Can we get rid of timezones now, please?

For over 100 years, we’ve had a rough international agreement about at what point the sun is directly overhead, because this is when we assign an arbitrary time known as “noon”. We’ve divided the world into “zones”, which for some reason makes sense.

Like most international agreements, it’s not perfect, and many governments have gone well out of their way to thoroughly botch and/or screw around with the implementation — so much so that, in some cases, the concept of a time zone really makes no sense at all. Given the rise of the internet, the massive synchronisation between continents in real-time, and the presence of global companies, it’s frankly a wonder why we even think time zones are a good idea anymore.

So let’s get rid of them!

For anyone who’s ever had the challenge of scheduling meetings across time zones, you know the story:

Them: Let’s meet at 1pm.
You: Is that 1pm your time?
Them: I thought you were on the same time?
You: No, I’m two hours behind you.
Them: Oh, so 3pm?
You: You mean 11am.
Them: No, I mean 1pm.
You: [Commits sepuku to end the suffering.]

I’ve done this more times than I dare to think about. And things get doubly worse when you have to deal with the equally inane concept of Daylight Savings Time. Yes, we northern countries would like to take advantage of additional daylight. So why don’t we just get our asses out of bed an hour earlier? No, changing the clocks for everyone on the planet makes much more sense!

The internet runs off UTC — Universal Coordinated Time, what we humans refer to as Greenwich Mean Time. (If you’ve ever heard a military person refer to a time in “zulu”, that’s the same thing.) Yes, differences are applied, but everything starts in UTC. Because one time makes sense.

Hopefully you see where I’m going with this…

Does it matter what the hour is when you get up? As a parent, I’ve learned that the numbers on the clock don’t matter — if I’m up, I’m up, and I’ll motor through. Having travelled enough, I know that the hours on the clock don’t matter in the slightest, because my body thinks it’s not where it actually is (and adjusting watches is not a fun task either, I might add).

Time is — literally — arbitrary. The concept of an “hour” came from observations by the Ancient Egyptians and the Greeks. They decided the divisions (they originally had 10, believe it or not), and Ancient Sumer, India, and China created the 24/60 divisions we’re familiar with (the 24 came as a result of two 12s — one day, one night — because 12 was attributed to the number of lunar cycles in a year).

So you can blame civilisations long gone (and dead, in some cases) for our current mess. Then add in the railroads who were obsessed with noon, not because it was handy to know when to eat lunch, but to keep the railroad schedules in sync. (Later, the idea of “high noon” was replaced with a synchronised clock, with the time sent over telegraph wires.) But it all comes back to why on Earth should I care about getting up at 6:15 every morning. Why not 00:15? Does it really matter?

When I lived in Costa Rica, I got up at 6:00. The sun had been shining quite well for over an hour at that point. Costa Rica, again for whatever reason, is in the “wrong” time zone. Because it’s arbitrary, and someone decided badly. Venezuela moved it’s clock 30 minutes to get a “better distribution” for poor children going to school.

That concept of “better distribution” is also how we ended up with that abhorrent Daylight Savings Time. Originally, it was for farmers, who needed the light to work their fields. Okay, fine. But if you’ve ever driven out into the country at midnight these days, you’ll see terribly bright lights from the modern tractors illuminating things. Now we defer Daylight Savings to — of all things — saving energy, a dubious point at best. Most of the planet has dropped the concept of Daylight Savings (or never used it at all), and there’s little reason it should continue.

Same with time zones. They serve no purpose, when it comes down to it. They made sense at a time when global synchronisation of time was difficult, when messages took days to arrive, rather than our current milliseconds. We are a global people, having extended beyond our nations, using services that span every continent, and learn of events mere seconds after they transpire. A “local time” is absolutely irrelevant.

Global time. One time. Everyone uses the same clock. You choose when to rise, when to sleep, when to eat. Yes, there will be adjustment — we’ve spend a hundred years fixating on the idea of “noon”. We don’t need “noon”, we just need a time. A local agreement that the work day starts at, say 04:00, or 22:30, or 11:00. We eat at our midday, we sleep after it gets dark (mostly; extreme northern and southern climbs notwithstanding). Yes, it’ll take adjustment, but within a year it would seem so much simpler than it ever did before.

Metric time? A waste of time, I think. Yes, we’ve got the opportunity, but rolling both together will cause chaos. Humanity has observed a 24/60 division for nearly two thousand years. Changing that habit will be a lot harder than just picking one common time.

So what say you? Why shouldn’t we change? Let the debate begin!

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