James Gleick posits that the world should remove its various time zones, given the confusions they cause. Instead, it is argued that our timings should reflect how our biological clocks obey solar movements, a permanence that is in contradistinction to the arbitrary, changeable constitution, of numerical, clocked times.

The time-zone map is a hodgepodge — a jigsaw puzzle by Dalí. Logically you might assume there are 24, one per hour. You would be wrong. There are 39, crossing and overlapping, defying the sun, some offset by 30 minutes or even 45, and fluctuating on the whims of local satraps.

Let us all — wherever and whenever — live on what the world’s timekeepers call Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C. (though “earth time” might be less presumptuous). When it’s noon in Greenwich, Britain, let it be 12 everywhere. No more resetting the clocks. No more wondering what time it is in Peoria or Petropavlovsk. Our biological clocks can stay with the sun, as they have from the dawn of history. Only the numerals will change, and they have always been arbitrary…

People forget how recent is the development of our whole ungainly apparatus. A century and a half ago, time zones didn’t exist. They were a consequence of the invention of railroads. At first they were neither popular nor easy to understand. When New York reset its clocks to railway time on Sunday, Nov. 18, 1883, this newspaper explained the messy affair as follows:

“When the reader of The Times consults his paper at 8 o’clock this morning at his breakfast table it will be 9 o’clock in St. John, New Brunswick, 7 o’clock in Chicago, or rather in St. Louis — for Chicago authorities have refused to adopt the standard time, perhaps because the Chicago meridian was not selected as the one on which all time must be based — 6 o’clock in Denver, Col., and 5 o’clock in San Francisco. That is the whole story in a nut-shell.”

Geoincidence that H. G. Wells invented his time machine then, nor that Einstein developed his theory of relativity soon after. With everything so unsettled, Germany created Sommerzeit, “summer time,” as daylight saving time is still called in Europe.

“There was much talk of relative time, physiological time, subjective time and even compressible time,” wrote the French novelist Marcel Aymé in “The Problem of Summer Time,” a 1943 time-travel story. “It became obvious that the notion of time, as our ancestors had transmitted it down the millennia, was in fact absurd claptrap” (Gleick 2016).

Gleick, James (2016). ‘Time to dump time zones.’ New York Times, November 5, 2016.


Alan Edwards posits a distinction between natural time, and human constructions of time. Athletes are said to be able to train themselves to measure the relative amounts of humanly constructed time.

Ahh, Sunday is the end of daylight-saving time. Go to bed. Sleep in. Magically gain an hour of time.

Pretty nice, huh? Creation of time ex nihilo with a simple twist of the clock dial.

But wait a minute, you say — that hour didn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s the repayment of a one-hour loan we granted the universe back in April, when we set our clocks one hour ahead. All right — so where has that hour been all this while?

Being as it is an amalgam of nature and artifice, time is a tricky thing. The only natural divisions of time we use are years (the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun), days (one rotation of the Earth) and lunar months (the time it takes the moon to wax and wane). Hours, minutes and seconds are all human constructs…

The only thing that now connects human time with natural time is the year. The Earth’s orbit around the sun is currently measured by the positions of a variety of stars and quasars.

Since an official atomic second is slightly shorter than a “natural” second (it takes about 86,400.002 atomic seconds to fill an average solar day), every so often the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures outside Paris, the official worldwide arbiter of time, inserts a “leap second” into the year to make up the difference.

The Bureau International collects data from dozens of atomic clocks throughout the world, statistically compares them and comes up with an official worldwide time. The Directorate of Time at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are two of the contributors…

Far from a steady, flowing stream, time is relative: The faster one moves through space, the slower one moves through time and vice versa (and that’s not even taking into account gravitation).

Everyone moves through combined space-time at the speed of light — we humans, moving very slowly through space, make it up through rapid movement in time. Electromagnetic radiation, moving at the speed of light through space, doesn’t move at all through time. For light, time stands still.

But Einstein was right — we experience relative time every day. Numerous studies have shown that people perceive time to pass quickly when they are doing something enjoyable or concentrating hard, while time passes slowly while they’re waiting or bored. Time, in other words, really does fly when you’re having fun.

Relative time is helped by the fact that most humans have lousy internal clocks. Put a person in a room with no stimuli and tell him to call in an hour and he’ll usually miss the mark by a wide margin.

Some people, however, have trained themselves to sense time. An elite athlete, for example, can tell through a thousand tiny signs whether he’s moving fractionally faster or slower. Coaches take advantage of that innate sense with “tempo trainers” — tiny metronomes that sound tones in the athlete’s ear to time his movements.

“It’s a skill that takes a long time to learn,” said Deward Loose, swimming coach at Lone Peak High School in Utah County. “It’s kinesthetic awareness. Call it feel. It’s amazing to me. . . . The elite swimmers can tell the difference in 100ths of seconds.”

Great hitters see the baseball slow down to the point that they can count the stitches. The ball becomes huge for great tennis players. And it’s not only them. “A number of psychological studies have demonstrated that time expansion is well within the reach of common mortals,” said social psychologist Robert Levine.

Thus we can, with enough effort, implement Thomas Mann’s instruction:

“Hold fast the time! Guard it, watch over it, every hour, every minute! . . . Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment” (Edwards 2003).

Edwards, Alan. 2003. ‘Timekeeping has a long, interesting history.’ Deseret news October 23, 2003.


Noel Gallagher describes time as that which falls from the sky, and then slips beyond our control no matter what intentions we might have in interpersonal/social contexts. In noting that time has a source which transcends the human realm over which he and other humans have greater control, Gallagher duly asks what time will hold for him.

I took a walk with my fame,
Down memory lane,
I never did find my way back.

You know that I gotta say, time’s slipping away,
And what will it hold for me.

What am I gonna do while I’m looking at you,
You’re standing ignoring me

I thought that I heard someone say now,
There’s no time for running away now,
Hey now! Hey now!

Feel no shame – cos time’s no chain,
Feel no shame.

And time as it stands,
Won’t be held in my hands,
Or living inside of my skin,
And as it fell from the sky,
I asked myself why,
Can I never let anyone in?

Gallagher, Noel. 1995. “Hey now.” (What’s the story) Morning glory. London: Creation Records.