Addressing Common Concerns with a World without Timezones
Last Modified: 2021-11-18
Let’s examine why the idea of having a single time zone used globally bothers people. The first objection is that it feels weird to wake up at 3 pm and work from 5 pm to 1 am. The obvious response to this objection is to point out that we are already applying an arbitrary number of times of the day. There is nothing special about waking up at 7 am. And working from 9 am to 5 pm. These are simply numbers that we have collectively settled upon.
Another common concern is how to know if someone in another time zone is awake/available. People expressing this concern exclaim that it’d be too difficult to coordinate cross-time zones because you can’t easily get a sense of what time of day it is there. Let’s think about what we currently do to address this issue. If you’re trying to communicate with someone in Japan you will look up the time in Japan on a mobile application or website. In a post-time zone world, the difference in the clock time is no longer existent. However, it introduces a new difference: solar time. Thus, instead of looking up the clock time in Japan, you’d look up the time of sunset, noon, or any other well-known solar event. Then you can understand when this person is likely to be available without needing to convert back into your time.
Many people wonder why we’d want to change a system that isn’t broken. My response to this is a bit more philosophical. Humanity’s relationship with time has progressed steadily away from solar time and towards an arbitrary clock time. Humanity’s first known acknowledgment of timekeeping came in the form of Obelisks dated to 3500 BCE in Egypt, Babylon, and China. Interpreting the time from Obelisks purely represented the solar time. By 1283, the first weight-powered clock was established in a monastery in England. This clock was quite precise, too precise. While the clock treated each day as 24 hours, each solar day is not 24 hours. There are slight variations due to the elliptical nature of Earth’s orbit around the Sun and the axial tilt of the Earth. To solve this, timekeepers frequently adjusted their clocks because solar time was still considered the “real time”. It’s important to realize that the 24 hours that we call a day is not some truth of the universe. It is purely a human construction to cope with the irregularities of what we call a day by averaging the length of all days.
Eventually, humans decided that if we are going to abstract away the solar time then we need to standardize for the sake of coordination. This change was driven by trains: a technology that demanded less local forms of coordination. The popularization of locomotives meant the first time in history that humans needed to know the time somewhere they weren’t. We could no longer rely on local interpretations of time because this could lead to dangerous scenarios and make the coordination efforts of travelers challenging.
Looking at the modern world it is obvious that modern technology has reshaped the world far more than the popularization of locomotives did. Unfortunately, our timezones reflect more about politics than the position of the Sun. The easiest and most elegant solution is to abandon timezones.
If you still don’t believe in abolishing timezones please email me your concerns at email@example.com.
Side note on the Metaverse:
If you’re paying attention to the tech world you’ve surely heard of the “Metaverse”. While there is no clear definition I like Shaan Puri’s definition stating that the Metaverse is the time when people care more about their digital lives than their physical lives. If this world is coming (for some it is already here) what time will it be in the metaverse? There is no Sun so clinging on to a timezone system would be truly embarrassing. Just as it seemed ridiculous to a 13th-century monastery to use the clock time over the solar time, it is ridiculous to drag our centuries-old perceptions of time into the modern era.