Albany Times Union

Changing our clocks is stupid

- By Allison Schrager

I have mixed feelings about many of the policies of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, but he will always be a hero to me. I can’t help but admire his determinat­ion to end the semiannual, pointless and expensive ritual of changing our clocks to observe Daylight Saving Time during the spring and summer months. After several failed attempts to advance it in Congress, the senator has once again revived his bill, the Sunshine Protection Act. It would put America on permanent Daylight Saving Time.

I am agnostic about whether we move to permanent daylight saving (brighter evenings and darker mornings) or stick with standard time (brighter mornings and darker evenings) year-round. But I am 100 percent anti-time change. The economic arguments for the change were always questionab­le, but our modern lifestyles make jumping back and forth by an hour more nonsensica­l than ever.

We originally started changing clocks in 1918 to save energy. The rumors about farmers starting it are false — time changing is bad for farmers because their animals notice the disruption to their routine, too. And for the record, there’s no evidence we save energy by changing clocks. But there are real costs to changing time. There are more heart attacks and car accidents as the entire country experience­s collective jet lag.

And there are costs to the global economy. Arizona, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico don’t participat­e. Thus residents in Arizona and Hawaii must constantly try to remember what time it is when they do business in Los Angeles throughout the year. Most countries don’t change their clocks either. It is mainly a rich country thing. Parts of the U.S. and Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Chile are the only ones who can afford to be so wasteful and impose confusion on their poorer trading partners. And many of these countries change their clocks on different days, which means weeks of disorienta­tion when no one can remember what time it is in London, Paris or New York. The Air Transport Associatio­n estimates the lack of coordinati­on costs the industry $147 million a year.

The United States can lead by example by choosing a time and sticking with it year-round. Not only is the idea of maintainin­g one time regime not controvers­ial, it’s what two-thirds of Americans want. So why hasn’t this happened yet? To some extent, inertia is to blame — Rubio’s bills keep dying because other things come up, like the pandemic or the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The other hurdle is deciding on which time to keep: daylight saving or standard time — or we can split the difference and change the clocks by a half-hour. And this is where

things get divisive.

The pro-daylight saving camp, like Sunshine State Sen. Rubio, sees the economic benefit to outdoor businesses that want longer light at the end of the day. Others argue that health should be the priority, and standard time is closer to solar time (when the sun is directly overhead at noon), which is presumed to be more in sync with our circadian rhythms. The ideal time for you depends on where in your time zone you live and whether you are a morning or evening person. One way to decide would be to determine where most of the country’s population lives and choose the time that most aligns to their solar time.

Aside from personal preference­s, which time we choose doesn’t matter as much as it once did. The purpose of time is coordinati­on. Until the 1880s, cities and towns decided their own clocks that aligned with their solar time, which led to dozens of local times across the country. The

railroad and telegraph required more coordinati­on, and so we set up our current time zones. This took us further from our solar time in exchange for better economic coordinati­on. The tension between economic coordinati­on and solar time has always driven the time-zone conversati­on.

Now the modern economy is changing to bring us back to our solar time. There is some evidence that it was TV schedules that influenced our daily rhythms more than the time zone. Streaming has dramatical­ly reduced television’s influence as we now watch on our own schedule.

New research estimates that people who live on the western edge of a time zone keep different schedules than people on the eastern edge. Using data from 2019, the economists estimate that people on the western edge use Twitter 22 minutes later than their eastern cohorts. The researcher­s saw similar patterns using census and foot traffic data.

The results may be even stronger now that more people work from home. We are more in sync with our natural time when

there is less need to be in the office right at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.

But even if we are less tied to our clocks, some people do need to be at work at certain hours, and we all need to coordinate meetings throughout the day, make flights and send our kids to school. Periodic time changes make all these activities more difficult.

Skeptics point to a holiday from time changes in 1974 when the U.S. went on permanent daylight saving and it proved to be very unpopular. But those were different times. We were slaves to TV schedules and regular office commutes. Back then, imposing yearround daylight saving or standard time would have been too divisive for our country to handle. Today it’s notable that Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act is one of the rare policies earning bipartisan support.

We finally have the flexibilit­y to take a stand against pointless change. Let’s commit to making this time change our last.

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