Why do we have time zones: time for change?

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.


About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Communication, Core thought, History, Ludditis, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Why do we have time zones: time for change?

  1. My friend ran a petition on this 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lindasschaub says:

    Drives me batty here too … twice a week we have to go through this nonsense – “Spring forward, fall back” is the campaign they use to help you remember. Statistically, they say there are more heart attacks and traffic accidents on the Monday following the time change than any other time – that is what the proponents of leaving the clocks at one setting all year long say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      So you’re a fan of Lighter Later too? Shame that our MPs here in the UK can’t be convinced 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        Colin – funny you said that because I would rather they don’t tinker with the time change because I like it light in the morning. I work from home, so I go out for my walk and/or errands in the morning, then I am inside for the day. It is rare if I go back outside. #1 – we are having more and more crime in the neighborhood, and #2 – for the past three or four years, I have switched “outside chores” with my neighbor … I shovel both properties in the Winter and he mows both properties in the Summer, so I don’t have to go out and do that task at night. I don’t start work until 11:00 a.m. and usually am here til about 5:30-6:00 p.m. I was later tonight because my boss is off to Chicago for four days as his son is graduating from law school, so I had to stay later.

        Liked by 1 person

        • pendantry says:

          Ah, but the point I’m really trying to make is that it doesn’t matter what time the clock says; you can choose your own labels for the numbers.

          Liked by 1 person

          • lindasschaub says:

            I just like when it light in the morning – I know most people prefer it stays lighter in the evening, especially in the Summer. When I worked on site and did not get home until 5:30-6:00 p.m., then I did appreciate having more light at night, so I didn’t spend the weekend running errands, grocery shopping and doing yard work. But people here complain all the time – the original reason for doing it, was so farmers could have more time to toil in the field.


          • pendantry says:

            I don’t get the ‘so the farmers can have more time’ argument. They can get up, and go to bed, whenever they like — who’s stopping them?

            Liked by 1 person

          • lindasschaub says:

            That’s true unless they need more hours of daylight at night, but I think that most farmers start early in the day. My great grandfather had a farm and would be out to milk the cows early in the day, then would trek to toil in the fields. Someone would take his lunch out to the field so he didn’t come home until after sundown. Now they milk the cows by machine (except the Amish farmers). I just wish they would leave it the same time all year ’round.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Eric Alagan says:

    Since I was born, I lost (or gained 30 minutes)

    1945 Sep 13 – 1981 Dec 31 + 7hr 30m 00s (GMT)
    1982 Jan 01 – Present + 8hr 00m 00s (GMT)

    Time to move along 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Change is good at times

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wouldn’t hold my breath about humanity making such a change. But that film Longitude was a wonderful film. Must watch it again some time!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bernard25 says:

    Bonjour ou bonsoir

    La vie a grand besoin de respect et d’amour
    Il faut savoir donner pour mériter de prendre
    Ce qui nous est offert et savoir aussi le rendre
    Nous traversons, souvent, pendant notre vie
    Des tortueux chemins qui viennent nous surprendre
    C’est alors qu’il nous faut ouvrir nos cœurs et tendre
    La main à nos amis pour leur dire bonjour

    Belle journée ou belle soirée

    Bisous Bernard

    Liked by 1 person

  7. floatinggold says:

    This was an entertaining read. I remember all the gaming blunders due to time zone miscommunications. The in-game clocks were a gift from God. Cause we could all talk “in game” time, and then figure out how our real time was different from it on our own. But daylight saving would always mess things up with mob spawning, dungeons resetting, etc.

    Because I like to sleep whenever I can, I enjoy the the time changes in the fall (I get to sleep an hour longer). But when the spring one approaches, I dread it. I sleep an hour less, and I feel the effects for at least a week. This year, I was so lucky. I visited 3 different continents, which had their time changed on different dates. I managed to avoid it all together by hopping around the world. I have gamed the system. It was glorious.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. rabiddoomsayer says:

    Australian Eastern Standard Time: UTC +10.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      I’ll admit that one does my head in. Quite apart from the collision with ‘EST’, if you’re in Australian EST and you work a standard ‘9 to 5’, in UTC terms that would wrap around the clock… I think? (As I said, it does my head in). But the point really is that it’s all about tradition; we can get used to anything.


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