Daylight Saving Time: Fall Back and Spring Forward!


Daylight Saving Time (DST) is something that many countries in the world have adopted in the spring and in the fall. It involves ‘moving the clocks forward’ in springtime, and ‘moving them back’ in the fall. But what does that mean? Does the extra hour vanish? Where does it go? To  answer these questions first we must understand something about time.

Before clocks were invented, people would organise their days around sunrise and sunset. When it was light, they got up and set about their business. When it was dark, off to bed they went because there was no electricity. It stays light for a longer time in the summers, and it gets dark much earlier in the winters. As you may have learnt in geography, because of the tilt of the Earth, the difference between daylight and darkness is greater in countries that are away from the equator than in countries closer to it (who therefore they don’t use DST).

But what does it mean to move the clocks? Moving the clocks back in the Fall season means that on the designated day in October, everyone agrees that instead of it being 2 am one day, it is actually 1 am. So sunrise then came one hour earlier than it did the day before. This means that everyone needs to be in sync, and that countries who do not follow DST make a note of it, and factor that into their calculations of what time it is in those time zones. 

Who came up with this idea? Apparently, the idea for Daylight Saving Time was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin. On a trip to France, he noticed that to save on candles, people got up earlier than usual and slept early too. George Hudson thought of a similar idea in New Zealand. As did William Wittet in England. In an essay, ‘The Waste of Daylight’, he wrote that people slept away hours of daylight, instead of using them more productively. He proposed turning the clocks forward in summer so that one hour of daylight was ‘moved’ to the evening. It was quite a bold move and unsure of how it was going to work, it was dismissed by the Government.

The idea was adopted for the first time in Germany in 1916. Facing a coal shortage because of World War I, they increased evening daylight by an hour to save on electricity which ran on burning coal. The British and Americans realised that this was a good idea after all, especially in times of hardship.

Today, more than 70 countries follow DST. It usually happens in March and then again in late October or Early November. Different countries have different days when they switch over so you really have to watch the time then! 

Do we follow this practice in India? No we don’t, but we do have to make a note of it so that when we call our friends in other countries, we do make a note of the change.

How does DST help? The benefit of all this forward and backing, said Wittet, was that most people were happier to finish school or work and come out into sunlight rather than dull greyness. It gave kids an hour longer to play outdoors, and adults could shop or eat out too rather than glumly going home when they stepped out of work and into darkness.

However, now that we have electricity is it really needed? Studies have shown that because people sleep an hour less on the first day after DST kicks in, there are more road accidents, injuries and even heart attacks. Also, kids have to get up an hour early for school! It also leads to confusion especially train, plane and other such timetables.

Because of the pros and cons, there is always a debate about DST every year. This year, in the USA, it was on November 4, 2018. And watch out for March 10, 2019, when the clocks spring forward! When it will end, only time will tell!

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant . She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

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