Time Change... / by Erin Wade

Today is, of course, the start of Daylight Savings Time here in the United States - a day that presents distaste and a bit of dread for many. It steals an hour from us each year simply to make it lighter later in the day, a phenomenon that, with the nature of the seasons, was already well on its way toward taking care of itself without our crazy clock dance.

This also leaves me with the weighty responsibility of moving about the house and adjusting the time on the analog clocks that we have scattered around the home. It occurs to me that this latter activity is one that, like so many others, is likely on its way out due to the changing nature of technology. For many of us, the clock dance is taken care of automatically, as our cell phones are also our primary timepieces, and they update religiously based upon location and event. In addition to updating for DST, anyone who has traveled across the country with their phones in recent years is also familiar with the fact that they update to the local time zone when you pass across those borders.

It's certainly a convenience, even in my household, as I no longer need to calculate whether I'm advancing forward or taking back - I just look at my iPhone and make the clock on the wall match it. And as I do this I find myself considering the relative value of those clocks at all.

I enjoy an analog clock. I find, with a lifetime of practice, that I can quickly determine the approximate time by glancing at the positions of the hands on a clock face. But my daughter would not say the same. We will routinely be standing in the kitchen, which has two wall clocks opposite one another, and she will say to me "what time is it?" For my own personal entertainment I will point at the larger of the two clocks, as if perhaps she is unaware of its presence. This is then followed by her departure as she moves about the house to find her phone in order to read the time on its digital display.

Like handwriting or paper books, it's unlikely that analog clocks will disappear in their entirety but, as time goes on, it seems likely that they will fade back to become luxury and/or fetish items. And, upon reflection, it isn't all that surprising that this is occurring. Analog clocks are significantly harder to read than a simple digital display of the time.

The thing is, they don't actually need to be. The other day I came across something - or more accurately, I realized something about a thing that I've been looking at, off and on, for a few years now. I have, on my iPad, an app called Emerald Observatory.

Alt text

This lovely looking app has a number of features that are tied to the movement of the planets, including a display of the relative daylight across the map, and so on. It also includes both a standard analog clock with two hands, and a single-hand 24-hour clock. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I don't believe I realized, until now, that this was part of what I've been looking at over the couple of years that I've had this app.

And it turns out that single-hand clock faces are a thing.

Setting aside one's own lifetime of experience reading traditional analog clocks, how much simpler would it be for a new learner to pick up reading the time on one of these? Rather than sorting out what to do with the minute hand, and remembering that the hour hand isn't going to point directly at the current hour unless it's the exact top of that hour, and so on, one only needs to look at the relative position of the hand between the hours. If it's quarter past, the hand will have moved a quarter way past the hour. Half past? Halfway. Quarter till?... You get the idea.

Our history is replete with examples of society adopting and keeping less than ideal versions of things due to primacy, or political or business strategizing - highways instead of railways, the failure of the U.S. to adopt the metric system, the proliferation of Microsoft Windows, etc. This, combined with the fact that digital clocks are both ubiquitous and easier still to read, makes this an idea who's time has past or, more honestly, essentially never came. Still, an intriguing idea in the abstract.

Posted in   Tags: