Let’s get the easy part out of the way first: It’s all Congress’ fault.
We screw up our body clocks and circadian rhythms with the bi-annual time change. “Spring” forward. “Fall” back. We’re either bleary-eyed or invigorated, depending on the season.
Unless, we used the extra hour bequeathed us in the fall to stay up too late, swigging wine and watching Netflix.
Regardless, there’s the bizarre Sunday morning ritual. The changing of the clocks. The nightstand clock. The bathroom clock. Wristwatches.
This is a little easier in the age of computers and Apple watches. Many “smart” devices reset themselves.
Some of the clocks at my gym usually ran an hour ahead for part of the year. Then reverted to the correct time in autumn.
But it doesn’t matter. Few people go to gyms during the pandemic.
We endure this seasonal torture because of Congress.
The temporal convulsions of Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time aren’t written in stone. But they are written in legislation.
Acts of Congress created U.S. time zones to assist railroad schedules in the 19th Century. Congress initiated “summer” time with the Standard Time Act of 1918 to economize on fuel during World War I. In fact, Congress later overrode the veto of President Woodrow Wilson to end “summer” time. It was one of only 112 successful veto overrides in American history.
Congress mandated the U.S. remain on Daylight Saving Time during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Congress approved an energy bill in 2004 that condensed Standard Time to only four months.
Coronavirus grips the U.S. That’s why Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., crafted a measure to keep the country on Daylight Saving Time this fall. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and James Lankford, R-Okla., signed onto their proposal.
Scott says staying on Daylight Saving Time would give people “an extra hour” during the winter months. And that could help combat the pandemic.
“Think of how much time people have been stuck inside,” said Scott in an interview. “I just want people to be able to get outside. Enjoy the sunshine. It’s part of the reason people come to our state.”
Rubio even said extra daylight would “ease the burden” in what has already been a stressful year. Plus, it would give school kids more opportunity to escape outdoors after being cooped up indoors for class all day on Zoom.
There’s also concern that the scourge of COVID-19, coupled with a cold, dark winter, could bludgeon the nation’s mental health. “Extra” sunshine could help people cope. Shorter days could cast the nation into a deeper mental depression, driving up alcohol and drug abuse.
No bill looks like it can pass soon to alter the time change. But there are significant conversations right now.
Former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently penned an essay asking why the U.S. commits itself to these chronographic spasms.
Even President Trump advocated eliminating switching the clocks twice a year.
“Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!” the President tweeted on March 11, 2019.
And you thought clock management was just for basketball and football. A Big 10 basketball coach developing a quick in-bounds play to conserve time. Players knowing which opponents to foul and when to salvage a few seconds. Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger running an effective two-minute drill. Or a wide receiver knowing precisely when to skip out of bounds to kill the clock after their team incinerated all of its timeouts.
Clock management is crucial in real life, too.
That’s why the politics of time is a factional issue.
Few know more about Daylight Saving Time than David Prerau, author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.” Prerau’s research explored all of the permutations of time policy over the years.
But Prerau said one thing is certain – no matter if people move the clocks forward or backward.
“The amount of daylight doesn’t change,” he said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to move some daylight from the summer to the winter.”
That means 2020, long as it’s been, isn’t going to be any shorter.
Changing the clocks isn’t just an issue in the U.S. There was even a pro-Daylight Saving Time political party in Queensland, Australia. Resorts in that region of Australia enjoy the extra daylight. But farmers and those in agriculture prefer a different schedule.
Soviet leader Josef Stalin shifted the USSR to Daylight Saving Time in the 1930s. Then Stalin forgot to reverse the clocks. Clocks in all 10 Soviet time zones were off for 61 years. Things only improved after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Back home, the time change always causes havoc. It’s more pronounced early in the year when we lose an hour.
Prerau says the time change has even tipped the scales of justice.
“There were court cases where someone came in for a court hearing and found out he had been charged as guilty because he didn’t show up. He came an hour late,” said Prerau. “The judge said you weren’t here when you were supposed to be.”
And you thought you had a problem when you realize on Wednesday that you never reset the clock on the kitchen microwave.
For many years, time was the purview of local officials. Minneapolis and St. Paul may be the Twin Cities in Minnesota. But they were hardly synchronic when it came to clocks.
Prerau says there’s a story of a man whose draft number came up during the Vietnam War. But the man argued he didn’t have to go because his birthday fell just after midnight.
“He said, ‘Well, even though my city was on Daylight Saving Time, the state was on Standard Time. So I really wasn’t born on the date of my normal birthday. I was really born the day before because it was an hour earlier,” Prerau said.
Individual states used to carry out the draft. So the time change – and local geography – helped the man elude the draft.
Daylight Saving Time is here to stay – at least until March.
Will Congress act to change things? Doubtful.
It is said that time flies. But lawmakers determine exactly how fleeting it is.