WASHINGTON, D.C.—So much for "spring forward," given that this year Daylight Saving Time kicks in while it's still, well, winter. So what's up with that? Simple: Congress extended Daylight Saving Time by a month, touting the move as a way to save energy, reduce traffic accidents, and, perhaps most important, make Halloween a special and safer treat by allowing kids to go door-to-door while it's still light out.
"The beauty of Daylight Saving Time is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said when the measure passed, moving the start date of Daylight Saving Time up three weeks to the second Sunday in March and its end back a week to the first Sunday in November.
Think that's early? If bill cosponsors Markey and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., had their druthers, they would have extended Daylight Saving Time—which provides an extra hour of light in the evening when people are still awake as opposed to early in the morning when most are still snoozing—by two months. But the U.S. airlines balked, complaining that it would be pricey and put them at a competitive disadvantage with international carriers because of the tight allocation of take off and landing time slots at major airports abroad.
Farmers, who don't cotton to doing their morning chores in the dark, were none too pleased, either (though they didn't grumble too much, because automation has erased many of their reasons for resisting earlier attempts to move up the start time). And so, Congress passed this compromise, which takes effect at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 11 (instead of on April 4) and ends on Nov. 4 (instead of on Oct. 28) this year.
There was little hoopla when the bill passed as a tiny piece of the giant 2005 Energy Act. But two years later, as the effective date fast approached, there were suddenly stories predicting that this would be a potential technological nightmare of Y2K proportions.
Reality bytes: But don't count on it. As Markey pointed out at a press conference here this week, corporations and consumers have had two years to prepare for and adjust to the idea. The information and technology world has programmed various software "patches'' that can be downloaded onto computers and mobile devices to bring internal clocks into sync, and even the reluctant airline industry says it has resolved potential conflicts and is ready to go.
"I don't think there will be huge chaos. But there may be a lot of fairly minor glitches, which could be potentially annoying but will be forgotten within a few days," says Kevin Crowston, professor of information studies at Syracuse University. "As far as I can tell, it's going to primarily be little cosmetic things like the time prints out wrong for one hour for three weeks. In most people's lives, the clock is important, but it certainly isn't routinely life or death" unless, he notes, you're, say, an airline or train operator and have to be on an exact schedule.
"For large companies, this was kind of a hassle and they spent time to make sure it would come off smoothly," he says. "The biggest inconvenience for consumers is that most people will have to go around changing their alarm clock and clocks in their appliances, because the fact is that every appliance has a clock built into these days. Does my microwave really need to know what time it is? Hypothetically yes, but practically no. ... [The change] will be that scale of annoyance."
Crowston says that most computers, cell phones and the like will probably be automatically updated; if not, people can do so manually. Of course then, he says, the challenge will be for them to remember that they made the change when automatic updates come through three weeks later on the old schedule. "Be prepared to waking up in April and the clocks being wrong in the other direction," he says, "because they would have adjusted automatically the other way."