Why Should You Care About Time Zones?
At 5:30 am in San Francisco, the sun is not up and neither are most people. But, coordinating with NY time, work in the financial district has begun. Offices are active as are local coffee shops. Out of sync with East and West Coast bankers, the rest of California listens to a different clock.
Spain also has a time problem. Retaining the time zone that it adopted during WW II, it is somewhat out of sync with the sun and its neighbors. Based on their time zone, a typical Spanish workday begins at 9 am. Then though, conforming to a “solar clock,” lunch is at 2, so late that a midmorning snack break is a necessity. On the other end, the prolonged lunch hour means workers might remain on the job until 9 and then go home to enjoy some prime time TV that starts at 10:00.
Time has always presented dilemmas. During the 19th century in the U.S., one end of a New England town could have a different time from the other side. Keeping a lunch date, telling when something happened in a newspaper article and punctually meeting a train were potentially challenging. Still though, liking their local power, towns resisted uniformity.
Described by econlife, the railroad made universal time a necessity. Faced with 70 time zones, by 1883, railroads had whittled them down to 4. In 1918, the Congress agreed.
Now, are we ready for the next step? Like Spain, are our time zones impeding business transactions, creating sleep deprivation, diminishing productivity and hindering worldwide communication? Maybe we should copy China. They have one time zone.
The answers take us to trade-offs and positive externalities. Would you trade your “solar clock” for the positive externalities of synchronicity?
A final thought: As one blog points out, if we all adopted Greenwich Mean Time, then 4:03 becomes 20:03, people everywhere might be eating dinner at 23:30, and the Dolly Parton song, “9 to 5” would switch to “14 to 22.”
A music break: “9 to 5”
Sources and resources: Discussed in a Washington Post article, changing to one time zone has also been supported by economists Tim Harford, here, and Steve Hanke, here, while several academic researchers have sought to prove that our “solar clocks” are flexible. As for Spain’s time dilemmas, this (gated) WSJ discussion provides more detail. Finally, you might want to read Keeping Watch A History of American Time for some good stories about time conflicts and a previous post about The Geography of Time.