The bane of Daylight Saving Time

Last week the Netherlands traveled back in time one hour. Of all the mass delusions of humanity, daylight saving time might be one of the weirdest.

Daylight Saving Time history

In the distant past, there were no clocks. People went about their daily business, bound by the hours of sunlight, as keeping a light on at night wasn’t a flick of the switch as it is today.

Those living in the temperate zones of our planet noticed in summer there were more hours of sunlight than in winter. They shrugged at this, then adjusted their schedules accordingly.

When clocks were invented things changed, but only a little. Roman clocks, for example, would have longer hours in summer than in winter, to fit the same number of hours in the period of daylight.

Fast-forward to the end of the nineteenth century. A man named George Hudson, born in New Zealand, proposed something radical. In summer, would it be possible to change the clock so that those working could benefit from some additional hours of sunlight after work? In London, a man called William Willett came up with a similar idea. Somebody who did not come up with this is Benjamin Franklin, although he often hogs the credit.

Well, that sounded like a good plan. More arguments were made: changing the time would save energy, as people could more effectively use daylight.

And so, Daylight Saving Time was adopted around the world. And all rejoiced!

Daylight Saving Time in the 21st Century

Fast-forward to the present. All around the world, twice a year, we set our clock forward, or back. I have a dozen or so devices with a built-in clock, some of which even automatically change the time. But I find myself changing a number of clocks on Sunday.

These days, we can ask ourselves: is daylight saving time really that useful? This is not the nineteenth century, after all. I used to be kind of on-the-fence on the issue. Then I had a daughter.

You know what the annoying thing about daylight saving time is with children: they don’t adhere to clocks. Before, I was annoyed in April because I’d lose an hour of sleep. I was happy in October because I’d get more sleep. Now, though, I’m annoyed in April because I lose an hour of sleep and have to drag a sleeping child from her bed to go to school. In October I’m annoyed because I have a child waking up an hour early.

So, do we really need Daylight Saving Time?

The pros

The advantages are two-fold, of course: we get to sit out in the sun until late in the summer, and we get to save energy. Whoop, whoop.

The thing is: If I’m at a restaurant or bar, or in my own garden in the summer, I don’t really leave because it’s dark. I might go inside, or not, but I don’t think sunlight is the deciding factor in cutting my evening short.

And that energy saving? Well, there has been no conclusive report on it. The effect seems to be small and maybe positive, or negative. Not encouraging.

The obvious cons

So you lose a little sleep. How bad can that be?

Well, pretty bad, actually. There is a measurable increase in car accidents the Monday after daylight saving time changes the clock. Workplace accidents also increase, and there are significantly more heart attacks and strokes. A US study concluded there’s as much as a 24% increase in the risk of a heart attack.

There is also a growing body of evidence that disruptions to a person’s internal clock are really unhealthy. Part of our biological clock is programmed in our genes, so despite what early risers might tell you: if you’re an evening person, getting up early is not good for you.

Then there’s the financial costs. A study in the US found a $434 million price tag annually. That’s right, because people change their rhythm, they become less productive, which costs $434 million a year. And that’s just the US. World-wide that means it runs into the billions.

Software issues

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. You see, I work in IT. I used to build timesheet software, often linked to card readers. And every time the clock changed, the Monday after, there would be dozens of support calls because of syncing issues.

You see, all those daylight saving time changes have to be implemented properly in software. And that’s a chore. I think on average I run into at least one daylight saving time software issue a year. And I hear the same from other developers. Millions a year are spent on fixing daylight saving time software issues.

But it gets worse. Before there are even bugs, you’ll have to write software to deal with this stuff. For example, I wrote an algorithm that calculated average yield graphs for solar panels. I initially implemented it by looking back two weeks from the current day. Unfortunately, if you simply start calculating for 14 days starting at 0:00 to 23:59, this will fail. Not only is there one day a year with only 23 hours (bang, error), the sun-up and sun-down times also change, meaning your solar panel average is screwed.

And these kinds of examples exist everywhere in IT. You have to keep daylight saving time in mind at every turn when working with time-sensitive data. And just about everything is time sensitive: bank transactions, solar panel yields, and even security software. Imagine all your alarms go off because a person is attempting to log into your system an hour before he logged in last time. Gasp.

I have no data on what the costs are, but I’d estimate they too run into the billions worldwide.

Doubling down

Well, good to rid of it, then. Let’s stop with this nonsense!

The EU actually decided to stop daylight saving time two years ago. To the horror of many countries, they decided to ‘only’ wait to 2021 to implement it. This gave the individual EU countries a mere 3 years to prepare. Apparently, this was far too little, especially given that since the decision to abolish daylight saving time, nothing has been done to implement it. It’s not that important, apparently, it only costs billions and some lives – not important, let’s move on. Right…

Countries will have to choose if they want to stick to the current summer time or winter time, and that is apparently very hard. Already, political parties are trying to turn it into a political issue, because of course they are. Since the populist parties in the Netherlands have mostly lost the battle to maintain our blackface traditions (no, that’s not a joke), they are looking for other issues to politicize. And whether to go summer time or winter time might be a good one.

Sigh. Maybe I’m being mopey. Then again, my biorhythm has been severely disrupted last week and I was at high risk of traffic accidents, heart attacks, and strokes, as if the pandemic wasn’t bad enough. So, screw daylight saving time.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands