Daylight Savings Time creep has an unnatural feeling to it

During the modern era, it may have seemed reasonable to believe we could just think our way to a different, better time of day. But aren't we all post-moderns now?

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Sunset on Oahu

During the modern era, it may have seemed reasonable to believe we could just think our way to a different, better time of day. But aren't we all post-moderns now?

Originally it was called “summer time.” But it’s hard to make that stick now that Daylight Savings Time starts while winter is still officially with us.

When the Congressional Uniform Time Act of 1966 created more of a national system for Daylight Savings Time usage, the start date was in June. In 1986 that act was amended to move the beginning of summer to April. Then in 2007 it was cranked forward once again, to its present second weekend in March (Sunday, March 11, this year). End dates have also been pushed from September to October, now to November.

I like summer. I like Daylight Savings Time. I like the long days and the extended evenings of summer in the Northwest. But I am less sure about beginning the whole thing when winter still has nearly two weeks to go and we are just now beginning to see a lightening of the sky in the early mornings. Besides for the world’s morning people, of which I am one, the sudden thrust back into darkness is a bummer. Morning people unite, this is our time!

For Christians the current spiritual season is Lent, which comes from an Old English word for spring and for the lengthening of days in the Northern Hemisphere. I love this steady but gradual lengthening during Lent. It seems so symbolically right. Daily, the sun rises a minute or two earlier. Nightly, it sets a minute or two later. The days steadily lengthen in ways that you almost don’t notice, and yet you do.

But this sudden lurch forward to longer evening light (and the plunge back into morning darkness) that attends Daylight Savings Time coming in March? The subtle and the natural are eclipsed by something that feels arbitrary, mechanical, and heavy-handed. “Forget the rhythms and cycles of nature: now’s the time, like it or not!”

The gradual lengthening of the days here in late winter and early spring is full of promise, hinting at nature’s shifts in a way that builds anticipation and delight. Spring’s full glory is coming, but not yet ... Earth’s resurrection is felt in our bones, but gradually, as if we ourselves were stretching and opening, budding out.

Bringing on Daylight Savings Time in early March, on the other hand, seems as if a delivery truck has just dumped a huge crate in the front yard. Clunk. Bang. “Where do you want it, lady?” It’s another incursion of instant this and overnight that. Instant coffee, fast-food, quick loans, and sudden summer.

Besides, it was George W. Bush who signed the latest changes into law. Nobody likes him, not even Republicans who have developed a most curious case of near total amnesia with respect to their last occupant of the White House. George who?

The idea of Daylight Savings Time is traced to Benjamin Franklin, which seems surprising in that the Ben of Poor Richard’s Almanac famously counseled, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But while on ambassadorial duty in France, Franklin noted the French penchant for burning the midnight oil and produced a satirical essay suggesting how the French might economize on candles.

Nothing happened on Daylight Savings Time until the First World War, when Germany first adopted it. It lapsed after the war but was reintroduced, this time in America, during the Second World War. Over the years, implementation has been variable, with some states, like Arizona, that aren’t much interested in more summer sun, opting out. And in Indiana each separate county traditionally voted on whether to participate or not. The state, already sliced between Central and Eastern time zones, was a crazy patchwork quilt of time zones until 2006.

The main rationale for DST is energy savings, but the data to prove it actually accomplishes this goal is not conclusive and may be balanced out by arguments, and some evidence, of a negative effect on people’s sleep cycles and body rhythms. There’s a good chance that melatonin sales and usage will spike this weekend.

Daylight Savings Time benefits retailiers and sports enthusiasts. It is less good for the entertainment industry and agriculture. And have you considered its effects on vampires? Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri, no fan of DST, avers, “My only reason for supporting Daylight Savings Time is that it makes keeping a work-life balance more difficult for vampires.”

Daylight Savings Time seems a creature of modernity, that now-fading epoch when rationality, efficency, and the odd presumption that human beings could and should subject nature to their control was the name of the game. For moderns, nature is the Newtonian machine, one which we rational tinkerers and engineers may adjust to our liking, preferences, and convenience.

But in our post-modern age we are less sure about rationality über alles and more attentive to things like the body and its wisdom. The modernist machine has been replaced by the organic and systemic thinking of post-modernity. It’s less a matter of humans in charge and more a matter of humanity fitting in, going with the flow of mother nature and her wisdom.

It would be silly to advocate abolishing DST — and I’m not. But I am noting DST “creep” and its increasingly early and sudden arrival. And I am wondering if easing into DST when it’s at least actually spring, if not nearly summer, might make more sense?


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Anthony B. Robinson

Anthony B. Robinson was the Senior Minister of Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle from 1990 to 2004. He was also a member of the Plymouth Housing Group Board. After living for many years in southeast Seattle, he moved recently to Ballard.