“Neither Aristotle nor subsequent interpreters of time posed the question: What does it mean to speak of using a clock?” Martin Heidegger, Basic Problems of Phenomenology
If, by some miracle, you were granted extra time in your life, how would you spend that hour, that day, that year? In Jorge Luis Borges’ The Secret Miracle, Jaromir Hladik, a Jewish-Czech writer, experiences an additional year of life subjectively, while facing death by Nazi firing squad. He’s able to, in his mind, finish a play that he’s been longing to write, as his greatest regret was his previous output on this Earth being limited to a mediocre collection of Futurist poems. As he completes the work, the bullets finally reach his body.
On October 29th, I was watching X-Files in bed. As the minute of 02:59 reset back to 02:00, I realized that I had gained an additional hour, just enough to finish another episode. This was my own secret miracle, or would have been had the sun not set painfully earlier in the next day. couldn’t help but feel that I was robbed of an hour instead of having been granted an extra one.
It would be easy to blame this theft of time on the farmers. We’ve all been told, at one time or another, that it is at their insistence that the hour moves one hour forwards in summertime, or one hour backwards in wintertime, depending on your perspective. The early risers enjoy an additional hour of daylight, thus daylight savings. However, this is just another item that we’ve accepted as truth in our shared list of misconceptions. Farmers work with cows, and cows, as it turns out, refuse to be milked on human time. The cow clock is dictated by sunrise and sunset, and their schedule dictates those of the farmers. So there too goes the idea of “Homo Tempus,” of the definition of the human as defined by their ability to master the time in which we live. As long as we keep consuming milk, the concepts of Deep Past and Deep Future don’t stand a fighting chance against the metabolic rate of a cow’s stomach.
If anything, wouldn’t it be more accurate to define ourselves by our failure to subjugate time to our will? Daylight Savings could serve as a symbol of this misadventure. When did it all begin? In 1895, George Hudson wrote a letter to the New Zealand Philosophical Society proposing to set the clock two hours backwards in the summertime. “In this way, the early-morning daylight would be utilised, and a long period of daylight leisure would be made available in the evening for cricket, gardening, cycling, or any other outdoor pursuit desired,” he wrote, and further on, “I am convinced that all those who believe an abundance of outdoor recreation is the most effective means of securing human happiness should support this scheme.” But it wasn’t cricket, gardening, or cycling that made George happy. Hudson was a postal worker by trade and an entomologist by passion. Those two extra hours of daylight would grant him time to catch bugs in summertime.
It wasn’t the pursuit of happiness or bugs that made the clock move backwards, but war. On April 30th, or perhaps on May 1st, 1916 (again depending on perspective), Germany and Austria moved their clocks backwards by an hour at midnight to conserve much-needed fuel. England followed suit. It was repealed after WWI, but re-introduced during WWII. Then it was given a name: War Time. In peacetime, it disappeared again, but most Western countries reintroduced it during the Oil Crisis of 1973 when OPEC gouged oil prices, and a massive shortage of petroleum followed. War Time came back under a different name. Have we been living on War Time since?
I have a vague memory from childhood of when in 2005, Georgia was making strides to free itself from the Russian sphere of influence, it refused to follow suit of the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States headed by Russia, its soft-power post-Soviet alliance, and didn’t shift to winter time. The official reasoning was that it was more in line with the biorhythms of the Georgian population (read: everybody goes to work late) and helps conserve fuel. Everyone was happy to have more sunlight in the evening, considering the constant power shortages. The unintended consequence was that Russia’s soft-power grip was reinforced by the fact that many of the older generation would watch Georgian news, and one hour later, switch the channels to watch Russian news, giving almost always a contradictory perspective. Indeed, on New Year’s Eve, after watching the President’s Address at midnight (the most important political speech in all Post-Soviet states), many would switch the channels an hour later to a Russian news channel to ring in the New Year’s again, but preceded, of course, by a speech by Putin. This went on all the way through 2008, before Russia’s military invasion of Georgia. On New Year’s and on other times, no-one watched Russian channels any more. War eliminated the contradiction in times.
Is the problem of Daylight Savings merely political? I encountered some trouble with it too in the metaphysical realm. Some of the websites that calculate our precise horoscope chart, as it turns out, didn’t re-calibrate to political developments in timekeeping. For years, I’ve been given my rising sign wrong, and I don’t know for certain if my rising sign is Sagittarius or Leo. No wonder, then, that I’m finding my identity so hard to define, and that the future looks always so uncertain. And what about those ghosts that appear to us when the clock strikes midnight? Or the witches that hurry to their sabbath at witching hour, around 3am? Do they observe Daylight Savings time too? I shudder to think about the authority that sets the time zones for the dead, the undead and the evil spirits.
But the powers that be of our realm have considered ending Daylight Savings in 2025, at least in the European Union. The idea has been around since 2019, but the current resurgence of wars might mean that we’ll stick to War Time, with the same tame name of Daylight Savings. If the practice finally disappears, what would we lose?
Daylight Savings makes time strange. It throws time out of joint from our usual lived experience. Most of our timekeeping devices move forward or backward autonomously, and isn’t that as strange as experiencing a rare natural phenomenon, like the eclipse, for instance? A temporary temporal disturbance, to borrow a term from science fiction, that makes us aware of the phenomenon of time, by extending or curtailing our exposure to sunlight, or suddenly upsetting our circadian rhythms. For a day, or two, or three, everything seems slightly out of whack because the 24-hour clock that all of us have internalized is suddenly off.
One last memory from childhood: when my grandfather would take me on walks in the park, our strolls would often be interrupted by someone beelining towards us and asking for the time. My grandfather would look at his wind-up watch and say, “6:07” or “7:23,” pedantic as he was, and the other person would say “ah” and hurry off, or instead slow down their steps. One day, a group of four or five old friends who used to stroll through the park together, were standing in the middle of the path and visibly arguing. They had taken their watches off. “Yours must be broken!” one yelled. “You’re a fool,” the other replied. “Can’t you see how dark it is?” Seeing my grandfather approach, they quieted down. Then they asked him for the time. “It is 6:43,” he said. “Are you sure?” one asked. “Yes,” he said, “The time changed last night, and I set my watch to the morning news.” The watches went back on their wrists, and their stroll continued quietly. The sun set soon after. There were fireflies in the park back then. They’re gone now, as is my grandfather, and those people who interrupt your walks, unsure of the time.