In March, many countries, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, bumped their clocks an hour ahead, effectively signaling the entrance into warmer weather. For most of my life, I remained ignorantly unaware of the concept of daylight saving until my teens. Having grown up in the tropics, imagine my befuddlement experiencing daylight saving for the first time when I arrived in Toronto, where I went to university. I couldn’t fathom what, exactly, was the point in meddling with clocks, when the only thing that changed was the amount of daylight received based on the shifting seasons (which were marginal at best, considering the extended months of Canadian winters).
The popular, oft-touted reason we commonly hear behind daylight saving time (DST) is that of energy conservation. Logically, having an extra hour of daylight means one hour less electrical usage for lighting. However, it turns out that DST is far more concerned with exploitation than conservation. To understand this, I peered into the history of when DST actually entered mainstream discourse leading to its eventual application.
There are many stories connected to its origins, but DST most likely had to do with the surge in railway trade in post-Industrial Revolution Britain. Operating a railway business necessitated the adoption of standard time to eliminate scheduling conflicts and delivery confusion since clocks in each city were still arbitrarily set according to the sun at the time. Not one to be outdone, its counterpart in the United States and Canada soon followed suit, dividing North America into four time zones to streamline services. It wasn’t until the campaign of British builder William Willett in the early 1900s that DST’s popularity was fanned among legislators, backed by the likes of Sherlock Holmes’ author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill, the then-president of the Board of Trade, despite facing opposition from scientists and farmers.
Daylight Savings is far more concerned with exploitation than conservation.
Contrary to the myth you may have heard, DST was never introduced to aid farmers. In fact, the opposite was actually true. Farmers were frequently behind aggressive lobbies against DST as it interfered with their schedule. The loss of morning light hampered their routine of getting farm produce to the market, and livestock too did not cope well. So, an industry that actually relied on natural light and labor from the working class was forced to change in order to accommodate the advancement of production chains in more profitable sectors.
In a consumption-driven economy, DST is inextricably linked to capitalistic impulses to institutionalize time for profit.
But wait, it only gets messier from here. It’s bad enough that DST’s provenance can be traced to railway industrialization by colonialist forces upheld by a system of indentured labor and servitude—sowing the seeds for anti-immigrant violence that we see today—imperial warfare became the primary reason for its adoption. Germany and Austria became the first nations to dally with one-hour clock shifts in 1916 during World War I to save wartime fuel, followed shortly by Great Britain and the U.S. when they entered a war that caused 40 million casualties. Thereafter the adoption of DST varied according to countries and localities, causing further mishaps. A major trainwreck in France happened due to confusion in clock change, and at one point, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates in Iowa were recorded in a single year. Given the bloody history and inconvenience of bumping clocks, it is little wonder that more countries are scrapping it altogether, or considering its abolishment.
So who profits off of DST? Some of the largest beneficiaries include industries such as retail, oil and gas, and even golf. When you have more daylight after work, you’ll tend to spend more money on leisure. These businesses shrewdly saw this spending trend decades ago, and have since accrued tens of billions of dollars in sales. In a consumption-driven economy, DST is inextricably linked to capitalistic impulses to institutionalize time for profit.
While these industries thrive, workers’ conditions across the world remain precarious, more so with the added strain of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many are being overworked and underpaid with no social safety net. The crisis has left women and lower-income groups vulnerable, furthering global inequality. The impact of DST time change on workers’ health is extensive and well-studied, leading to upticks in cardiovascular diseases, workplace injury, even pregnancy and childbirth complications due to sleep issues stemming from disruptions in circadian clocks.
Certainly, we’d all have to gain more with an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Unfortunately, we live in a system that prioritizes maximizing profit from labor that cancels out our collective wellness, which is especially needed at the moment. A year into the pandemic, we’ve had enough of work and personal hours getting mixed up, virtual schooling, Zoom fatigue, and the unceasing demands for productivity to pretend as if all is well when we’re surrounded by death and illness daily. Our psychological time has been severely distorted by the pandemic. There is no need to exacerbate this confusion further with a time change that is detrimental to us when our experience of temporality has been warped by collective trauma.
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