Let’s get this straight. If you hate this time of year because all of a sudden it’s really, really dark when you emerge from the cave of your office at 6:00 p.m., you don’t hate Daylight Savings Time. Here in the United States (or in most of it, at least) we just ended Daylight Savings Time.
For the next few months we are all stuck with Standard Time, that is, with the time we all agreed was “normal” not so long ago. You have it reversed if you curse DST for the sudden lack of daylight at the end of the day.
Besides, hate if you must, but if you were a Neanderthal, you would just curl up in your furs and go to sleep when the sun disappeared. The dividing of the day into hours, the days into weeks, and the rest is a relatively modern obsession, a consequence of the rise of civilizations that saw a need to record harvests and the deeds of rulers and other details of their histories. Illiterate populations still don’t fuss with minute divisions of time. It was common for Gambian villagers in my Peace Corps days to say they’d visit “when the sun was going down.” Or they’d recount something that happened in “my father’s father’s time.” Set a meeting with village elders for precisely 10:00 in the morning and you could be waiting a long time.
Peace Corps Volunteers fresh from the States (or, earlier, British colonial officials) might get incensed over that kind of thing, but Gambian villagers certainly wouldn’t. Because, you see, time is relative, a convention agreed to by the participating parties. Even science concurs. Einstein once explained (and I’m paraphrasing) that an hour flies by if you are in the arms of your lover, but seems forever if you are in a boring university class. The same hour has different values in different contexts.
Still, even once a given civilization has determined to capture time and confine it within the daily framework of hours, minutes and seconds, it’s not so easy to tell exactly what time it is in any one place. It was not until 1883, when U.S. and Canadian railroads devised standardized time zones across the continent, that any kind of agreement existed here. Previously, localities often set their timepieces by a prominent clock in the town—at the church, on the town hall or even in a jeweler’s window.
Daylight Savings Time (or War Time) was devised to save electricity during World War I. It was quickly repealed after the war. (See, DST haters, you are not alone.) But another war came along with the same need for saving light and DST was reinstated as a year-round system in 1942.
After 1945, states and cities were free to choose whether they stayed on DST or not. But this led to chaos, with some localities choosing one way, and some the other. On one stretch of road between Moundsville, WV and Steubensville, OH, for example, a traveler would have had to reset her watch 35 times.
Something had to be done. In 1966 the Uniform Time Act became law establishing DST nationwide to begin on the last Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October every year, effective in 1967. (At least Congress held back from making it year-round.) Starting March 11, 2007, DST was extended another four to five weeks, from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November. Only two states currently opt out of DST: Arizona and Hawaii.
Of course, how our characters measure time while they’re out having adventures in space can be problematic, too. Talk about jet lag! In my Interstellar Rescue series, space travel is accomplished via a mapped system of “jump nodes,” or wormholes. Time is distorted in these nodes and can be manipulated with intricate quantum physics. (Don’t ask me for the details, I’m a writer, not a ship’s engineer.) Using that quality of the jump allows my Rescue teams to return alien abductees back to Earth with no loss of “real time” in their lives.
But it’s still necessary to keep time onboard ship—using the common naval system of three watches and 24 hours—and within the allied galaxy—using Galactic Standard Dates (GSD). The GSD measurement was developed for use in Confederated Systems space and is based on tiny fractions of the rotation of the galaxy around its center. The alien slaver Minertsans use a different system all their own, based on the circuit of their planet around its sun.
After all, every civilization with the ability to move among the stars would have some form of timekeeping. An obsession with time would seem to be a prerequisite to the exploration of space.
But as for that dark at the end of your day here on Earth, just remember it’s winter, when the face of our hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. No matter how we manipulate our timekeeping, there are just fewer minutes of sunlight every day. You could hibernate until spring. Or you could hang on until December 21, the date of the Winter Soltice and the longest night of the year. After that, the light comes back, a little more each day. No matter what time it is.