more than 24 hours in a day to get everything done, for one day they got their wish. Most, if not all, of us were up an hour early and we did indeed have more time to do whatever it is we do on an autumn Sunday.
I often wonder why we still subject ourselves to this bi-annual ritual of scrambling our internal clocks. In the spring, I am so bothered by the loss of an hour of sleep that I grumble for a week. In the fall, I think I will savor that extra hour that has been “given back” but I usually end up fretting that I will waste that hour and I forfeit any benefit that I may have received. Ironically, my particular internal clock seems to adjust more quickly to the “spring forward” routine than it does to the “fall back” routine. It probably has to do with the fact that there is a loss of intake of Vitamin D from being in the sunshine.
Daylight Saving Time can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin who wrote an essay in 1784 entitled, “An Economical Project”. He was in Paris and was awakened by the sun one morning after only a few hours of sleep. Parisians, at least at that time, were a late awakening sort and Ben had some time to think. Evening light in that era was provided by candles and oil lamps. Franklin surmised that by shifting the time one hour, the sun could provide that evening light for an additional hour while people were awake and the good citizens of Paris could “sleep in” during the darkness of early morning. The essay he wrote summarized that a small fortune could be saved in candle wax and lamp oil. It was intended to be a whimsical piece aimed at entertainment. It was a thought, however, that gained momentum and supporters over the next couple of centuries.
To evaluate the theory of daylight saving time, it is good to look at even more history. Prior to standardized time, villages would use a sundial to establish the local time. What that meant is that each and every village had a slightly different time. That was okay when the realm of a person’s existence included an area that was 50 to 100 miles in radius, or even smaller. People’s lives were more entwined with the sun and the seasons, so it really didn’t matter that the next village to the east was 15 minutes ahead of schedule. When regional transportation was developed, that disparity in time became a problem. Europe was the first to develop standardized time zones and it was the railroad industry that pushed hardest for the change. The railroad industry was also behind the establishment of time zones in the United States in the late 1800s. As technology advanced through the ages of radio to television to the Internet, it is intriguing to think about life without some sort of standardized time system.
Manipulating the clock to take advantage of daylight hours has been tried several times over the past century. Since there is no daylight being “saved” what the time shifting does is try to maximize the use of daylight, primarily to save energy costs. The theory hasn’t changed since the day Mr. Franklin rose early on that day in Paris. It is believed that people tend to use more energy, whether it be candles or televisions, in the evening hours. Our society has shifted from an agricultural base to an industrial and then technological base. As a result, people tend to get up later in the morning and stay awake longer at night. By shifting the time and having it seem that the sun is up longer, theoretically, there will be less use of electricity and a net savings in power and money. That worked during World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted “war time” to conserve our resources. Today, I’m not sure that theory holds as much water. In fact, in Indiana, until 2005, only about 16 percent of the counties recognized Daylight Saving Time. A push was made to convert the Hoosier State and one of the arguments was that Indiana residents would save $7 million dollars each year in energy costs. Quite the opposite was the result, as a study which was conducted post conversion to Daylight Saving Time revealed an increase of $8.6 million in energy costs. It is believed that the increased use of air conditioners in today’s society was the primary culprit. By having more daylight during waking hours, Indiana residents (like all of us would) simply kept their air conditioners humming longer.
The findings of two surveys in the United States and New South Wales, Australia are likely closer to the truth. Those studies show that Daylight Saving Time is part of many societies simply because people like to enjoy long summer evenings and that reasons such as energy conservation are merely rationalizations.
It appears that Daylight Saving Time is with us for the foreseeable future, or at least until a whimsical essay by an influential, modern-day Benjamin Franklin leads to another change. Until then, know that on the second Sunday in March you will lose an hour of sleep which will not be regained until the first Sunday in November. Or, if you prefer to march to the beat of your own drummer, then dig out the old sundial and let the sun dictate your “rising up and your laying down.” That probably makes as much sense as “shifting time” in order to “save time.”
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