I Think I Just Solved Daylight Saving Time

And now two new forces, Covid-19 and information technology, have made coordination problems less of a concern than ever before.

The surprising success of working from home during the pandemic has demonstrated that it’s the work, not the face time, that matters. For example, if school starts later in the winter, that would prevent working parents from getting to the office at the usual hour. In the past that would have been a career killer. Now, for many, it’s business as usual.

Technology like Zoom, whose deployment was accelerated by Covid-19, makes it easier for individuals and institutions to set schedules as they see fit regardless of where Congress pushes the hour hand. With scheduling programs such as Doodle, Calendly and Google Calendar, you don’t even need to know what time zones the people you’re meeting with are in.

Rubio and his fellow sunshine preservationists are right about one thing: Springing ahead and falling back isn’t a great idea. It induces stationary jet lag in the entire population twice every year. But if we’re going to standardize on one clock, I’d prefer that it be standard time. Springing ahead permanently, and not returning that borrowed hour in the fall, would rob us of an hour forever, which seems regrettable.

Time zones were introduced in the 19th century for the convenience of railroads. Daylight saving time was likewise a command-and-control invention, put into effect during World War I in the hope of saving energy. (Whether it was successful in doing so is a matter of continuing debate.)

Technology and work arrangements have evolved to the point where we can rewind the clock to the preindustrial era in which people’s bodies were in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. There are still vestiges of that era: Parks and beaches are open from dawn to dusk. Muslims fast during daytime hours during Ramadan. In Judaism, there are 12 “seasonal hours” of daytime that are longer in the summer than in the winter. And farmers work by the sun when possible — although dairy farmers have to milk their cows according to when the milk trucks show up, which ties them to society’s relentless metronome.

I ran some of this by Daniel Hamermesh, an economist who has written extensively on how people spend their time. He is an emeritus professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and at Royal Holloway University of London. He disagreed with the part about people setting their own schedules by taking advantage of information technology and new work arrangements. An “overwhelming majority” of production workers have jobs in which “their schedules must be fairly rigid and coordinated,” he wrote to me in an email.

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