Spring Forward, by Michael Downing

This coming Monday is my annual favorite day of the year. Why? It’s the first work day (for those of us that are actually working) of Daylight Saving Time — and generally the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game as well. Because of the game, I usually leave work on the early side (5:30p or something) and because of that, plus Daylight Saving Time (plus the progression of the Earth around the Sun, I suppose), it’s the first day of the year that I really feel summer creeping in. Driving home with the windows open, in the daylight — it’s just one of my favorite feelings.

So I was interested to read Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time — a recounting (and clarification) of the history of the phenomenon that we all implement but mostly don’t understand. (First thing I learned is that it’s called “Daylight Saving Time,” not “Daylight Savings Time.”)

It’s an interesting, if esoteric, story — the idea really started in the UK in the early 1900s — a fellow suggested that to “save the daylight” everyone in the UK should move their clocks ahead by 80 minutes. Weird. There were tons of arguments for & against — it turns out that farmers in all countries were overwhelmingly against (not what I thought), as were energy companies (there is some not-very-well supported evidence that springing forward could save energy — but that seems to be bogus).

In the US, we adopted it during WWI as part of the conservation effort — then we dropped it a few years later, and readopted during WWII for the same reason, and dropped it again a few years later. Richard Nixon made it more or less permanent during the energy crisis of the early 1970s — but exempted states that were divided by time zones (like Indiana), and that had extenuating circumstances (like Hawaii, which is more equatorial than any other state). As a result, we’ve got a patchwork of weird time zone rules that are always tricky to understand.

When you really get down to it, though, Daylight Saving Time in the US is primarily about Americans being able to spend more time outdoors during the summertime — going to baseball games, shopping, having picnics — and it’s always been supported by the “recreation lobbies” like Major League Baseball, and always been opposed by Hollywood (nobody really wants to go to movies while it’s light outside.

I don’t think I’d really recommend this book to anyone without a ton of time on their hands :-), but encourage everyone to at least take a minute to appreciate the daylight as you spring forward this weekend.

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