Speaking as someone who has advocated for a return to local solar time (now that everyone has a supercomputer with GPS in their pocket to handle the necessary conversions), I was intrigued to read this article about just how bad things were before we started using timezones.

It’s peripheral to the main article, but I was kind of intrigued by this bit:

When he arrived in Ann Arbor in 1852, Tappan gave a speech outlining his vision for a new type of university. Drawing on the German model of education, he sought to transform the University of Michigan into an institution where knowledge was not just taught, but created.

Time zones are an anachronism from the days of railroads and pocket watches. They should be abolished. Instead of time zones, we should all use local solar time.

From the dawn of man everyone always used local solar time. We kept right on using it even after clocks became common. Time zones were created because it was too computationally complex to maintain train schedules when each town the train passed through was on local solar time. (In the days of stage coaches the inherent schedule variability produced by using horses to travel over unimproved roads was so large as to make the variations in local solar time insignificant.)

Computational complexity is no longer an issue. Nowadays everyone walks around with a supercomputer in his or her pocket. Those very same supercomputers also already have the one other thing needed to make local solar time practical: GPS positioning. (Because knowing the local solar time requires knowing where you are.)

Shifting to local solar time would be almost unnoticeable for most people—they’d just carry on checking their phone for the time the way they do now.

The only practical change would be that any mention of a particular time would have to include the location—which people already do informally anyway. If you schedule a meeting for 10:00 AM in conference room B, everybody would know that you mean 10:00 AM local solar time. If you’re scheduling a teleconference that some people will attend remotely, you’re already providing the time zone—and most often you’re providing it by reference to the local city (Chicago time, Bangalore time), which is exactly what you’re going to need for local solar time.

As long as the time of an event includes a location, your phone will be able to calculate the time at your current location (or at any other location you might care about).

Some people that I’ve described this system to object that two people on opposite sides of town would always be off-schedule, and always be having to go through gyrations to do ordinary stuff like arranging lunch plans. “Are we meeting at 11:45 at the restaurant, or 11:45 at my office?” This will simply not be an issue.

Social convention will quickly make the matter clear. When you say “I’ll pick you up at 11:45 at your office, and then we’ll meet everyone else at 12:00 at the restaurant,” everyone will assume the first time is local solar time at the office and the second time is local solar time at the restaurant. And in any case, the difference is insignificant. Local solar time changes by just a few seconds for each mile you move east or west, so even in a vast metropolitan area like Los Angeles, you’re talking about a difference of perhaps three minutes from one side to the other.

Giving you an alert 5 or 10 minutes ahead of a meeting that will be happening some miles to your east or west will be easy enough for your pocket supercomputer to handle. Certainly it’s less complicated than adjusting the alert time based on travel time from your current location, which many calendar systems are already beginning to handle. Adjusting for both at the same time is a simple matter of addition.

As a bonus, switching to local solar time has a reasonable shot at ending the perversion that “daylight saving” time has always been. When you live in a time zone whose borders are already arbitrary, it seems only a little more arbitrary to offset the clocks by yet another hour. Once we’re on local solar time—where local noon is when the sun is at its peak—it will seem preposterous to call that time 1:00 PM.

Abolish time zones! Return to local solar time!