Time was a constant, then it became relative, now it seems arbitrary – time will tell…

Cover Story, Editorial, Features

Vol. 25, Issue 21, 31 March 2023

Sir Isaac Newton’s theories assumed time was absolute or a “constant”. Along came Albert Einstein who proved that time is really relative to those experiencing and observing it. For businesses, observing time zones around the world, especially with the advent of “daylight saving time” and the differing dates and adoption of DST, it can all seem rather arbitrary.

We are all familiar with the fact that time is different around the world. Travel west to east and you are losing time as it has apparently sped up while you were sleeping. Travel east to west and you gain time, sometimes to an extent that you can seemingly arrive before you set off, almost like travelling back in time. Coping with this for some is easier that others. Many people suffer today from “jet-lag” when crossing several time zones, especially from west to east as you body tries to catch up with the “missing” time.

Last weekend saw the change to Daylight Saving Time (DST) in many countries, whereby we set our clocks ahead by an hour during the spring and back by an hour in the autumn. This practice is observed by many countries around the world and the aim is mainly to make better use of the daylight hours during the lighter summer months.

In the UK, DST can be traced back to the early 20th century when it was first proposed by a British builder named William Willett. He noticed that many people were still asleep during the early hours of the summer mornings, even though the sun was already up. He proposed moving the clocks forward by an hour during the summer months so that people could make better use of the daylight hours. Although Willett’s idea was initially met with scepticism, it gained popularity during the First World War when many countries adopted DST as a way to conserve energy. By moving the clocks forward, people would use less artificial lighting and, therefore, reduce energy consumption.

Since then, DST has become a standard practice in many countries around the world. In the United States, it was officially adopted after the turn of the last century, and although there have been some changes to the dates and times when the clocks are changed, the practice has remained. Despite its long history, DST remains a controversial topic. Some people argue that it disrupts our natural circadian rhythms and can cause health problems such as insomnia, while others claim that it saves energy and helps to reduce accidents.

One of the main criticisms of DST is that it can be confusing and disruptive. When the clocks are changed, it can take a few days for people to adjust to the new schedule, and this can lead to confusion and disruption in our daily routines. In some cases, it can even affect our health, as our bodies struggle to adjust to the new sleep patterns. Another criticism of DST is that it can be costly for businesses and organisations that operate across different time zones. They may need to adjust their schedules to accommodate the changes in the time for everyone they are dealing with, and this can be costly and time-consuming.

DST remains a controversial topic with arguments for and against it. While some argue that it disrupts our natural rhythms, can cause health issues, is stressful, and can be costly, others believe that it helps to save energy and helps to promote a healthier lifestyle. It is clear that DST has become standard practice in many countries around the world and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, although there are still some countries that do not recognise it or that even have differing dates of when they apply it.

Today, more than 60% of countries do not observe DST. Add to this the countries that have different dates for setting DST, sometimes months apart, it is obvious that the practice is far from standardised. In the EU, an end to DST was prosed and accepted but has not yet been ratified by the European Parliament, even though EU citizens are mainly in favour of abolishing DST.

As they say… time will tell.