Keeping track of time
Distance travelled ~ 773'769'600 km
Noon is personal. It's the time of day when the sun is highest in the sky and your shadow is shortest. It's the reference point for a clock that is always with you, because you can be your own sundial. The spinning Earth provides us with a built-in natural chronometer. Brilliant!
That clock has served nature well for millennia - birds sing at dawn, foxes come out at dusk, humans go to sleep when it gets dark, and we all live day to day. One daily cycle follows another. But the growth of human civilizations and the need for greater co-operation than ever before meant that humans had to control time instead of being controlled by it. Clocks were standardized. The day was split up into hours, and humans had to agree to start work, meet or provide services at specific times. It was the only way of co-ordinating a civilization. But the Sun was still the reference point.
Faster travel, and inventions like the radio and telephones, meant that time zones had to be invented. Local noon where I am, in Southampton, happens four minutes later than local noon in London, so society agreed that all of the UK would be in a single time zone, for convenience. 12 o'clock in Southampton now happens at the same time as 12 o'clock in London. The Sun is no longer the reference point. The shortest shadows still happen around lunchtime, but you can't set your watch by that any more. And as clocks got more and more accurate, we discovered that the shape of Earth's orbit means that the length of a day varies by about a minute over the course of each year. Solar time seemed to be almost unhelpful in our standardized world.
So humans weren't living and working according to the Sun any more, but sunlight hadn't gone away.
The standardization of time meant that some people were sleeping when it was light and working when it was dark. And so Daylight Savings Time was invented, to try and compensate for the limitations imposed by standard time. The clocks go back in the UK Sunday 30 October 02:00am in a return to GMT, after a summer of allowing us an extra hour of daylight in the evenings (upcoming DST times). Of course, we don't actually get an extra hour of daylight - we just move our time reference to take that hour off the start of the day and tack it on the end. We couldn't have built the modern world without standardized time, and now we're trying to patch up some of its inconveniences.
Image courtesy of C.G.P Grey. For more on daylight saving watch his video.
I think that the crux of the argument might be in how society is changing. Fifty years ago, a giant siren marked the time when work began and ended in factories. The development of our society relied on us all working together, at the same time. It was an enormous example of human co-operation. But now, we live less constrained lives. We work flexibly, and internationally. The standardization of the working day is disappearing - some businesses start work at 8am, some at 10am. I adapt my daily routine so that I can go running when it's light, whether that's in the morning or the evening.
As long as I get my work done, maybe it doesn't matter when I do it. So I can choose for myself what I do with my daylight hours, irrespective of the official time that they start and end.
Do we even need time zones any more? Maybe the logical end to this argument is that we could have just one Earth time, so that everyone has lunch at a different official time, but it's still when the sun is more or less overhead. I'm not necessarily advocating for that, but it's not as close to science fiction as you might think. Scientists in every country frequently record data using "Universal Time" or Zulu time, which is GMT. That way there's no confusion at all over when it was recorded, wherever you were on the planet.
So, is the era of British Summer Time/Daylight saving time over? What do you think?