The Time Change Brings Out the Worst in Everyone

  • 3 November 2019

Okay. So first three basic facts with no citations or supporting evidence:

  1. Today marks the end of Daylight Saving Time for 2019, for those time zones and areas that observe a time-change to begin with.
  2. Daylight Saving Time is so written. A student of The Chicago Manual of Style would likely put a hyphen there: Daylight-Saving Time. The key is that saving is an adjective. Daylight saving time is meant to save daylight, meaning that in the longer ends of days of the summer months, the clock is adjusted so that the sun sets later relative to the 24-hour clock. It is not, as the solecistic plural noun-form savings would suggest, a sale.
  3. Today therefore marks the beginning of Standard Time.

Which of course means that news outlets of all different stripes are running biannual pseudo-scientific think pieces as to whether or not a yearly time change ought to continue, and, if not, whether Standard or Daylight-Saving time ought to be the permanent state of time zones. Here’s this one from my local Chicago ABC affiliate, with the click-baity title “Daylight saving ends fall 2019: Science says it may harm your health.”

(As an aside: if a time-change of one hour harms people’s health, then what happens when someone takes a flight and jumps a couple of timezones, or many more?)

What I’ve never seen in any of those think pieces, whether arguing for or against a time change, and whether for Standard or Daylight-Saving Time, is even the acknowledgement of the fundamental problem of just how geographically big time zones are in the continental United States, which is split into just four timezones.

For my part, I live in Chicago most of the time (the rest of the time, I’m living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is among the further west municipalities in the Eastern time zone). And Chicago is one of the eastern-most locations in the Central time zone. For that reason, and because of my own personal and non-scientific love of the sun setting as late as possible during the day, I would argue for a permanent adoption of Daylight Saving Time, were the time change to disappear.

Yet someone who is a serious early-bird (or someone who just wants their kid to catch the bus in something other than total darkness), and who lives on the western-most edge of Central Time, would almost certainly argue for the permanent establishment of Central Standard Time.

Some hard comparative data. Let’s consider Boston, among the eastern-most large cites of the eastern seaboard. Near the summer solstice, in 2020, Boston’s sunset will be at 8:25pm Eastern Daylight Time (which would be 7:25pm Eastern Standard Time). Compare that with Grand Rapids, Michigan, among the western-most cities of Eastern time. During the same summer period in 2020, Grand Rapids will see sunset at 9:25pm (which would be 8:25pm Eastern Standard Time). Sunrise will, in the same summer period, be as early at 5:06am in Boston, and 6:03 am in Grand Rapids—both in Daylight-Saving Time. In Standard Time, that would be 4:06am in Boston and 5:03am in Grand Rapids.

Just from that single data point for two locations, and without even looking at the eastern- and western-most extremes, there’s a full hour’s difference in sunset time near the solstice. Anyone who has attended a summer baseball game or waited for Independence Day fireworks knows the real difference an hour of daylight makes. So perhaps it’s no coincidence at all that Daylight Saving Time makes up, even in a ham-fisted way, that difference in sunrise and sunset times during the year.

Returning to Boston, MA and Grand Rapids, MI: if we go the other direction, and look at sunrise times during the winter solstice, Boston sees a 7:13am sunrise through early January, while Grand Rapids doesn’t see sunrise until 8:13am. Again, an hour might not seem like much, but if you’re waiting for the school bus or planning an early-morning run, it makes all the difference in the world.

Bottom line: if you are the kind of person (like me) who sleeps late and enjoys later sunsets, you will favor Daylight-Saving Time and want to live as far west in a time zone as you can. If you prefer a well-established sunrise for your morning-person routine, you’ll favor Standard Time and want to set up camp as far east in a time zone as you possibly can.

Those are the simple facts of geography and time zones. And the simple dasein of an hour of lived experience on the planet. Neither of which is easily, let alone satisfactorily fixed by eliminating the time change and settling on Daylight-Saving or Standard time. Puzzle over the solution long enough, and what you’ll probably come up with as a solution is what we’ve got: shifting the clocks an hour so that sunset is later in the summer (sacrificing, if you can call it that, a 4am sunrise) and that sunrise comes a bit earlier in winter.