It is 7 am and dark. It is today or yesterday?

10
Dec
2009

Another great byproduct of working on a project that makes such heavy use of time zones and world mapping is that it piques my curiosity about these things. Did you know for example that time zones are a fairly recent invention? That they were needed by the invention and use of higher speed forms of travel like the train? That before the International Meridian Conference, held in 1884, there were no time zones and generally around the world the day as we understand it started at noon and not midnight? And before that of course the day was just the variable period in which there was sunlight (as opposed to night, the variable period of darkness). And before this conference (and afterwards as localities slowly adopted the resolutions of it), each place had its own time, a more precise division of where they were on the globe. ¬†Which I guess meant for example that Manhattan could have had a time that was a few minutes different from Brooklyn and even greater difference from Boston. Each city or locality set its time based on noon, meaning when the sun was highest in the sky. You can imagine how this made making train schedules somewhat difficult, as they would have had to calculate a far greater number of times of arrival than they do today with only 24 zones to consider. I find it really fascinating that a scientific or industrial notation for understanding things becomes intertwined with our sense of the world and what is “natural” or “normal”. The precision with which we need to understand the day is entirely a result of commerce and transportation. And yet at this point is feels perfectly natural to consider midnight the dividing point between days, even as our sleep cycles say something completely different.

An don’t even get me started on Daylight Saving Time