Thursday, December 20, 2012

So, Will The World End Time Zone By Time Zone?

A hidden advantage of dividing the world into time zones, it seems, is that it's harder to destroy the world on any given day, because it becomes the next day at different times all over the world.

It's already December 21 in China.  And it appears that, at least in Anchorage, the world is still here. 

The way we divide time into hours and minutes and seconds and into time zones is a good example of social construction of reality.  It is based on physical reality - sunrise to sunset is roughly a day, the earth orbits the sun in roughly a year - but then humans went beyond 'natural' and designed systems that worked for them. We do that with everything that is human created. 

How we track time has always been dependent on technologies that could track the time better than watching the sun set and rise and where it is at noon.

It wasn't until the late 1800's that time zones were created, again, in response to technology - the telegraph and the railroad.  From Time and Date:
Trade, communications and transport became more globalized during the 19th century, which made it convenient that all maps and charts should indicate the same longitudes in whichever country they were produced, as being so many degrees east or west of a prime meridian. Moreover, the international telegraph needed at least a single standard to which all local times could be referred. 
American railroads maintained many different time zones during the late 1800s. Each train station set its own clock so it was difficult to coordinate train schedules. Time calculation became a serious problem for people traveling by train (sometimes hundreds of miles in a day), according to the Library of Congress. Every city in the United States used a different time standard so there were more than 300 local sun times to choose from. Railroad managers tried to address the problem by establishing 100 railroad time zones, but this was only a partial solution to the problem.
Operators of the new railroad lines needed a new time plan that would offer a uniform train schedule for departures and arrivals. Four standard time zones for the continental United States were introduced on November 18, 1883. Britain, which already adopted its own standard time system for England, Scotland, and Wales, helped gather international consensus for global time zones in 1884.
One could argue that since the people who are tracing the end of the world prediction to Mayans [and no one who knows anything about Mayan calendars seems to think they predicted the end of the world] it would make sense that if they had predicted the world's demise on Dec. 21, 2012, it would be on Dec. 21, 2012, Mayan time (Greenwich Mean Time -6).

I did try to figure out if there is a time when the whole world is the same day.  Wikianswers says:
Yes, everyday when it is point midnight on the International Dateline and midday on the Greenwich line (in London)
So, is this saying that for an instant, as the day changes at the international dateline, we are all the same day?  If that's the case, it would be the instant before the Asian side of the line changes to Dec. 22.

But if you look at a map of time zones - near the dateline - you see strange things.  First, as you cross the Date Line, you have to add 24 hours.  But as you scroll down the map, you'll see strange local time zones.  Tonga is GMT 13 and Tokalau is GMT 14, and American Samoa is GMT 15.  So there are places with extra time zones that wouldn't be on the right day.  I think.  It's all very confusing. 
Screenshot from Wikipeidia's Time Zone Map

It seems the only people who think the world might end on Dec. 21 are those who are (and these are not mutually exclusive categories) the uneducated, the easily persuaded, the people looking for any excuse to party, and the Republicans in the House who see no reason to back down on the "Fiscal Cliff" showdown,  because the world will end before January 1, 2013.  First they denied global warming, then they were certain Romney would win, then there's their denial of the connection between our gun policies and firearm deaths, so why shouldn't they believe twisted interpretations of the Mayan calendar? 

Maybe I'm being too hard on Republicans.  After all, even Fox News cites experts who say it ain't so.  But then, if it were arguing the world would end Dec. 21, how could they sell advertising spots for next week and beyond?



  1. And will we even notice?
    M from MD

    1. ouch.

      A mother of a storm has begun here in Ottawa. It's the end of our non-white world at least. Very pretty. BIG flakes are adding an inch or two an hour to the land. and our balcony chairs and tables, even the insides of the balcony are turning white. A day to stay home.

  2. The end of the world didn't happen... Oh, well, it's not the end of the world.


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