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November 17, 2011, 10:44 pm - James Farrer

As we are getting over the semi-annual schedule tweaking adjustment of Daylight Savings Time I have to stop and think, "If Daylight Savings Time is so great, where's the savings?" I don't in any way profess to be an expert on why Daylight Savings Time came to be or really anything else about it. I do know that with a little bit of logical reasoning I have some serious questions about its value.

As it has been explained to me, some of the chief benefits of Daylight Savings Time have to do with the use of daylight during normal daytime hours, and the amount of energy consumed. I've heard the argument applied to farmers, fossil fuels, electricity consumption, etc. But nothing that I've heard gives me any confidence that the benefit is worth the cost. That's the direct cost., of the fuel or electricity or whatever we're trying to save. I've never heard of anybody actually trying to look at some of the indirect costs associated with this arbitrary adjustments of billions of clocks around the world.

According to the California Energy Commission (http://www.energy.ca.gov/daylightsaving.html) there is a qualified possibility of a 1% energy savings by adjusting to Daylight Savings Time, but they also talk about how there are studies that have found the end difference to be almost negligable. It varies by location, but most generally the recent arguments for Daylight Savings Time use and adjustments are based around people needing lights and using TV's, computers, and other small appliances.

I don't know if the energy savings have actually amounted to anything substantial. Based on the conflicting reports and arguments I see significant room for questioning those savings. In any case, there are some costs that should not be overlooked when considering Daylight Savings Time. These are time and cost of accomodating for the shifting answer to the question "What time is it?"

How much time did you spend thinking about when Daylight Savings Time takes effect? How many clocks did you have to set? Did you sleep poorly due to the time change? Did you forget to change your clocks and miss something? Or did you show up too early and had to sit around and just wait? All of these amount to extra time that has to be spent to make sure we are on time. And we do this twice a year. Think about it, 20 minutes for the first question, 20 minutes for the second, an hour of spaced out time at work due to the messed up sleep schedule, and a few extra minutes for the occasional missed meeting. I would place a conservative guess for this at 3 hours a year, per person. Assuming half the world really just doesn't care about the time that much we've got 3.5 billion x 3 hours coming to a total of 10,500,000,000 lost man hours. 10.5 Billion!!! Even at minimum wage that's a lot of "time is money" kind of cost.

Now for another side of indirect cost. The cost to make everything work across all the time zones, all the states, all the countries, where some use Daylight Savings Time and some don't, and many happen at different times of the year.

I work in IT and I know first hand that this can be a very frustrating and time consuming activity to account for in computers. This is a relatively new side of the challenge. When it all got started we just needed to worry about what time the train was going to arrive. Now we have to know what time the train, plane, bus, car, letter, email, text message, alarm, financial transaction, change to your phone bill, and change to just about anything stored on a computer. A lot of organizations do a lot of activities and reporting based on time. If the computer (at any of about a hundred levels) calculates the time incorrectly there is a very real effect.

So to get all these computer systems to work properly a lot of organizations have to pay a lot of programmers to spend a lot of time and headache making sure that the dates match and that we really know how many hours its been since that starting date and time. I have personally spent a number of days of my life purely trying to accommodate for these arbitrary changes to the time. And every computer, every computer program, every website, all need to be written in such a way as to make it all just work. I assure you this is not a trivial task. This is a very real cost to businesses. In an good economy this can be painful, in a bad economy this cost could be the difference between staying in business and shutting the doors.

For all the potential savings that Daylight Savings Time is supposed to give us, I think the costs, direct or otherwise, far outweigh the benefit. I would propose that we eliminate Daylight Savings Time completely. If the energy costs are that big of a deal then let's change the clocks once and be done with it.

And hey, given the current economic challenges, doing away with Daylight Savings Time right now would mean extra jobs to help accommodate for this final change in the short term. In the long term both business and government would be able to use all that extra time and money to invest in other more productive endeavors.

Then we can all sleep that much better two nights out of every year.


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