In defense of springing ahead

These are the weekend plans at our house for the second weekend in March:
Saturday: Run around the house moving clocks ahead one hour, after we figure out how to move the various clocks ahead. Try to synchronize the clocks with my cellphone because cellphone clocks are synchronized with the big atomic clock in Colorado.
Sunday: Wake up one hour early (according to our bodies) for church. Move through the rest of the day similarly sleep-deprived.

You may think from those previous four sentences that I oppose Daylight Saving Time. I do not, although I think the term is a misnomer. It should really be called Daylight Shifting Time, because we’re not really saving daylight; we’re moving an hour of sunlight from the morning to the evening.

DST is a concept that goes back to Ben “Early to Bed and Early to Rise” Franklin, who wrote An Economical Project to argue (possibly facetiously) that sunlight before you awaken is wasted. My favorite Founding Father was nonetheless a hypocrite, as demonstrated by his account of a visit to Paris:

An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows. I got up and looked out to see what might be the occasion of it, when I saw the sun just rising above the horizon, from whence he poured his rays plentifully into my chamber, my domestic having negligently omitted, the preceding evening, to close the shutters.

I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o’clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o’clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. …

Franklin calculated that shifting the clocks one hour ahead in the spring and summer would save 64.05 million pounds of candles, with a monetary conversion that he called …

An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles. If it should be said, that people are apt to be obstinately attached to old customs, and that it will be difficult to induce them to rise before noon, consequently my discovery can be of little use; I answer, Nil desperandum. I believe all who have common sense, as soon as they have learnt from this paper that it is daylight when the sun rises, will contrive to rise with him …

Whether Franklin was being serious or not, Franklin’s proposal ended up being adopted in most of the world. In fact, France and Spain do DST one better and move clocks ahead another hour in the summer, an initiative first done in Britain during World War II.

Wisconsin is affected by two pieces of geographic reality, being in the eastern part of the Central Time Zone and the far northern part of the continental U.S, The farther east you are within a time zone, the earlier sunrise and sunset are, and the farther west you are, the later sunrise and sunset are. The farther north you are, the bigger spread there is between sunrise and sunset, which is most noticeable on the first days of summer (which has 15 hours 28 minutes of daylight here) and winter (which has 8 hours 55 minutes of daylight).

Few things are as depressing in the workplace as the days after DST ends, when you leave the office and notice you’re driving home in the dark. Even worse is what follows, driving to and from work in the dark. In contrast, when I was making early morning trips to WFRV-TV to appear on their early morning news in the 6 a.m. hour, I got to see the sunrise. Sunrises are overrated.

DST was promoted as an energy conservation initiative in 1975 during the first energy crisis. Winter DST meant that workers could go home when it was at least sort of light out, but schoolchildren would be getting on school buses in the dark, or so went the NBC Nightly News story I remember watching.

The energy conservation benefits of DST are probably illusory. Having more evening daylight may reduce use of electricity for lighting, but that will be offset, depending on where you are, by more use of electricity for air conditioning.

The social benefits of shifting an hour of daylight, however, are inarguable. Those who work long daylight hours can at least have the opportunity to enjoy some of  our too-brief summer during the evening. That would be less possible without DST. As the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher put it in 2009:

Such concerns pale in the face of all the wonderful things that come with more light. Not only does the extra hour of sunshine put a smile on folks’ faces, as Rep. Edward Markey, Congress’s Mr. Daylight Time, likes to say, but the additional light is credited with saving energy, cutting crime and making roads safer.

I’m just happy to have the extra time to take a family walk, play hoops or linger over drinks at an outdoor cafe. Adding an hour of sunlight at the end of the day is primarily a “lifestyle benefit,” [Seize the Daylight author David] Prerau says, but it’s mainly the promise of energy savings that got this bill passed in 2005. …

Similarly, while bad guys are usually asleep in the early morning, dusk brings about prime time for crime. The extra light late in the day suppresses crime rates. A federal study of expanding daylight time in the ’70s found a drop in crime in the District [of Columbia] of about 10 percent when daylight time is in effect.

(Well, the District of Columbia has a lot of experience with crime, inside various federal buildings and on the streets.)

DST is more family-friendly because it matches sunlight with the hours when the parents are done with work and their children are done with school. For those who argue otherwise — that shifting daylight only makes children unhappy about getting up and unhappy about going to bed — my 12 years of parenting experience suggests that parents could set wake-up at noon, or set bedtime at midnight, and the kids would still be reluctant to get up or go to bed.  (The purpose of government is neither to validate your lifestyle choices nor to make parenting easier.)

You may read opinion pieces this weekend, usually written from latitudes south of this one, condemning the twice-yearly shifting of our clocks. (If you read Fisher’s piece,  you can read as much DST opposition as you like as well.)

Some opposition to DST would fit under what I’d call the Tyranny of the Early Riser. As anyone who knew me as a teenager can attest, I am not a happy early riser, and even today and even fortified with coffee I can barely function in the early a.m. How I functioned in first-hour (as in 8:10 a.m.) high school classes, or went to 8:25 or even 8:50 a.m.  classes at UW is beyond me. I never scheduled a 7:45 a.m. UW class, although I did have a couple of 7:45 a.m. exams.

(This blog is an example of my antipathy toward mornings. Most of the writing on this blog is done at night. I had planned for this blog be posted Friday morning, then changed my mind and set it for Saturday morning intending to finish it Friday, only to discover as I was writing that it went live at the originally scheduled time, when it wasn’t really finished. So Friday morning Presteblog readers have had the chance to watch me write, whatever that means.)

It is one thing to get up early because you have to go to work, or if your customers are a time zone or even a continent to the east. I have, however, never understood those who tout their own virtue of getting up at 5 a.m. It’s dark and cold at 5 a.m. Those who claim they get uninterrupted work done at that hour could also get uninterrupted work done six hours earlier.

I’ve noticed over the years society succumbing to the Tyranny of the Early Risers too. High school varsity basketball games started at 8 p.m. when I was in high school. Then when I entered the weekly newspaper world, they were played at 7:45, then 7:30 p.m. Now, games around here start at 7:15 p.m. High school football games are now played one-half hour earlier than when I was watching my high school lose. Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight pitched a fit when ESPN scheduled Big Ten basketball games Mondays at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, 8:30 p.m. Central during the late 1980s, saying that his players got back from games too late. (Those Monday games are now played Tuesdays at 7 Eastern, 6 Central.)

Knight’s complaint had something to do with Indiana’s peculiar role in the DST-or-not argument. Most of Indiana is in the Eastern time zone, while northwest (the parts considered to be in Chicagoland) and southwest Indiana are in the Central time zone. Indiana originally was in the Central time zone when time zones were legislated in 1918, but about two-thirds of Indiana (including around Indianapolis) moved to Eastern time in 1961. Most of the Central time zone parts of Indiana moved to Eastern time — some without asking the U.S. Department of Transportation, which, believe it or don’t, has federal time zone authority — between 1967 and 2006.

More confusing in all this is the fact that after DST  became federal law in 1966, some of Indiana observed DST — the Central time parts and the parts of Indiana opposite Cincinnati and Louisville — but most of the state did not. So in the summers between 1967 and 2006, Indiana officially three time zones — Central Daylight Time, Eastern Standard Time and Eastern Daylight Time — though EST and CDT are the same time. Indiana adopted DST in 2006, with most of the state in Eastern time, although the Central Time Coalition wants to move go back to the time zone it would argue Indiana geographically belongs in.

(If this confuses you, consider that 1978’s The American Atlas identified 345 different geographical areas of Indiana, each with a different time zone history. I went to Arizona late last March, and it wasn’t until I got there that I could figure out its time zone — Mountain Standard Time, the same as Pacific Daylight Time, one hour behind Wisconsin today but two hours behind on Sunday. Well, that is, except for the Navajo Reservation, which does observe DST because its borders include parts of New Mexico and Utah. My flight from Phoenix through Denver to Chicago took me from MST into MDT into CDT.)

There are those who condemn changing “God’s time,” which is illogical if you take the concept very far. Getting up when the sun rises and going to bed when the sun sets, whenever that is, got shelved a couple hundred years ago. Today’s world of business and an international customer base arguably blows up the concept of time zones, period, but one should be careful how far you take that argument. The argument of the time costs of changing clocks ahead and back holds little water when computers, cellphones and other newer electronic devices are capable of changing their internal clocks on their own.

Fisher liked the idea of double DST, or as an alternative permanently shifting time zones one hour ahead. I don’t know how likely that is (I’d be fine with the latter, and maybe the former too), but Congress must have been listening to its constituents about something given that DST started from late April to late October, then went from early April to late October, and now goes from the second weekend of March to the second weekend of November. There is some language irony in the fact that “standard” time is now half as long as non-standard time. People like their long(er) summer nights.

The DST-vs.-Standard Time argument will continue because of the aforementioned geographic challenges of this continent, not to mention expanding international business. In a perfect world, we’d all work when we wanted to work, regardless of what the clock says. But as long as schools and retail stores exist, at a minimum, the early risers and the night owls will still be arguing over when they want their daylight.

5 thoughts on “In defense of springing ahead

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