Abolish Time Zones

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Posted on 01/17/2010 by Jim

Have you ever told someone you would call at ten o'clock, only to realize they thought you meant ten o'clock their time instead of your time? I mean, it's all good, except you called them at two o'clock in the morning. No big deal.

I have for some time now maintained that we should abolish time zones. When I suggest this I invariably get a response as such: "That'd just be silly, James."

But stop for a moment and consider if the entire world was all a single time zone. I assert that it would be a simpler place.

What Time Shall I Call At?

Consider the benefits of a single time zone:

Duel at High Noon

The first question many people ask is what would happen to noon and midnight. Nothing, really. They would fall into the category of dawn and dusk. When you consider "dawn" you don't think about a specific time, say six o'clock in the morning. Instead, you think about the point in time when the sun is rising. Same with dusk. Midnight would cease to be twelve o'clock at night and would become "the middle point of the night." Noon would become "half way through the day" or when the sun is directly overhead.

In individual cities, a particular time might become connected with noon or midnight. If, for example, the sun was always directly overhead at five o'clock p.m.1 then "noon" would now be synonymous with "five" in that city.

Some might say that this adds a layer of confusion, rather than removing one. But if you currently say "I'll call you at noon" it isn't any better. All you're really saying is "I'll call you at twelve." It doesn't actually clear up any time zone problems. Twelve might still be two, their time.

The worst that could happen is that two people in the same city—perhaps one is from out of town—agree to meet at noon but have different conceptions of when noon is. I believe, however, that a commonly defined value would quickly emerge or people would soon learn to use precise numbers for scheduling.

What Would We Lose?

In addition to the possible confusion over meeting at noon or midnight mentioned above:

Going the Way of the Imperial System

Time zones came into regular use with the advent of the train systems of the nineteenth century. At the time they made sense, as there was no easy means of keeping universal time. That is no longer the case, however, and time zones may now cause as much trouble as they solve.

Sadly, I doubt my idea will ever be implemented. In fact, that may actually be a good thing; it's entirely possible that the benefits of switching would not make up for the costs. I don't pretend to be able to clearly calculate either. But it is, at least, an interesting thought experiment.

1. Incidentally, the a.m./p.m. method of marking time would become an anachronism. As there would no longer be a chronological meridian, a.m./p.m. would serve simply to indicate whether one was in the first 12 hours of the global day, or the second 12 hours. The actual half way point through a day would vary continuously by location. On the other hand, if we were going to do something as drastic as abolish time zones, we could also move to 24 hour time  with little ill effect.