‘Daylight Saving’ and the Tyranny of the Clock

Many enjoy this time of year because of the increased daylight hours and sunshine, and I must admit, I too have been out enjoying the sun and her benevolent rays (which we see rather little of in Northern Britain). As Winter draws to a close with Summer not far away (in Ancient Europe, the year was typically divided into two halves, with Spring and Autumn being merely subdivisions of these larger cycles), we now have more time to spend outside preparing for the season of growth and renewal. However, one strange custom that seems endemic to the Western World is that of ‘daylight saving’, when we turn the clocks one hour forward in March (which was today this year) and then proceed to turn them an hour back (to actual time again) in October. The principle appears to be to try and ‘have’ as much daylight as possible, by making it seem later than it actually is. So, for example, if the clocks are turned forward by an hour, then the time of sunset is pushed forward by an hour, meaning that the time when outdoor activities can be done is lengthened. In theory this might seem like a good idea, although in practice it usually turns out to be quite unnecessary, and possibly even harmful.

In essence, what this accomplishes is to put our natural rhythms out of sync with natural cycles, particularly with regards to sunrise and sunset. Now, it is obvious that the 12 hours of the clock do not actually exist, they are merely subdivisions of time allowing us to portion our day into blocks for doing specific activities. This type of routine was introduced en masse during the Industrial Revolution, because factory employers could pay their employees wages by the amount of time that they worked rather than for doing a specific job. In earlier times, the work day was based around the natural cycles of the sun, particularly dawn, noon and dusk. Typically, farmers would rise with the sun, have their main meal of the day at noon, and retire from their work (or simply go to bed in the Summer) at sunset or dusk. In this way, the tasks that had to be done were performed with a more general sense of time, and the time of day was determined by the position of the sun. If the sun was almost at it’s highest, you could tell that it was nearly time for lunch. If it was beginning to veer into the West, you knew that the work day was almost done.

Most folk lived this way in earlier times, even in the cities. This meant that when, for example, merchants from a city required cloth to be made, they would commission a weaver in the countryside to create what they needed, and a specific date and payment would be agreed. The weaver could work by his own schedule, as long as he was able to perform the appointed task by the time agreed. In a way, this is the ideal for a self-employed person who could work from home but still earn some money by trading with folk from the cities. However, this changed with the invention of the ‘spinning jenny’ and the creation of factories that produced textiles en masse at a lower price. The factory workers were paid by the hour and generally earned less than a self-employed weaver, since the first employees in factories were usually ones with debt to pay and tended to work low-paying jobs if they did not have their own business. Thus, the factories outcompeted the weavers and the majority of them went out of business, and many moved into the cities to work in the factories. In this way, self-employed skilled workers were for the most part forced into becoming wage slaves to supply an ever-increasing mass market which produced lower quality goods at a cheaper cost.

We can see how this plays out today; whereas the first factory workers lived in the Western World, manufacturers have since outsourced their production to countries like China and India, and so they too outcompeted the more expensively produced Western goods andhave led to mass unemployment and social alienation. We even see this process move one step further, as these same countries are now beginning to outsource to countries like Burma and parts of Africa, as they themselves are having to sustain a new middle-class as a result of economic growth. However, it’s not as as if de-industrialization has returned the West to an entrepreneur economy. There is now so much regulation on businesses and monopolization of the economy that most of us have to rely on precarious work (in the sense of a job that is not essential and so a worker is more expendable) in the service industry. In a way, this may be even less dignified that working in a factory. Despite the poor conditions of many industrial countries throughout the past two centuries (China is now the world’s worst polluter, overtaking Russia and the United States), at the very least they produce something tangible. In the West today, we essentially act as servants, either for the rich or for each other. We are reliant on corporations to provide us with work based on how much labour we can provide, but with no tangible end-product (unless you happen to work as a chef).

So what does this all have to do with daylight-saving and the hour-based work day? Put simply, it is furthering the idea that time is completely subject to the laws which we impose upon it. What does it matter if we mark 12pm at a time that is not actually noon? It matters because it gives us a false perception of time and our interaction with the world around us. This also goes for the 24-hour clock. With the 12-hour clock, the importance of noon and midnight as the points where the days begin to get darker and lighter (much like Midsummer and Yule for the year) is still present; but with 24-hour clock, all that matters is the quantification of time, and only midnight is acknowledged as the beginning of a new cycle. When daylight savings is applied, it seems to be the hour before midnight that is marked as the new day. This makes no sense.

The only reason that this this system was implemented was that, during the Second World War, it was seen as a way to save on resources like coal; because in theory, if the daylight was lengthened, then less resources would be needed to produce light for lamps in the darker hours. This may have made sense at the time, but the reasons to continue this system nearly 80 years later are far more prosaic. With many of us working most of the day most of the week, we have less free time and we want to have more time to do things like walking outdoors or do gardening before it gets dark. To some extent I can sympathize with this desire; however, it seems rather unnecessary given that as we approach Midsummer, they days get longer anyway, and so this desire to cram in ‘one more hour’ for recreation seems rather selfish.

For those of us who are trying to improve our sleeping pattern, this event can be especially disruptive (especially when the clocks go forward at this time of year) and it generally throws our body out of harmony with the world around us. This disruption is subtle mind you, but it is still present and I always dread fiddling with the clocks so that I don’t fall out of sync with everybody else, it’s not like I have a choice. The strange thing is, most countries don’t practice daylight-saving and they seem to do fine. It is only in the West (predictably I guess), with our nightmarish obsession with quantity over quality and the importance of bureaucracy that we feel the needs to mess with a system which we have already agreed upon to quantify time for vague reasons.

Farmers and others involved in work with animals typically detest this system, as they are more aware than most of how other organisms have to work with the natural cycles, and can’t simply change because they decide to like us. One ‘solution’ that was proposed by our former prime minister was to permanently fix our clocks to daylight-saving time. This would be even worse, since we wouldn’t have to worry about having to change the clocks so that we can be out of sync half the year, we would simply be so all year round. Midnight would not actually be midnight and so on. It might be just because I’ve never been locked in a full-time job that I can’t see any upsides to continue this ridiculous practice, but I am optimistic, as many in the younger generations fail to see what is so important about having more daylight than darkness. At some point we might be able to base our time around the sun rather than our free time. If you want more sunlight in your day, just get up earlier.

Wulf Willelmson