Health Hack #55 - The Times They Are a Changin
This past week has brought about plenty of change. There’s the obvious one, which seems to have come to somewhat of a conclusion today. We shall see. But there’s an equally obvious one that came and went, without virtually any discussion.
If you’re anything like me, a reprieve from all of the election melee is highly overdue. This past week has felt incredibly strange, echoing some similarities to the very beginning of lockdown. Did yesterday feel so drawn out it felt like an entire week, or did last week fly by so fast it felt like a day? Or are both impressions somehow felt simultaneously?
For me, it’s the latter. Each day felt so long, glued to the TV and the phone, trying to sift through all of the facts. But here we are on Saturday and it feels like I was just at my local library to drop off my ballot on Monday. Time is strange. And it’s in the name of time, literally speaking, that I’ll deliver this reprieve, in hopes of provoking a bit of thought towards something other than the election.
Last Sunday I woke up earlier than usual. Furthermore, had I woken up at this time one day earlier, it would have been dark outside. But today, for some reason, it was bright out.
We encounter this phenomenon twice per year. I find both occurrences somewhat bittersweet. Now, heading into winter, I relish at having the sun available first thing in the morning hours, greeting me as I awaken, and beckoning me from sleep. In the spring, I enjoy the longer days. As we break from winter, I’m eager to spend more and more time outside, and the later the sun sets, the more opportunity I have to capitalize.
On the flipsides, it feels a bit off-putting for darkness to now be setting in at 5pm. It’s so sudden, and so drastic. And in the spring, it’s hard to think of a more miserable condition to throw on our early risers (particularly those to awaken intentionally for an early start to work) than shifting from brightness to blackness at the sound of one’s alarm.
I think there are two overarching questions at play here. Starting with the obvious, what is the point? And once answering that question, the next to consider is what cost the change has caused us. Everything that we decide to do comes with an opportunity cost, equivalent to what we could be doing had we chosen otherwise. What is the cost of Daylight Saving Time (“DST”), in the most measurable sense of how it impacts our well being?
There’s a lot of mythologizing when it comes to the start of DST. Often attributed as one of a thousand innovations born of the mind of Benjamin Franklin, it happens that our Philly hero did not in fact create the concept. (For all history geeks, learn more here: 8 interesting facts regarding DST)
Instead, it fell into practice in the early 20th century. Individual villages within Canada first dabbled with the concept in 1908, but it hit national scale in 1916, when both Germany and Austria instituted measures nearly identical to those that remain in our country today. Why? As a rationing tactic during WW1, aimed at saving fuel for the war effort. By extending daylight hours by one hour in the early spring, both countries eliminated the need for artificial lighting by an extra hour. Many countries soon followed suit, including ours.
Dispelling another myth, the farming industry was not an advocate for the measure. As it turns out, the agriculture industry was walloped by the spring measure. Farmers use a very simple tool for setting the wheels in motion for their workday. It’s called the sun. The nifty clock is secondary. Many farmers were forced to refrain from their work for an extra hour now, waiting for the morning dew to evaporate. And as we all know well, our dinner times are pretty fixed, year round. Staff would depart at the same time at the end of the day to join their families at home, effectively costing everyone an hour; in their case an hour of pay, in the farm’s case an hour of productivity. The logistics components were flipped upside down, as long standing, hard coded shipment times for things like dairy products needed to be changed now that cows were no longer awakening at the same hour. Pure chaos for this ever important and forever fragile industry. Much to Woodrow Wilson’s dismay, an effort spearheaded primarily by the farming community managed to repeal the federal mandate, and DST disappeared in the U.S. as of 1919.
Federal DST returned at the outset of WW2, but vanquished soon after the war ended. However at this point, some states and even individual cities (NYC and Chicago, for example) reignited the policy. It was not until 1966 that the Uniform Time Act sought to bring uniformity to the United States again, albeit leaving in the ability for states to refuse to comply if they deemed necessary.
To close the case on the first big question we should ask ourselves, DLS was implemented under the premise that it would reduce our energy costs, particularly during war. But at what cost to us? And at what value nowadays?