Did you know that pilots use a different system of time than the rest of us?
The entire aviation community — from professional airline pilots who fly the biggest passenger jets to weekend amateur pilots who fly tiny, two-seater, single engine clunkers around their local airports — uses a system called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Or, as the pilots call it, Zulu time.
UTC, GMT, Zulu (or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t vary based on geography. It’s one time worldwide, and that’s the beauty of it. Zulu time is necessary for pilots because it’s so easy to take off from one time zone and land in another. If times were expressed in local times, confusion would reign — and confusion is bad when miscommunication about timing can kill people.
BBC radio, which I listen to on my satellite radio every time I drive, announces the time every half hour, expressed in GMT. They have to, because their service is global.
Don’t look now, but business is global. Media is global. Communication is global. So why are we still torturing ourselves with local time?
In the United States, why are we double-torturing ourselves with local time aggravated by daylight saving time gymnastics?
Coordinating shipments, scheduling meetings, communicating about time in general has become a nightmare — or at least a waste of energy.
Enough! Why don’t we all get behind a switch to GMT everywhere?
The best way to do this is gradually. That’s why I propose that business voluntarily start using GMT, just like pilots do, when coordinating activities, including conference calls, meetings and other scheduled business communications.
You might think using two time systems — one for work and another for personal time — might be confusing. In fact, two would be a reduction. Every time companies coordinate activities around the world, they use a different time system for each location. To set up a single conference call with people in five locations means, for example, that you’re dealing with five different time “systems.”
As in aviation, the use of GMT in business would clarify more than it confuses.
Here’s what time it is now. Here’s what time it would be if we all embraced GMT. Isn’t that better?
After a decade or so of getting use to using GMT in business, I think most people would prefer to switch to it for both business and personal use, and we could get rid of local-based time once and for all.
The Trouble With Local Time
The idea of time roughly based on where and when the sun is shining in a specific location was developed only because global communication was impossible. In fact, the sun was the clock, so it had to be based on the sun.
Local time is quaint, but problematic. Right now, it’s, well, right now — everywhere. Yet we pretend it’s “right now” wherever we are, and earlier or later elsewhere.
The current system of local times creates absurd situations. As I write this, it’s already “tomorrow” in parts of Europe and all of Asia. Twins born during travel or just before and after daylight savings time end up with the baby born first being “younger” than its twin sibling because our system of time switches over between births. As we explore “strange new worlds,” what time is it in space? Several countries are now planning permanent moon bases. Should we now divide the moon up into time zones based on rotation, etc.? Obviously not.
The local time concept is an archaic, confusing and unnecessary waste of time.
We’ve globalized media, trade and communication. It’s time we globalized time, too.
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.