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Does Daylight really need saving? [On the Contrary]

In the wee hours of the morning this coming Sunday, a terrible thing is going to happen to the majority of Americans. No, I don’t foresee a terrorist attack or anything like that (though the Homeland Security threat level is at “High” or “Orange”, if anyone still pays attention to that). What will happen has happened before, and will happen again. On Sunday, Americans living in 48 states will all lose one hour of their lives.

It’s Daylight Savings Time, the day we “Spring Ahead.”

Of course, we don’t really lose the hour. We put it in some kind of temporal lock box and store it away for winter. We get it back the first Sunday of November—a Sunday morning that always feels like the greatest day of the year until we leave work on Monday evening to find it’s already dark. But that seems so far away now. Throughout the summer, most of the Northern Hemisphere operates on borrowed (or maybe its loaned) time.

Why do we do this? Giving an extra hour of daylight for retail, farmers, etc. is often given as a reason, as is the idea that it can save energy (since presumably people won’t need to turn on their lights until later with the sun up so long—though I would think this would be offset by people taxing their air conditioners longer). These reasons seem rational, but if you really think about them they don’t make any sense.

When I was in high school I used to set the time on my alarm clock fifteen minutes ahead of the actual time. I wanted the extra time to get ready in the morning, but I couldn’t bring myself to set an alarm to go off before 6:00am, so I just made 6:00 come a few minutes earlier on my clock. It made me feel better, even though every time I looked at that particular clock I knew the actual time was fifteen minutes earlier than the clock said. Explaining this habit to people, I have received the response, “That’s weird. You’re weird.” But this is EXACTLY what Daylight Savings Time is. The time that it takes for the earth to rotate and that elapses from sunrise to sunset varies seasonally, but this progression remains constant no matter what we do with our clocks.

What Daylight Savings Time is really about is people being divas. We’re not going to adjust our schedules to fit the sun. Instead, we’re going to make Time adjust its schedule to fit us. We’re like that friend who never visits but always makes you come to visit her (or in L.A. terms, the Santa Monica resident who refuses to travel east of the 405). The funny thing is, even without turning the clock ahead, the day would still be longer. We’re not only high maintenance, we’re greedy about it. Why accept a sun that sets at 8:30 when you can force it to be out until 30 ROCK?

I don’t necessarily hate this practice. I’ll bitch and moan about losing an hour and having to reset all my clocks, but come Monday I’ll enjoy the illusion of a longer day. Also, for all the pain that Spring Forward brings in its lost hour of sleep, Fall Back more than makes up for it with the bonus hour (smack in the middle of football season, no less!).

Daylight Savings is neither bad nor good. There are arguments both for and against it, with both sides making points that manage to be both valid and uninspiring. What is interesting is that we all seem to accept this silly practice every year without so much as a second thought. “Oh, I have to change my clock again? Ok. Anything else? Oh, I have to pay an extra “convenience fee” to buy a ticket to a show? Well, if that’s how it’s done, then sure.”

So there now. We’ve given it some thought. Now let’s try to remember how to reset our car stereo clocks.