Perpetual sundown

Always time to toss a burger on the BBQ



Image via Anna Zisk

For a number of years, I worked in one of those massive skyscrapers in downtown Chicago. I didn't have a desk with a view - far from it. Rather, I was on the 6th floor of a thick building, wedged between two other buildings, and my desk was in a little room without windows. But overall I was happy - minus one thing.

I only saw the sun once or twice a day. Actually, scratch that. I only saw that the sun existed once or twice a day.

You see, in the winter it worked like this: Wake up in the dark, get ready for work in the dark, ride the bus to work in the dark, and work your first couple of hours before the sun ever comes up. Then, go grab a sandwich for lunch (sun! clouds! cold!) And then the sun would set, after which we would work, then ride the bus home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark, and hang out in the dark.

Granted, this long cycle of darkness is what made summers in Chicago so deeply satisfying, causing hundreds of thousands of citizens to pour onto the streets and the lakefront to celebrate, what, a good 48 hours of nice weather. But I digress.

A solution


So I got to thinking - there has to be a better way. And there is. It's called Perpetual Sundown. The way it would work is that every day the sun would stay up until 9:00 pm. Not that we would change the actual rotation of the Earth, but we would change how we measure time. Right now, we measure time in fixed increments. A second is a second. And when the entire Earth was covered in analog, disconnected clocks, that was a pretty sensible thing to do.

But now, many of our clocks are internet-connected. We check the time on our iPhone, our smart watch, our computer screen. All of which are perfectly aligned through the magic of the internet time servers. What if, instead, we took advantage of this connectedness and tweaked time just a little bit every day. Over the course of 365 days we could make lots of little adjustments here and there (shave off a few milliseconds here, add a few there), and eventually we could take ownership of our time instead of subscribing to its every whim.

Imagine the scenario: No matter what day it is, you could always count on having your evening drenched in sunlight. You'd get home after work, toss something on the grill, throw a frisbee with your best friend, teach your kid to ride a bike or your dog a new trick. Then come 9:00 pm on the dot, the sun would set. Our entire biological rhythm would sync with sundown, the darkness would tell us it's time to start preparing for the evening.

And the next morning? In the long days of the summer, it would not be much different from what we experience today. And in the long darkness of winter, we wouldn't waste our sunshine on the hours that we're stuck at work or school. Sure, we might get up in the dark, go to work in the dark, grab a sandwich in the dark, and start our commute home in the dark, but it would be worth it. And if you live up North, just imagine driving home after a long grueling day at the office, watching the sun rise on the horizon as you head home to be with your family and friends.

All it would take is some software, the cooperation of every human on the planet, and rewriting pretty much every piece of software that interacts with the real world.



See how Swatch invented a new time scheme back in 1998 with Swatch Internet Time. Also check out In cold, dark winter, sunshine just fool's gold by Mary Schmich (who also wrote the famous mock commencement address known as "Wear Sunscreen")

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