Commentary
1:33 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Into It: Time Zones

Time zones are as much about politics and commerce as they are about the correct time itself.

The South Pacific nation of Samoa skipped December 30, 2011, all together. Once resting just twenty miles east of the International Date Line, Samoa skipped that Friday as the line was redrawn. The switch came just in time. The firework flares and car honking that began in Samoa soon chased the New Year around the globe one hour at a time.

Time zones were adopted relatively recently. In 1884, Greenwich Mean Time was established as the standard by which all time is measured. Since then, time zones have reflected a changing world of politics, commerce, and technology. A few examples:

The U.S. was divided early on; in 1883 the railroads adopted the split in an effort to keep schedules on track. India embraced a single time zone after achieving independence in 1947. Two years later, after a civil war, China’s sprawling land mass—once home to five time zones—consolidated into just one. Australia, however, remains cut like a miniature jigsaw puzzle.

Coordinated Universal Time soon gained prominence, as it accounts for the minute slowing of earth’s rotation by adding “leap seconds” ever so often. It’s now used in both Antarctica and the International Space Station, which quietly orbits hundreds miles above earth.

Samoa’s jump over the dateline, its cozying up with Australia and New Zealand, is the latest reflection of change through these invisible lines. Though they shift, time zones continue to speak to our history and hold us together.

Music:

Mum. “A Little Bit, Sometimes” from Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy.

Tortoise. “Five Too Many” from It’s All Around You.

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