We moved our clocks ahead this morning, those that didn’t move by themselves. Here in North America, in the areas that do so, we began observing Daylight Savings Time. Many areas around the globe have adopted this shift in time. Not all agree on when, or if, it should happen, or on how long it should last. I’m certain that there are some peoples in some regions of the world for whom Daylight Savings Time comes and goes unnoticed.
My phone knew what to do, probably from the nearby cell tower. So did the little wireless weather station, the one that talks to the temperature sensors installed outside the kitchen window and in the garage. I think the satellite network told it when. I forgot to tell the coffee maker, so it wasn’t ready when the rest of us were this morning. Maybe I should tell it about the satellites.
It’s not that we have suddenly developed the ability to time travel, to bend space-time to our will. We just arbitrarily proclaim that the concept of “now” is represented by a different number. In the spring, we skip a time-segment, we “spring” ahead. In the fall we relive a time-segment, we “fall” back. But not really. Time is still the same. The speed of light did not change. Time is still there, probably chuckling at us.
For me, Daylight Savings Time points up the capricious nature of Homo sapiens’ never ending quest to segment and regulate an aspect of the universe that is out of its control. In our history, Daylight Savings is a recent development. In the history of the Universe, it’s just happened.
I suppose that when we were hunter-gatherers that the climate was an accurate enough measure of the passage of time. Move south when the food runs out and nights grow cold. Move north when the days grow too hot. It’s worked for migratory wildlife for millennia. Perhaps the earliest hunter gatherers used wildlife migration as another measure.
But as we learned to raise crops and domesticate animals we stopped migrating, so we needed a more accurate measure than the seasons could provide. After all, a late spring or an early winter could spell disaster, disrupting food production and leading to mass starvation.
Our earliest methods involved observing the movement of the sun in relation to a fixed point in our environment. This use of periodic solar phenomena has informed our entire concept of time right up to the present. A day is the period between two sunrises caused by the Earth’s rotation about its axis. A year is the period between two sunrises at the same place on the horizon caused by the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Time for us is still divided into the periods developed all those years ago.
There are many early Stone Age examples of solar observatories, such as Stonehenge in England. The Mesoamerican cultures of Central America were highly skilled solar observers. The Chinese, Egyptians and Babylonians all developed the ability to use devices that evolved into sundials to segment the period when the sun was in the sky.
We have developed ever more accurate ways of segmenting the passage of time, as well as an understanding, albeit Incomplete, of the relationship of time to the Universe. We now know that time slows in the presence of gravity. The greater the gravity, the slower time elapses. We have clocks so accurate that we have determined that the rotation of the Earth on its axis is actually slowing. Days are actually getting longer, if we continue to base them on that rotation. The increase is too short for us to notice, and we’ll be long gone by the time it slows enough to affect how we segment time. So don’t worry. We still have time.
By the way, what time is it?