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It's high time for New Standard Time

Posted: Monday, November 08, 2010

Twice a year, my husband and I plan our battle strategy. "You take upstairs; I'll take downstairs and outbuildings," he says.

"OK," I say. "You do the cars; I'll do cameras and phones."

I dread the biannual time change. It's a bothersome task to synchronize all the devices around the house. Last spring, just for fun, I tallied up all the time indicators we own. Many of them aren't even clocks - their primary purpose is to take photos, make phone calls or cook food.

I counted 40. In our household of two souls there are nine clocks, four watches, four computers, four land-line phones, two car clocks, two TVs, two cable boxes, two cameras, a stove, microwave, coffeemaker, pool timer, sprinkler-system timer, VCR, cellphone, weather station, portable GPS, digital voice recorder and my bike computer, which tells me how far and fast I've ridden. I imagine most families have as many, if not more. (OK, ours is probably the only household in America that still has a working VCR.) A few of them, like my BlackBerry and the computers, reset automatically; I wish they all did.

The thing is, as a retiree, I usually don't even care what time it is. Gone are the days when I set my bedside alarm to 5:25 a.m. Now I only glance at a clock in order to be on time for meeting friends, or for concerts, appointments and the 6 o'clock news.

And I've gained the wisdom to know that my happiest moments are when I'm so caught up in an activity that I'm oblivious to the passage of time.

Although I'm not obsessed with time, I am obsessed with accuracy. There's no way I could not reset the clocks.

Why do stoves, microwaves and phones even need a clock? The stove and microwave could have timers without telling us the time of day. If I get a message on voicemail, I'm either going to return the call or not; I don't care what time it came in.

The one place we don't have a clock is in the garden where my husband spends his mornings. But he doesn't need one, because the north-south wall along the driveway serves as a sundial. When the shadow gets skinny and creeps close to the wall, he knows it's time to break for lunch. Sundials worked fine for millenniums. And they never needed resetting.

Then clocks and watches were invented and time zones were standardized. Then some genius came up with daylight saving time.

The time change didn't used to be such a big deal. When I was a teenager, for example, we only had five clocks around the house. Of course, we didn't have cellphones, digital cameras, laptops or GPS. I love my gadgets, so I'm not nostalgic for analog days.

But let's not delude ourselves. All the fancy timepieces we have are no better than pocket watches and grandfather clocks of yore. They don't allow us to accelerate time when we are miserable or slam on the brakes when we are happy. We can twiddle the numbers on our timepieces all we want, but real time oozes on, indifferent and inexorable.

So let's either stay on standard time or daylight saving time year round. People can't agree on which is preferable, so how about splitting the difference? This weekend, we could set the clocks back 30 minutes instead of an hour and then leave them alone. We can call it New Standard Time.

Realistically, I don't expect my idea to catch on. So that means my husband and I will have to go into battle mode, tracking down and manipulating dozens of timepieces. There's one clock, however, that's impossible to reset: my internal clock. My brain and body will be out of sync for days. My insomnia will get worse and I'll be cranky - especially when I realize that in five months, I'll have to go through this all over again.

• Kathryn Wilkens is a freelance writer in Upland, Calif. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.



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