The Trouble with Time Zones

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“Check-in isn’t until noon.”

“It’s noon where I came from,” I replied, to no avail.

Unbeknownst to us, our short drive had taken us into “Arizona time,” which just happened to be an hour earlier than we planned and apparently an hour earlier than our campsite was ready to accommodate us.

One might forgive our confusion. You see, Arizona follows Mountain Standard Time, except for when and where it doesn’t. We unfortunately arrived at one of those places and at one of those times.

From mid-March to early November Arizona is really on Pacific Time, except for the Navajo Nation, whose clocks read an hour earlier. For the rest of the year, all of Arizona, including the Navajo Nation, follows Mountain Time. Got it? Neither do I, really.

All of this leaves us wondering, what is the point? Not specifically about the peculiarities of Arizona time but the point of time zones in general.

Modern times call for modern timekeeping

Time zones date back to our agricultural history, when the rising sun woke both man and beast for a day of labor. In those good old days, all commerce was local. Nobody cared about the time in Hong Kong, except for the people who lived there. But today, the mid-day happenings in Hong Kong are of concern to people the world over.

Coordinating travel and communications across multiple time zones is an archaic inconvenience in our modern world. I’m reminded of the difficulties Shannon faced in arranging a conference call between her co-author in London, their editor in New York, and whatever time it would be wherever the hell we’d be when the call took place. So much confusion and calculation when, in truth, everyone got on the phone at exactly the same time. Only the clocks thought differently.

Some of the rest of the world is catching on. This past March, Russia – a country that nearly circles half the globe – reduced the number of its time zones from 11 to 9. China, which spans five different geographic time zones, uses only one. Wherever you go in China, from the farthest western regions of Tibet to the eastern Jilin Province, the clocks are all set to the exact same “Beijing Time.”

Not surprisingly, some academics have come out in favor of modernizing our calendars and our clocks. Astrophysicists Steve Hanke and Richard Conn Henry propose a single world time-zone, with all clocks set to Greenwich Mean Time. The airline industry has already made the switch, at least internally. I suspect that international businesses will increasingly move in that direction as well.

Today San Fran, tomorrow the world

In some respect, business already does. Workers in my old San Francisco sales office arrive before 4:00 A.M. to accommodate a 7:00 A.M. start in New York. Coffee carts and delis open early to capture their business, putting a portion of San Francisco’s workforce on New York time. Naturally, this leaves all of those workers perpetually out of synch with the rest of the city in which they live.

Nonetheless, changing to a single time zone is an extraordinarily heavy cultural lift. It is far more disruptive, to far more people, than the many failed attempts to get Americans to adopt the metric system. After all, only vampires would relish spending their lunch break in relative darkness and sleeping while the sun is shining. For that reason, it will never happen – at least not in total.

But like the metric system, certain practitioners will gravitate toward its efficiencies. Some of us will have to update our tool boxes as a result. It’s possible, for example, that my old San Francisco sales office will one day find it needs to not only coordinate with New York but Hong Kong and London as well. If these financial centers move to a standard time, they’ll take a big chunk of their cities – and a portion of their country – along with them.

That would be just fine with this traveler. At least that is what I thought as I spent the hour I “gained” driving into Arizona waiting for my campsite to open up.

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17 Comments on “The Trouble with Time Zones”

  1. theappletizer June 4, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    We have been dealing with different time zones for more than two decades already, my Papa being a seaman. We didn’t know it was going to be harder this time, with all the techie stuff. Back then, we only wrote letters and recorded tapes. They didn’t take much of our time. Now, with the internet plus Skype, we have to stay up late in the evening until the wee hours of the morning just to catch him online. Lol.

    • Brian June 4, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      It’s true. With snail mail, people get it and read it in “their time” – whatever that happens to be. But if you want to get on the phone or “facetime” over skype, then you need to figure out a common time, which can mean one person staying awake at ungodly hours.

      • theappletizer June 4, 2012 at 10:04 am #

        exactly. and it’s us, all the time because if he’s not online, it means he’s working. anyway, doesn’t happen that often especially of he travels from one continent to the other. ;p

        • Brian June 4, 2012 at 10:26 am #

          Always seems how it works, huh?

          • writecrites June 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

            Although the idea sounds logical and nicely uncomplicated, things wouldn’t really change much. No matter what the clock said, people would still have to sleep when it’s dark (our internal clock) and wake up in the middle of the night if they wanted to instantly communicate with someone who, at that point, was enjoying daylight. It would be nice, though, if states in a particular time zone stuck to that time zone (I’m talking about you, Arizona).

            • Brian June 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

              Not necessarily. Think of a case where all business is global (something that may very well be true one day). In that case, most everyone would need to go to work at the same time regardless of the position of the sun. That is certainly the case with my former San Fran salesmen whose work day starts at 4:00 am. Or, more significantly, consider all the call centers in India that field calls from the U.S. They work U.S. hours despite being about 12 hours ahead of us.

  2. RedRoadDiaries June 4, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I can relate. We have had similar time zone problems in our travels. When camping just 10 minutes west of Yuma, Arizona they were on Pacific time while Yuma was an hour later. In that case the campground chose to operate on “Yuma time” in order to make it easier on everyone. Overlay Daylight Savings Time and it gets more confusing because some areas don’t “Spring forward-Fallback” for that.

    • Brian June 4, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      You can call that “When 10 minutes costs an hour.” LOL

      We had a similar experience in Acadia National Park. We took our chairs and books to a scenic spot for the afternoon. We had plans to meet others for dinner and consulted our cell phones for the time. Before long, our phones said we had to leave. When we got back to the car we noticed the dashboard clock read an hour earlier than we thought it was. It turns out, our scenic spot got us far enough east that our phones thought we were in a different time zone.

      http://everywhereonce.com/2010/09/22/thunder-hole/

  3. spc30802 June 4, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Recently I was reading about the advent of early railroads in the US – like 1840’s-50’s. The RR were behind the standardization of time zones, because before RR schedules, each area based their local time on sunrise. One town would be 1:10 in the afternoon, while the next town west could be 1:30. Imagine that!

    • Brian June 4, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      That’s really interesting. It shows we can indeed change with the times, so to speak.

  4. katztravelz June 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Love this post as we are getting ready to embark on a trip via truck pulling travel trailer with from Florida to California and realize we are going to changing our time zones. Really, how is this going to affect our kids (5 that are 5 and under) sleeping patterns/bed times. I’m sure we will adjust, I hope anyhow!

    In addition, I work from home for a company that encompasses over 40,000 Members from around the world. When they call me at 3am, I am sleeping, but they are wide awake in their full force of business affairs. Fortunately, most communication is transpired via email but it truly is hard to keep up even with an email train when you are hoping for a ‘quick’ answer. I look at this way, if I am emailing someone in a 6 hour different time zone, either I do it first thing in the morning or I might as well wait to wake up to their answer the next morning.

    Love time zones! :-)

    Thanks for a great post.

    Kat

  5. Barbara June 4, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Yes, time zones can be troublesome. Alaska had 4 time zones, with the state capitol being 2 time zones away from the much more populous area of Anchorage and its surroundings. So, the state legislature declared all of Alaska to be on a single time zone. Much more workable. The population accepted the change with little hassle. Of course, the darkness-light issue is one Alaskans have been dealing with for a long time.

    • Brian June 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      I didn’t know Alaska once had 4 time zones. I guess it makes sense that as you get closer to the pole the distance between time zones shrinks.

  6. Carol Dunnigan June 5, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I’m lost! lol I’m so glad we’re moving to CO on Friday and not AZ!

  7. soulmetry June 7, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    I really like oyur blog and so I am sending across a sisterhood award because Shannon deserves it.. Sorry Brian, will send you one next time ;) Collect your award here..

    http://soulmetry.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/another-one-awwww-d/

  8. Sylver Blaque June 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    I love this! Can’t wait to see how the “single world time zone” turns out. Sigh. Traveler’s dream come true!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Another one…? AWWWW…. :D « soulmetry - June 7, 2012

    […] Everywhereonce : This one’s for Shannon, sorry Brian! ;D […]

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