Thursday, December 29, 2011

Calendar Reform in the Twenty-First Century: Changing Times

For more than five hundred years, the most popular and influential book, after the Bible, was The Golden Legend by Jacques de Voragine.* At the end of the 13th century Voragine grappled with the sacralization of time and its usage. Following the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the rules of time that, for the most part, have ruled Western civilization, were established.

Recently, an interesting change occurred. On 28 March 2010, Russian President Medvedev eliminated two of Russia's eleven time zones. Russia circles almost half the globe. Using our present nineteenth-century method of marking the time, the clocks in Kaliningrad, far west of Moscow, read ten hours differently (9 hours differently, after Medvedev's change) than do clocks across the Bering Sea from Alaska. But, time, as measured by atomic clocks, is exactly the same in those two Russian locations. The time is the same everywhere, but the sun can be at very different locations in the sky — something that mattered in the nineteenth century far more than it does today.

Why did Medvedev make these changes? Imagine Washington, D.C. on our West Coast, and the U.S. stretched over eleven time zones. If that were the case, when President Obama began work at 6 AM, it would already be 4 PM on our (hypothetically stretched) East Coast, and all government workers would be going home in 30 minutes. Hard to keep in touch. That gives us a feeling for what Russia has to cope with. But, Medvedev's solution, while mitigative, clearly does not totally solve the problem. To read more, click here.
Related article: Professors' proposed calendar synchronizes dates with days

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