Matthew Yglesias argues in favor of abolishing time zones.
Time zones are a recent creation. Through most of human history, time was kept locally, based on the solar noon. This worked well enough, as long as most people stayed put. Or if they traveled, traveled slowly.
But by the mid-1800s, thanks to the railroad and telegraph, people were communicating and traveling much greater distances in a day. Now local time differences were much more noticeable, as this table illustrates:
Dinsmore (1857) – Dinsmore’s American Railroad and Steam Navigation Guide and Route-Book
You can see, for example, that the time in Knoxville, TN, was 12 minutes later than it was in Nashville, TN.
The table claims this is an “easy calculation,” but it seems like a hassle to me. And it was for the people living then, too. So in 1884 international representatives agreed upon an international system of standardized time based on the Greenwich Meridian.
Although our current time system is much simpler than before, it still has quirks, as this video amusingly highlights:
If you’re a computer programmer who has to account for time differences, or a frequent traveler, or someone who routinely communicates over long distances, the two dozen plus time zones are confusing. Thus the above proposal to eliminate all the time zones in favor of a single, universal time.
But most people don’t conduct much business over great distances. The bulk of their daily interaction is local. The present time zone arrangement is only an occasional nuisance. It’s a (seemingly) bigger hassle to adapt to a “new” system of time. Which is why I don’t foresee this change coming anytime soon.
I’m in the minority of people who are in favor of a single time zone. It’s more rational, but admittedly it’s not without its drawbacks.
For me, the most difficult adjustment would be with the changing of the civil day. Whereas now the day ends at midnight local time, under a universal time zone, it would end at various stages of the solar day, depending on your location. If GMT was adopted as the standard, the calendar day in the Eastern United States would end at what is currently 7 p.m. This would feel odd, particularly during the summer, when it’s still daylight out.
At any rate, it’s interesting to occasionally examine the systems that govern our lives, such as time zones.