Saving the Daylight, by David Prerau

I have always been vaguely interested in Daylight Savings Time, in a “why does this exist” kind of way. So when this book came into the charity shop, I couldn’t resist picking it up. (Which then led to a rant by my boyfriend about why I’d bother reading non-fiction instead of just looking things up on the internet if I was interested in them – but that’s a different post.)

I found it very interesting – did you know that Benjamin Franklin advocated a form of daylight savings time? Or that it really gained ground during World War I as an energy-saving measure? Or that it was one of the mostly hotly contested bills in legislatures (US,  UK, state level, kind of everywhere) for years?

The main point of Daylight Savings Time, though – and one that gets lost in the rage about shifting clocks and losing sleep and/or drinking time (Go Bobcats) – is to shift socially acceptable working (and playing) times to more closely match daylight hours. Until the standardization of time zones (itself a hotly contested issue), it wasn’t really an issue. Blame the railroads – they needed standard times to simplify their timetables.

It is, of course, easier to mandate regional clock changes than to change people’s habits. By now, our culture is too clock-based to make any sort of social shift easy. 5am is early, even if the sun’s been up for an hour. 4 pm is still within normal business hours, even if it’s nearly dusk. Daylight Savings Time just tries to even out our cultural and social suppositions about when things should happen to use more of the natural sunlight time.

Personally, I’ve thought for a few years that instead of changing the clocks twice a year, we should split the difference and do a one-time half-hour change – and the more I learned about daylight savings time and its motivations, the more I am convinced that it might work. Astronomers can still use GMT/UTC for observations, but everyone’s personal clocks will be more in line with “natural” time.

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Filed under Non-Fiction (Science)

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