“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.