As someone with an undergraduate degree in engineering and two graduate degrees in economics (from British and U.S. institutions), I never cease to be amazed by the differences in approach of these two disciplines, as illustrated in a short aside in Paul Krugman’s feature article “Eurotrashed” in the Sunday Magazine Section of The New York Times of January 17, 2011.
The specific paragraph, to which I am referring, is the one in which Milton Friedman referenced as having drawn an analogy between daylight saving time (DST) and the adjustment of the value of currencies. Friedman had asserted that the economic benefit of DSTis that it allows businesses to change their hours uniformly so that no individual business is out of sync because of a unilateral decision to change its own hours of operation.
In my view, not only is DST an unsupportable throwback in today’s online global economy, the actual time adjustments have been shown to have many adverse physical and mental consequences, such as increases in the incidence of heart attacks. road accidents, missed meetings, and so on. The automatic time adjustments on your PC might also (in the U.S.) occur on different days if you did not update your internal PC routines. This would be due to the decision in 2005 to move the dates of time change, beginning in 2007, to extend DST by four weeks to save energy … which assertion is itself highly questionable.
Incidentally, when the dates of DST were changed in the U.S. in 2007, many organizations incurred considerable costs, since they had to ensure that all their application and system software, firmware, hardware, business processes, etc., were properly adjusted so that time-dependent systems would not go out of sync … a mini Y2K as it were. I was involved in this activity for the U.S. banking and finance sector, and I can tell you that it required considerable effort to ensure compatibility across the thousands of systems upon which the industry relies.
Rather than explain away the reason for daylight savings, as does Krugman quoting Friedman, why not take the engineer’s (rather than the economist’s) approach of tackling the root cause? Why don’t we just split the difference? How about moving the clock by 30 minutes, instead of 60 minutes, on the next time change occasion and then just leave it there forever? Not only would the health and safety problems go away, but we could avoid all those missed trains, planes and meetings that inevitably ensue, the drowsy feeling in the spring from losing an hour of sleep, and the continuing computer synchronization issues, such as was recently experienced with the alarm clock on Apple iPhones a few months ago. Another benefit would be that we would not have to make the half-hour adjustment to India time, which most time zone watches cannot handle today anyway, assuming that India doesn’t make a comparable 30-minute time change.
By the way, if you’re wondering what DST might have to do with information security, I would argue that it impacts data integrity, system availability, and even confidentiality. The last of these might be more difficult to envision, but, as an example, let us consider the case of sensitive documents intended for synchronized release around the world, but which are distributed in one country or state an hour before (or after) others because the publisher/distributor had not accounted for the time change in that area. Is that farfetched? Maybe. Perhaps you know of an instance where confidential information was incorrectly distributed because of a daylight savings time change. I’d be interested in knowing about such a case … so please let me know if you have seen any such instances.