Sunday, March 23, 2008

Saving daylight

In light (forgive the pun) of the recent switch to Daylight-Saving Time, I offer the following editorial, originally published in 2007:

This weekend, clocks across the country will "spring forward" earlier than usual, as we observe daylight-saving time in March, rather than April, in compliance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

It was 100 years ago that William Willett, credited as the father of daylight-saving time, published his pamphlet, "The Waste of Daylight," advocating that clocks be changed in spring to take advantage of summer’s late-day sunlight and readjusted in fall.

While Willett’s writing dwells largely on issues of human comfort, it does also discuss the potential energy savings that would result from such a shift _ the same savings that led to the 2005 act that has Americans changing their clocks in March.

Since its introduction in the United States in 1918, daylight-saving time has been the subject of numerous studies.

Does it save energy? How much does it save? Does it lead to more automobile accidents? More crime? Less productivity?

Those questions are still being debated _ not only in the United States, but elsewhere in the world where forms of daylight-saving time are observed.

Even the 2005 act is subject to review, including as it does a stipulation that the effect of the shift be studied by the Department of Energy to determine how much energy, if any, is being saved.

At the time the Energy Policy Act was passed, it made headlines for several reasons.

On one hand, the original bill would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which many environmental advocates oppose and others argue is key in diminishing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.

On the other hand, many critics denounced the act as being too friendly to oil companies and not doing enough to commit the United States to renewable energy sources.

With these issues in the forefront, the daylight-saving time switch understandably got short shrift, for the most part, in the media.

But the change has gained new prominence in recent weeks, drawing comparisons to the dreaded Y2K bug for its impact on technology. In 1999, the problem of updating the nation’s time-sensitive computers seemed nearly impossible.

This switch, it turns out, is no less challenging. A March 6 Chicago Tribune article dubbed it "mayhem lite" and quoted the University of California at Berkeley’s chief information officer, Shelton Waggener, observing that the switch is "more complex than the people in Washington considered."

This is no doubt not the last instance we will see of "mayhem lite," as society’s dependence on technology shows no sign of waning. It is poignant to remember, amid installing computer software patches, programming microwave clocks, synchronizing PDAs and reprogramming cell phones that the very idea of daylight-saving time was suggested first and foremost as a way to better enjoy our leisure time.

One wonders: What would Willett think of us now?

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
-- Douglas Adams