Gradual Time Changes

Given the intelligence of modern clocks, we could shift time continuously to match the sun.

There’s the Sunshine Protection Act (Wikipedia: “Sunshine Protection Act”), and there’s the Save Standard Time movement ( Two sides of the same wooden nickel, which would lock us into one of the two levels of the current see-saw of time we go through every year.

But there’s a fourth option (the third being to change nothing): a continuous time shifting system that would allow the clocks, most of which have enough processing to handle the task of keeping time in sync with the sun. The rest would be replaced.

How would it work? Much as it does today except without the one-hour cliffs that make us extra sleepy and screw with our natural adjustments twice a year.

The simple recommendation would be that for a month preceding the current time changes, clocks would gain or lose two minutes per day. The math checks out: 2 minutes × 30 days = 60 minutes = 1 hour. We could go for two months and one-minute changes, or we could go longer and sub-minute changes, but a one-month change seems like a sweet-spot to me.

How would we cope with a more gradual change? Would people still get all screwy? Would we even notice? To find out, we could reprogrammed a prominent university’s smartphones and changed the time two minutes per day for a month. At the end of the… Okay, that would violate the ethical strictures on psychological experiments, not to mention the laws against computer trespass. Let’s use our imagination, instead.

In all likelihood, a gradual change would go unnoticed for the first week (Δt=14 minutes), with little impact on sleep. But in the second week, one might notice some minor symptoms of time-irregularity, such as wearing mismatched socks. Nope. Not at two minutes a day. I don’t believe it. I bet we wouldn’t even notice!

The biggest sticking point against it is for devices and clocks that wouldn’t support it. It would take you more than two minutes per day to change them to fit the new system. (If it actually became reality, people might just reset such chronometers at the end of it, at the beginning of it, or at some greater interval than daily.)

(There is an extension of this idea that would have phones set time year-round and would vary it finer than current timezones do. The main issue with the extension has to do with knowing what time it will be when one is traveling. Timezones as they are already make cross-zone travel kind of head-fucky, particularly crossing more than one zone, but if you added continuous timezones to that… seems bad.)

While it seems like a better way, I have no doubt it won’t happen. But which of the leading changes has a better chance? I think permanent Daylight Saving Time seems most likely. It’s more popular, with several states having passed enabling legislation that only require the federal government to allow it. While any state can already go permanently on Standard Time, the places that want to change tend to want more sun in the evening than the morning.

I think most people who want change don’t care as much about the time the sun is up as they care about not having to climb up (in spring) and fall off (in fall) an hour-high temporal cliff every year. I know that’s what bugs me about the time changes. That and the week-or-so afterwards when I’m still adjusting to it.

Which would you prefer? I’d rather take it two minutes at a time and keep both (assuming that my guess is correct—that we’d barely notice).


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