Falling Back and Springing Forward

When we switch to and from Daylight Savings Time, I start to question reality. I realize that things that we take for granted, like what it means to be “5 o’clock” can be changed by fiat. It reminds me that things that I see as solid and unchangeable are just human constructions.

In college, my friends and I were up during the night of “fall back.” We started watching TV and wanted to see what happens to the TV at 3:00 in the morning when it becomes 2:00 again. Yes, we really were that cool. There are no interesting shows on at that time, but it’s pretty amazing to see the clock change and see the electronic TV guide show two different 2:00 to 3:00 AM slots. In my own small way, I got to see how The Matrix worked while everyone else was sleeping.

These constructions of time remind me of actual construction. When I was at Citibank, the bank was building a new headquarters at 388 Greenwich Street. One weekend they were renovating the cafeteria. On Monday morning, I came in to a completely new set of long hallways and oddly shaped rooms that didn’t exist on Friday. It was uncomfortable to realize that these things that I assumed were very stable and permanent, like walls and rooms, are just a way of organizing space and can be easily changed.

Daylight Savings Time is another construction. Actually, our entire conception of 24-hour days is an unnatural construction. It’s so much more natural to wake up in the morning when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun sets, but it would be awfully hard to coordinate workers if we all used this natural time.

Almost every year, I enjoyed the time that we would “fall back.” It meant that I had an extra hour of time to reset. I mean, who doesn’t want an extra hour in the day. However, there were a couple of years when I got excited about springing forward. These are the years when my kids were very little and didn’t care about clocks. They were waking up at five in the morning. So during “fall back,” five in the morning became four in the morning. And during “spring forward,” five in the morning became six in the morning. And getting my kids to magically wake up at six in the morning was simply amazing.

Daylight Savings Time makes me think about how we impose structure on nature. Most of the time, when the clock adds an hour, I get a 25 hour day, which is awesome. But other times, it doesn’t matter what the clocks say. My innumerate children are going to wake up the same time they did yesterday. In those times, it’s a great magic trick to get my kids to wake up an hour later by stealing an hour from the middle of the night.