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‘Time Will Tell’

The idiom “time will tell” means that the truth or correctness of something will only be established at some time in the future. It’s used to express that the outcome of a situation is uncertain and can only be determined with time.

This idiom certainly applies to the practice of changing clocks twice a year called Daylight Saving Time (DST). It was first introduced in the United States in 1918 with the Standard Time Act, which was meant to lower fuel costs during World War I. The law also established a standard time and allowed the federal government to create five time zones. The government stopped observing DST after World War I ended, but reimplemented it during World War II. Congress decided to make DST permanent for two years from 1973 to 1975, extending the hours of daily sunlight to conserve energy during the oil embargo crisis. However, the law was repealed in 1974 for being unpopular and ineffective.

In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, standardizing the length of DST. The dates we use to observe DST today ‒ starting on the second Sunday of March and ending on the first Sunday of November – were established in 2005 when Congress amended the Act.

All that said and despite many Americans’ aversion to having to “spring forward” and “fall back” every year, all signs point to continued twice-yearly clock changes. No major legislative changes to DST were enacted in 2023, so clocks fell back on Sunday, Nov. 5 and move ahead again on March 10 of this year.

The primary purpose of DST is to make better use of daylight by moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. The idea behind this is that people will have more daylight hours in the evening when they are awake and active, which will reduce energy consumption and promote outdoor activities. However, not everyone agrees that DST is beneficial. Some people argue that it disrupts sleep patterns and causes health problems, while others claim that it has no significant impact on energy consumption or public safety.

Federal law, in fact, prohibits states from switching to permanent DST. Changes to federal law, including the Sunshine Protection Act (SPA), did not come up for a vote in 2023. Dozens of U.S. states are considering legislation to eliminate clock changes, but there has been relatively little momentum. The SPA bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate every year since 1918 and also introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2023. The bill would establish permanent DST nationwide. Under the bill’s provisions, there would be no clock changes in the spring and fall.

Arizona, Hawaii and U.S. territories already following permanent standard time would be exempt from the law. These states and territories would continue using their current system of permanent standard time. Any other state that adopted permanent standard time before the SPA became law would also be exempt from DST.

The law’s effects would be most apparent from November to March when clocks would otherwise be on standard time. In general, DST means less light in the morning. So, during these months, people with typical work and school schedules would be more likely to start the day in the dark.

That said, the effects of the SPA would vary by location. The amount of daylight throughout the year depends on how far a place is from the equator. In addition, cities in the western part of each time zone have later sunrises, which can mean less morning light under permanent DST.

Of course, for most Americans the practice of physically moving their time pieces forward and backward is meaningless. Most electronic gadgets automatically adjust to the new time. Even in our household which has a plethora of older clocks, there are some time pieces that move forward or backward without our physically moving anything, such as a cellphone, computer, and TV set-top boxes.

However, dealing with some clocks is more intricate than just moving clock hands forward or backward. If you try to move the clock hands backward on many older clocks, you’ll cause them to stop running. You should really stop the time piece and wait for the actual time to catch up, then set the hands accordingly.

Humans have been keeping track of time for thousands of years. The earliest known attempt to count days was a hash-marked bone found in the Semliki Valley in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dating back to 18,000-8,000 BCE. Over time, humans developed various methods to track time, such as shadow clocks, sundials, and water clocks.

As timepieces evolved, so did scientists’ need for ever-more-precise tickers. They developed devices that relied not on Earth’s wobbly rotation but on microscopic atomic movements. At the heart of it all is an ever-advancing appreciation for our smallest temporal unit, the second. Modern systems like GPS and cellphones rely on keeping this interval consistent, which makes defining and refining it, well, of the essence.

Today if you’re out and about without your cellphone or some kind of time piece on your person you’ll find it difficult to know what time it is. Stores, offices and most other public facilities seldom display that “old clock on the wall” the late Comedian George Gobel used to refer to when ending his television show.

Without a timepiece on your person, you may find yourself humming that popular song composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Lorenz Hart for the 1939 musical Too Many Girls: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer