You’re a software engineer living in Idaho. You wake up with the sun at 2PM, Greenwich Mean Time, which everyone just calls “UN Time” since the United Nations adopted it as the universal time standard a few years ago. Soon nobody will call it anything. That’ll just be what time it is. Regardless of whether you’re in Idaho, DC, Ireland, Nepal or New Zealand, all the clocks will say
2:00 PM at the same time.
You’ve got a meeting with your distributed team at 3PM. It was originally at 4PM, but Rajit had to reschedule because of a family conflict. Rescheduling was easy. He proposed that the meeting take place at 3PM and everybody knew what that meant without having to ask what timezone he’s in and Google the conversion.
How did Rajit know that 3PM wasn’t the middle of the night for some of you? Wrong question. Marie prefers to work nights, and Antonia works one night a week. But how did Rajit know that everyone would be up at 3? Easy. He may have used Outlook’s scheduling helper, which shows the blocks of time people are available. Or he may have looked at your company profile, which says “3P11P” next to your job title, meaning you work from 3PM to 11PM. Those five characters replace a heap of complicated timezone conversions, conversations, and mistakes.
The entire company loves UN time. When they make travel schedules, they don’t have to head-scratch over time lost or gained on flights. People are rarely late to meetings and interviews. Your engineering team takes Fridays off because UN time saves them so much effort, not having to code around 37 different time zones any more. Servers run faster and throw less errors. Not a single ampere of electricity is lost to timezone math. You don’t have to teach junior developers about “offsets” or how to use the
timestamp with time zone type in Postgres.
You can’t remember the last time you drove across the border from California to Arizona and suddenly realized you’d have to skip dinner if you wanted to make your hotel check-in time.
Although people were resistant to the change at first, everyone agrees it’s much simpler. It only took a few weeks for people to adapt. It turns out that terms like “morning” and “evening” were based on the position of the sun, not the hour hand of the clock, all along. Gone are the days where everyone spent their entire life farming in a small town, interacting only with the two or three hundred people who lived around them, setting their schedule based on the sun’s available light. The Internet has made us all travelers. Ending the tired math of time zones was a simple way to give us more in common with each other.
Someday you’ll tell your kids about time zones and they’ll squint at you in disbelief. How could people have been so strange? Did they really think that when you flew from Hong Kong to Ireland, you changed your location in space and time? Did people on international calls tell each other what the future held?
The only minor inconvenience is that when you travel a long distance East or West, sometimes you have to look up what business hours are in your new location. Again, it’s a short code, like “1A9A”: 1 AM to 9 AM. Easy to remember. And come to think of it, you had to do that anyway back when time zones existed, because a lot of places didn’t keep standard hours.
Nobody uses Daylight Savings Time anymore, of course. Daylight Savings Time is trash.
The terms “noon” and “midnight” have become misnomers, but nobody minds; language is full of misnomers anyway. “Peanuts” aren’t nuts and “strawberries” aren’t berries, so nobody’s tripped up by the fact that “midnight” isn’t the middle of the night. I mean, I guess it is if you’re in London.
When the UN resolution was originally passed, there were a few dissenting votes by scholars who held that books written prior to UN Time would become unreadable if a universal standard was adopted. Take the following paragraph, for example:
Steadman jolted awake as the phone rang. He swore and picked it up. “It’s 3 AM. This better be good,” he growled.
To an audience raised on UN Time, it might seem like a bit of nuance is lost. Just how inappropriate is it to call someone at 3 AM? So a clause was added to the resolution encouraging elementary schools to teach kids one short code of historical significance: 7A7P, a fair estimation of average daylight hours in historical books. You don’t have to teach them that summer days are longer and winter days are shorter. That’s still true.
Nothing has really changed, except that everyone can agree on what time it is, and everyone wastes a bit less energy figuring out what 3PM means to them, their long-distance significant other, their friend in another country, or their coworker on a distributed team.
Oh, and everyone speaks Spanish now. Once we got time zones figured out, a universal language wasn’t far behind.