Monday, March 15, 2010

The Wonderfulness of DST

The day is an hour longer...

Well, no, not really. What we have is an extra hour of evening sunlight. The day is the same old 24 hours that we've always had.

What I'm referring to, of course, is Daylight Saving Time (DST), an annual celebration of the power of government to change fundamental aspects of our lives. This past Sunday, March 14, we entered into the long months when we get up an hour earlier so that we can have extended sunlight in the evenings. DST has become an accepted part of the year. Our computers adjust to it automatically, as do our cell phones, and more and more household appliances. My clock radio sets itself for DST, freeing me up to remember how all the other clocks, with their various setting procedures, will be reset.

Government, powerless in so many areas to effect actual change, real, meaningful change, can monkey around with the clock and mandate that we "spring forward" and "fall back." We therefore have the illusion of change, a change that I suspect many people would just as soon give up.

But legislators will never give up an opportunity to appear to make substantive changes, or even improvements, in anything that they can address. DST as we currently understand it was proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist (bug scientist) from New Zealand. Ever since then, it's been put in place in many countries, mostly in the higher latitudes, for a variety of reasons. It's been enacted to save energy, although most studies indicate that energy consumption actually increases marginally during DST. It's been enacted to benefit farmers, even though, for the most part, farmers dislike the disruption of their schedules. After all, livestock, particularly dairy animals, have their own internal clocks, not very amenable to government mandate. It's been enacted to benefit commerce, and here there is some value. People will go to sporting events more readily if they're going to be held in daylight. Overall, though, there's been very little concrete value gained by putting DST into effect.

In an era when our two major parties are as far apart as I've ever seen them, in an era when virtually nothing is taking place in Congress, it's good to know that our government has focused its energies on important stuff. They very resolutely refused to repeal Daylight Saving Time, even though there are always loud grumblings coming from those of us who have to actually reset our clocks. As I said, politicians will never fail to give the appearance of making a difference, and in this case making a difference means keeping something in place that's good for us (since they have experts who will verify it). How boring our lives would be if we weren't periodically shaken out of our stupor from watching reality shows on HDTV to reset the clocks. Thanks, government, you've kept us alert once again.

(I should mention that for anyone attempting to transform their lives into a more monk-like state, DST is a godsend. Having to get up an hour earlier each morning for almost eight months must surely qualify as self-mortification in some sense. And it helps with humility as well. Anyone who has failed to make it to church because they overslept on that first Sunday of springtime DST is generally pretty sheepish.)

So, I extend a salute to our politicians and their never-ending quest to change the things they can, ignore the things they can't, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Well done, ladies and gentlemen!

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