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.


Keiichiro Fujisaki portrays a clock, which graphically represents the regions of the world which are concurrently either in sunlight or shadow, as a recognition of the difference between natural time and artificial time. Whilst natural time is indicated by the sun, artificial time is said to be illustrated by the time zones.

In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison.

The passage of time is different from country to country and region to region. Different cities may be in the same time zone, but as the clock strikes seven in the morning, some may already be experiencing bright daylight, while in others the sun may not even have risen. Earth Clock affords a sweeping view of these various times around the globe. Yoshiaki Nishimura of Living World explains:

“Despite the fact that it’s as broad as the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) when measured from east to west, China employs the same standard time throughout the country. The time difference between India and Japan is 3 hours 30 minutes, but the time difference between here and Nepal is 3 hours 15 minutes. Time differences of 15 or 30 minutes are used by certain countries to distinguish themselves from their neighbors, so in a sense they can be referred to as time borders. So among other things, time is a political tool.”

Indeed. I remember hearing stories about how at the western extremity of China the Sun would be directly overhead at three in the afternoon. The terminator marches on regardless of things like manmade national borders and standard time zones. Says Nishimura, “I had in mind the question, What would time be like without the influence of time in industrialized societies?” So Earth Clock was born out of a recognition of the contrast between artificial time and natural time.

“In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison as the terminator passes. On the opposite side of the globe, the sunset side, dogs start barking and crows return to their nests. Although in the cities, which increasingly operate around the clock, we live according to artificially designated time with little regard for whether it is day or night, the world at large is overwhelmingly governed by natural time. The terminator turns relentlessly like a music box. Frogs start to croak and birds start to sing. I find this kind of thing fascinating, and I’d always wanted to express this somehow in my work” (Fujisaki 2007).

Fujisaki, Keiichiro. 2007. “Natural time, artificial time: Earth Clock Report Part 1: Living World.” Living world. 14 January 2007.