Spring forward ... for what?
On Sunday morning at 2 am, most of our computers' clocks will automatically skip forward to 3 am, cutting an hour out of the night. On November 7, we'll get an extra hour to make up for it. Watches, wall clocks, and clocks on appliances will have to be reset by hand to keep up with the change and inevitably a few people will oversleep.
The idea of changing the clocks to make better use of daylight stretches back more than 200 years. In 1784, when he was ambassador to France and doing as the French did, Benjamin Franklin wrote: "An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning." He was surprised to discover that his room was bright with sunlight, a full six hours before he usually woke up (even though he had coined the couplet, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise"). Franklin calculated that if the inhabitants of Paris rose with the sun during the summer months instead of getting up at noon, they would save 96 million livres tournois ($200 million in today's money) on the cost of candle wax and tallow every summer.
Daylight saving time was founded with the goal of saving energy and money by adjusting schedules to make better use of daylight. With the exception of farmers and some other early risers, few of us make full use of the sunlight in the earliest hours of the day, while most of the population is awake at sunset. An extra hour of daylight at the end of the day has been shown to reduce traffic fatalities during the evening commute and boost retail business in after-work daylight hours, but changing the clocks is an inconvenience and can throw people's sleep schedules off for a few days.
"I think churches bear the brunt of it," says Father Chip Sedale, rector of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown. "I remind people a week in advance and put it in the church bulletin, but even then I always get a few who miss worship. I meet them at the door when everyone else is leaving and see their disappointed faces, but we're happy to have them, even if they're an hour late.
Meanwhile, farmers work on a schedule tied to sun time, not clock time, so the clock shift is only a minor inconvenience for them. "It doesn't make any difference to me," says Debbie Farber of Blackwater Farm in Lambert's Cove. "The animals still get hungry at the same time."
Alan Healy, at Mermaid Farm on Middle Road in Chilmark, has two kids in school. "It goofs me up because of the school," he says, "otherwise it wouldn't affect me. I say just take half an hour and leave it, split the difference."
For those who sell food, the changing patterns of daylight make more of a difference. "The whole nature of our business shifts a bit when it gets dark earlier," says Danielle Dominick, owner of the Scottish Bakehouse. "We sell more chocolate in the winter, and people who work outside go home earlier. They're not thinking about dinner at 3:00, but when the sun's going down at 6:30, we sell a lot more dinners."
Joanne Plante has been a baker for 30 years, and for most of that time her workday has begun before sunrise. "I get in about 3:45," she says. "You wake up and you're one of the first people out. You get to have the Island to yourself, winter or summer. The main difference I notice is that the darker it is, the later the main crowd of customers comes in."
At the other end of the day, the gradual shift in daylight, coupled with the clock change, also makes a difference for restaurants and bars. "It changes when people come in," says Phil McAndrews of Offshore Ale. "Now, dinner starts to build up at 6, 6:30, but by the end of June it can be quiet up to 7 or 7:30."
For most of us, the annual shift in and out of daylight saving time is a minor inconvenience which helps us enjoy the daylight a little more, but the idea took a long time to catch on. It was first implemented in Germany during World War I as an energy saving measure, and other countries followed suit, including the U.S. in 1918. France kept l'heure d'été for a little while after the war, and although Benjamin Franklin never convinced Parisians to rise with the sun, his prediction that they would save money by using more daylight was finally actualized. In the summer of 1921, for example, the city of Paris saved approximately 200,000 tons of fuel by using daylight saving time.
In 2007, daylight saving time here in the U.S. was increased by three weeks, so that it now encompasses over seven months of the year. Standard time, set loosely around the idea that noon is the middle of the day, has become the exception rather than the rule, and early this Sunday morning we'll return to the new normal - an extra hour of darkness in the morning, and an extra hour's daylight at the end of the day.