Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time

Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time by Michael Downing was a short history of the biannual clock headache. I have so many clocks in my house (coffee maker, stove, microwave, VCR, Bose CD player, alarm clock and so on) that have to be changed. I try to synchronize them all so that they flip over to the next minute at the exact same time. It isn’t easy to do when the VCR and Bose have a time lag that doesn’t activate the new time change until a few seconds after you set it. It always takes me a couple attempts to synch them all.

Daylight Saving Time was introduced in the US during World War I, and the focus of this book is the mayhem that ensued after it was repealed. States and some cities did not want DST and some, like New York City, liked it. There was time chaos throughout the US for decades as regions opted in and out of DST.

What Downing found most baffling was how some areas may have been vehemently opposed to the adoption of DST, yet on the other hand were dissatisfied with their time zone. In other words, people were against changing their clocks two times a year, but they didn’t mind changing it once (provided they never had to change it again after that). As populations and economies changed, states and cities campaigned to be moved into different time zones but Heaven forbid if they had to change their time back for the other half of the year.

Tales of people missing meetings and football games by the fate of their illogically asynchronous regions were amusing at first but I found Downing’s history of DST and time zone standardization to be repetitious. There were too many stories of one region wanting to abolish DST or demanding to be shifted into the Eastern Time Zone. Nevertheless I raced through this book, but there wasn’t much new to add to the story after World War II unleashed countrywide temporal craziness:

“Despite its reputation for meddling, the federal bureaucracy did not intervene. Left to their own devices, private enterprise and local governments–which had repeatedly demanded the right not to alter their clocks–took to changing the time as often as they changed their socks, setting off a nationwide frenzy of time tampering that lasted until 1966.”

Downing dispelled the rumour that farmers were responsible for the introduction of DST, and that they were actively campaigning for it nationwide. A farmer’s daily work schedule doesn’t depend on the time set by the placement of the hands of a clock. Their day is regulated by the sun and how the land and its creatures react to it. Chickens and cows do not care what time the clock says, and the optimal time to lay eggs or to produce milk is not regulated by DST. Downing showed that this myth may have originated by, ironically, the farmers’ campaign to end DST.

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