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daylight savings time

Daylight savings time is the practice of changing the time zone a specific place observes over the summer months, so solar noon is closer to 1pm than 12 noon. The main regions in the world where it is observed are North America, Europe, Australasia, and the southern part of South America (not necessarily every single part of these regions). In Victoria, we currently observe DST between the first Sunday of October and the first Sunday of April.

DST began as an energy-saving measure. Basically, by “shifting” an hour of daylight from, like, 5am when nearly everybody is asleep, to 7pm when everybody is eating dinner and socialising, you can save an hour’s worth of the electricity required to light up every building. Indeed, in some times and places (like Britain during WW2), “double daylight savings” was introduced, where the clocks were adjusted by two hours. In modern times, the proportion of electricity consumed by lights is a pretty negligible fraction of total electricity use, so this is no longer really a compelling argument to keep DST in place.

In some parts of the world, including the US and (maybe?) parts of Europe, there has been an increasing groundswell of people wanting to abolish the twice-annual clock change, although they seem divided as to whether they actually want standard time or whether they want to stay on daylight savings time year-round. In March 2022, the US Senate actually voted in favour of the latter (although reportedly many senators didn’t know what was going on(external link)); we’ll have to see what will become of that. The main argument against the time adjustment include the higher rates of heart attacks and car accidents for the two weeks after the “spring forward” into DST (as a chronically overworked, sleep deprived population loses yet another hour of sleep that they can’t afford to lose). I also see some people arguing “but it’s just illogical to have solar noon closer to 1pm than noon”, which seems to me a weaker argument, though not an invalid one.

Personally, I like daylight savings. I like having the extra hour of sunlight on summer evenings to go on a post-dinner walk, or enjoy a “happy hour” that lasts for like three hours in a beer garden somewhere. I definitely do not need that hour of sunlight between 4:50 and 5:50am, which is when it would go otherwise if we stayed in standard time year-round. But I would also hate to be in DST year-round, because in the depths of winter the sun rises at 7:35am which I think is already too late and it would suck so hard if it rose at 8:35 instead. Waking up and getting ready for work in the dark is just so depressing, and even exhausting – if there’s no sunlight when you wake up, there’s nothing to signal to your body that it’s actually a new day, so it just feels like you’ve dragged yourself out of bed in the middle of the night. Indeed, it’s this very fact which has killed past attempts at year-round DST (in the US in the 1970s, and in Russia in the 2010s) before.

Not only do I like DST, but Melburnians in general like DST, or at least so it seems from a recent thread on Reddit (someone asked /r/melbourne, in light of the US Senate vote, whether we should abolish either DST or standard time here). There were a few DST haters, mostly parents who are super-strict about imposing ultra-early bedtimes on their kids and struggling to put them down when it’s still light outside (but why oh why do you want your kids bounding out of bed to wake you at 5am instead??), but the overwhelming majority of comments and certainly all the most upvoted ones made pretty much the same arguments I’ve made in support of it. There were also a lot of people making fun of Perth and Brisbane, which don’t observe DST, so have daylight hours of 5:00–19:00 and 4:45–18:30 respectively at the height of summer.

I do understand the arguments against DST and I wouldn’t be opposed to abolishing it if we, as a society, completely shifted how we feel about scheduling. Because that’s the real issue, isn’t it? The exact label we put on a time (as in the position of the sun) isn’t the crux of the matter; it’s what the label represents. Like, the standard work day is the “9 to 5”, not the “starting two hours after sunrise, and ending eight hours later”. If we could come to a society-wide agreement that the standard workday always starts, say, two hours after sunrise, then no, it would no longer matter whether that time was called 9:35 (in the Melbourne winter) or 6:50am (in the Melbourne summer if we didn’t have DST). You could also funge it a little bit for synchronisation with other locations’ offices – like maybe Sydney gets to start two hours after sunrise, while Melbourne (whose solar time is 20 minutes behind Sydney’s) would start an hour and 40 minutes after sunrise, so a Melbourne office would still clock on at the same time.

The key thing is that it does have to be a society-wide agreement, because the vast majority of people don’t have much flexibility over their school or work schedules. Like I’ve seen freelancers and privileged tech workers say things like, “If you want to wake up an hour earlier in the summer, you do that instead of forcing everybody else.” That’s great if you set your own schedule, or if you’re earning six figures at a cushy job that lets you come in at whatever offset of normal business hours you like. Most people don’t have that luxury, which is why if we want an extra sunny leisure hour in the evening, we have to change our clocks instead. And most people do prefer to have extra leisure hours in the evening than in the morning – stuff is actually open (which it’s not in the morning), there are way better entertainment options in the evening, and most people feel more relaxed once they’re relieved that the workday is over, not when they’re watching the clock anxiously for when they have to cut their leisure time short to get ready to go to work.

Admittedly people who work non-standard hours (hospital workers, emergency services, hospitality workers, dockworkers, delivery drivers, etc.) don’t really benefit from this, and also don’t really get a lot of choice over their hours anyway. But for the kinds of people currently on a 9–5 or 8–4 kind of schedule, which is still the majority of the workforce, this would be helpful.

Of course, I also think it’d be good if more people got to have more flexibility over their schedules, including to work less than a 40-hour week (in Australia that figure includes unpaid lunchbreaks, so really the 37.5-hour week). Studies have shown that a 30-hour week is just as productive as the standard 37.5, because most people cannot sustain the same level of focus for that damn long. Some people might prefer a four-day week, while others might prefer to keep a five-day week but work six-hour days. I think in the winter time, where daylight only lasts 9½ hours, I’d prefer the latter; in the summer, a three-day weekend sounds more desirable. I mean, clearly thought would need to be given to balancing people’s preferences with ensuring you have enough people on duty at the critical times, but even if people have to make the occasional compromise, overall I think you could do a ton better than our current system, and yes, it’d make DST less “necessary”.

If you think about it, it’s kind of wild that the reason DST continues to be popular and desirable is because it’s easier to change the time than it is to make bosses give their workers even a tiny bit of autonomy.

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