Monday, March 10, 2008

Daylight Saving Time

I was not awake at 1:59 Sunday morning. But if I had been, would I have felt a momentary disorientation in time and space as the clock went directly to 3:00 a.m.? I am imagining something like a small earthquake. Only, the slight sway of the lamp and the clinking of wine glasses on the shelf would be replaced by a small dizziness and a feeling of having missed or possibly forgotten something.

Einstein has posited a relationship between speed, gravity, and one’s experience of time. Other scientists have gathered evidence supporting his ideas. In one famous thought experiment he described twin brothers, one of whom stays on Earth while the other boards a rocket and travels at close to the speed of light for what feels like only a short time—maybe a year. When the rocket returns to Earth, the astronaut-brother reunites with the terrestrial-brother only to find that his sibling is now many years older than he. Something about traveling at great speeds and little gravity slows the passage of time. When I first heard about this idea I wondered right away what would happen if the two brothers each had clocks set at the exact same moment right before lift-off? Would their clocks also record a difference in the passage of time?

When I put this idea together with our seemingly-careless manipulation of time, it makes me wonder what sort of unintended consequences we may be subjecting ourselves and our planet to. When I take the cheap plastic clock down off the wall in my classroom and spin the little dial that moves the minute hand ahead sixty minutes, am I somehow having an effect on the speed and gravity of those around me? After all, if speed and gravity affect time, shouldn’t the reverse be true?

There are some counties in Arizona and Indiana that opt out of these Spring-Forward-Fall-Back shenanigans. Do the citizens of those locales accrue some sort of fourth-dimensional benefit (or detriment) by keeping their clocks set right where they were? Or are they steamrolled by the mere fact of all the rest of us speeding through that mystical hour twice a year? Are my students now relatively younger than their peers in Bloomington, Indiana?

And just why is it that an hour spent flyfishing on the Stillwater River in Montana passes so much faster than an hour spent driving to New York City on I-95? I can’t prove it, but I bet dollars to doughnuts it has something to do with Daylight Saving Time.

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