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Time Zones

Not long ago (in the 19th century) everyone set their watches to the sun, or the clock in the town square. No one fell forward or sprung back - time was local, personal and inconsistent. If you visited a distant village, you’d likely need to adjust your watch when you arrived, to match the local time.


This all changed in 1879 when Canadian engineer, Sir Sandford Fleming, proposed the concept of time zones. Similar to our recent article on addresses, a unified system of time wasn’t really necessary before international travel came into play. In particular, the invention of the railway meant time needed to be very precise. So, we now have 24 time zones, all starting at GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). But it's not perfect. In fact, some might argue it's all a bit higgledy piggledy. For example, France gains the title for the most time zones, but this is due to the number of territories it owns around the world. And despite it's size, China only has one.


Countries can also decide how they jump on the time zone bandwagon. For example, North Korea decided to revert back to their 8.5 hour time zone in 2015, which had been in place before the Japanese occupation. Although some might see these as fun anecdotes, there’s something to be said about the effect that time zones have on society as a whole. The fact that GMT is “0” seems to further highlight how Britain continues to position itself at the center of the world map, even when the inventor of the time zone was Canadian.


We also have physical reactions to time zones. Studies show that moving from East to West is easier on our internal clocks - Jet Lag is less aggressive and we don’t experience a dramatic impact on our sleep cycles. This is because our day is simply extended, instead of being cut short. There are places in the world where even the best night’s sleep might not cure your jet lag - like a portion of the border between China and Afghanistan, which results in a 3.5 hour time jump!


Learn more:

Jet lag

Time zone facts

North Korea's new time zone

Image by Luis Cortes

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