2007-03-15 / About Town


By Robert Morton-Ranney

I trust you know, by now, what time it is. Time, like money, is whatever we agree it is. Or, in this case, whatever the government tells us it is.

Three o'clock in the afternoon on March 15 was actually two o'clock last year.

But, last year you had to wait for two o'clock to be three o'clock in another three weeks.

And until 21 years ago, it was still two o'clock three weeks longer. Except, of course, for a couple of years after the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970s, when two and three o'clock were trading places as often as political positions.

So, now it's three o'clock. At least, it was this afternoon. Except in Arizona and Saskatchewan. Where, even if you account for the differences in time zones, three o'clock will not be where you expect it. Stay alert.

Another hour, or so it feels for many, is especially welcome to those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, the recently identified tendency in some people in northern latitudes to become depressed as a result of the lesser amounts of sunlight in the winter.

Golf courses and many other commercial enterprises are happy because more sunlight means more business.

But not everybody likes the shifts in the day. Some farmers claim difficulty reorienting both staff and livestock to such an abrupt shift in the relationship between the sun and the tracking of hours.

Critics charge that energy we save turning on fewer lights is more than offset by what we use running our air conditioners longer. There are also those who suggest that the disruption of sleep patterns in workers results in decreased productivity and therefore a slide in economic efficiency.

Computer systems people have been whizzing around since last week making sure that all their scheduling programs know that the time-change time changed this year.

And international travelers will once again experience the joy of a planet-wide shift implemented properly if at all by only a portion of its inhabitants.

The separation of church and state provides the one constant in all of this. The morning after the (shorter) night before is always foisted on those setting their alarm clocks for worship. At least they can't be late for Easter any more.

The push to have everybody recognizing the same measurement of time, or at least varying times that could be easily coordinated, gained momentum in the late 19th century. It was motivated by the desire to be confident in one part of the world of when something was going to happen in another part.

Globalization has a long history.

Thus, the common marking of time is just another invention of social necessity. Isn't it odd that we thinking creatures are happiest when time disappears? When we are so absorbed by our activities that we know neither what time it is nor how long we have been at it.

And we're not even aware of this lack. If it should pass through our minds that we've forgotten the time, curiosity may divert us but it is usually a most pleasant surprise to realize that we've been so caught up that the rest of the world has simply gone away for a while.

Personally, time doesn't seem to have a great deal of meaning. Some of my hours have taken years to pass. Certain days have disappeared in minutes.

I was so proud when I got my first watch. It was a grownup watch, just like my dad's, and I would make great ceremony of staring at it often, just like he did.

Now, as we all stare at our watches and clocks and cell phones and PDAs and computer monitors and digital readouts in our cars and so many other places, we'll all agree that it's three o'clock, when we know full well it ought to be two. Just because.

I still choose a new watch with care. But when I'm happiest, when I'm most content, when I feel like I'm truly alive and the range of my mind and hands flows out of what I know to be my own vitality, I have no idea what time it is, at all.

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