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Global schedule has affected time itself

In this hustle and bustle world, it is always worth thinking about time and how we continue to change our use of this universal constant.In case some of you have forgotten the basics, here you go. The Earth revolves around the sun; it takes one year (more or less) to achieve this. Each day during this annual journey, the Earth spins once on its axis. In fact, a day is what we call the period of time for the sun to come up each morning until the next sunrise.For millennia, people kept time in their lives by the sun. Sunrise? It’s morning. Sun above your head? It’s midday, time for lunch. Sunset? Night, bedtime. As they needed more accurate divisions of the day to measure the tides, the rise and ebb, people started marking out the day into hours. “The tide will be up in the sixth hour after dawn,” and so on. Eventually, to make all seamen able to use similar charts and navigation maps, and because the tides determined when you could sail into shallow harbors, they started measuring the hours from midway through the night — midnight.As more accurate measurement of the tides and daily lives became necessary and commonplace, the hours were first divided into quarters, and then minutes. Only recently has any need for seconds been necessary. In fact, most watches were made without second hands until the late 1940s.As with any tool, the accuracy of the measurement of time reflects the needs of the user. As we become more exact in our machines and daily lives, timepieces have been made to match our needs. We now have clocks that measure billionths of a second, necessary in wavelength measurement and electronic timekeeping (lasers, X-rays, atomic reactions, microchips and so forth).Remember that the Earth spins? If you lived in New York City 150 years ago, you probably didn’t travel to Philadelphia in your entire lifetime. Travel was an unusual occupation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Due to Philadelphia’s location in relation to the Prime Meridian (at Greenwich), the clocks there were set exactly 10 minutes after the time in New York. For that spot on Earth, those two clocks are equally accurate; the sun rises and sets exactly at the same (local) time for each. At the time, 150 years ago, this accuracy worked fine. With the advent of trains, it became a nightmare.Trains changed time. The need for timetables, all agreeing with the same arrival and departure of steam locomotives, forced districts across the country to synchronize their local time to match the needs of the railway. When the distances became too big, they dropped an hour or added an hour and added a defining description to tell you what time you were really talking about: Eastern Standard Time, Mountain Time and so on.Now, airplanes may tell you the departure and arrival times in local time zones, but pilots have reverted to Greenwich Mean Time, GMT (called Zulu), for all navigation. This is critical for them to avoid errors in navigational plotting that spans the globe. If a pilot tells the La Guardia control tower he’s arriving at 12:30 Zulu, they know this means 7:30 a.m. EST and can clear the runway. Telephone companies, the Internet and satellite transmissions similarly deal with GMT (now called Coordinated Universal Time, since the political bosses decided to make it more “correct”).The world we live in has become busier, with flex-hour work schedules and shifts replaced by piecework, done at home or at central offices and factories. We may all shortly, like the tides, need to know the global schedule — what the same time is for everyone at one moment.If you were running Ford, with offices, plants and distribution centers across the globe, it would be more efficient to know that, say, at 02:30 Zulu the order left an office, at 11:20 was fulfilled by the plant and at 23:00 was delivered to the distribution center. It wouldn’t matter (so long as all were counting with the same GMT clock) that the office was in Stuttgart, the plant in Detroit and the distribution center in Los Angeles. The schedule would be understandable by all, even those who needed to go to work in the dark to comply.For most of us, the day begins when light and ends after dark, but the new machines we’ve built, like the trains of the last century, will demand that we change our lifestyles to match schedules and work ethics with people far over the horizon. Once again, time-keeping will be coordinated to allow us to efficiently match all our efforts.The pity is, the sun will still come up at the same time, the tides will ebb and flow on their own clock and we, on our new world schedule, will be further out of tune with nature. Somehow, that “late” clock in Philly looks more inviting every minute. A former Amenia Union resident, Peter Riva now resides in New Mexico.

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