A few years ago I wrote a blog post on the topic of the total muddle that’s caused by the lack of a commonly accepted standard date format. Today, I’m going to waffle on about something similar.
Before standard time was adopted in England, each town — unbelievably — had its own local timezone based on its own town clock. The same situation prevailed in the USA (and no doubt other parts of the world, too). The advent of the railways brought the need to synchronise train timetables, and it was this local shrinking of space that was the impetus for the effort to set up the Prime Meridian, and to implement global time zones. (See Why Do We Have Time Zones?)
Nowadays, we have a similar nonsensical situation: a still-shrinking global village with many timezones, each of which has idiosyncracies such as those caused by the odd path of the International Dateline and the nonsense caused by the fact that daylight savings time changes aren’t synchronised with each other.
Not so long ago, for instance, I had to find out what time ‘2pm EST’ is. This is complicated by the fact that there are not one but three timezones referred to as ‘EST’: the one I need is the last of these, but why is there even the possibility of confusion? And it gets worse: ‘EST’ is sometimes ‘EDT’: classic nonsense!
|EST||Eastern Standard Time||Central America|
|EST||Eastern Standard Time||Caribbean|
|EST||Eastern Standard Time||North America|
“North American time zones: EST – Eastern Standard Time:
Only some locations are currently on EST, because most places there are currently on Daylight Saving Time. Locations that are on EST part of the year are currently on EDT (Eastern Daylight Time).”
Humanity can’t even agree on a universal world time standard. There is one; it’s called ‘UTC‘; but its adoption would remove some folk from the center of their universe. I think that this failure strongly indicates that it is unlikely in the extreme that we’ll ever be able to agree on solutions to some of our other more pressing global problems.
Here, for the curious, is a list of worldwide timezone abbreviations and their associated deviations from UTC. If you do follow that link I think you may agree with me that the current situation is, at best, totally bonkers. (Take ‘AMT’ for example. There are two of these: Amazon Time, which is UTC-4, and Armenia Time, which is UTC+4.)
There are many timezone converters available on the innerwebz. It’s not necessary to list them; you only need to search for ‘timezone converter’ to find them. I have had many discussions with people who claim that there isn’t a problem at all, because all one needs to do is to refer to one of these converters; but in this day and age isn’t that, too, totally bonkers? Why don’t we have one time standard to which we can all refer, whichever side of the planet we happen to be on, and not be confused?
Not so very long ago, I was active in the raid scene in Everquest II, a game that has players from all over the planet. It always drove me nuts that raid start times were often specified in the organizer’s local timezone, which made it very complicated trying to figure out what that time was where I was (and, of course, the same applied for many of the other players involved, too). I tried, with no success, to get us all to agree to specify these times in UTC. Yes, we’d still all have convert UTC to our local timezones, but at least after a while we’d get used to certain conversions (such as 7am PST — the time that the servers often went down for maintenance on a Tuesday — equating to 3pm GMT, except of course when there was daylight savings time to take into account). The point being, were we to all use UTC, we’d all be ‘speaking the same language’; we’d all have the same base point to start from.
What difference would it make if, instead of working from ‘9 to 5’ we were to do so from, say, ‘0300 to 1100’? After a while, we’d get used to that (it’s possible to get used to much worse). The advantage would be that it would be so much easier to co-ordinate with other folks around the world.
If, like me, you’re driven to dribble at the corners of your mouth by the lunacy of the current system, I have a suggestion: take time out to watch Longitude, which details the efforts of one John Harrison, three centuries ago, to devise a marine chronometer to enhance navigation at sea. It’s through the herculean acts of single-minded individuals like Mr Harrison, despite all barriers thrown in their way, that progress is made.