Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Benjamin Franklin’s Joke

In 1784, while Benjamin Franklin was living in Paris as American delegate, he wrote a humorous letter to his friend Antoine Alexis-François Cadet de Vaux. Cadet de Vaux was the editor of the Journal de Paris, and he subsequently published the letter in his newspaper under the title “An Economical Project”.

In the letter, Franklin called for the people of Paris to get out of bed before noon and proposed the following regulations:

1. That a tax be paid on every window that had shutters to keep out sunlight.

2. That candles be rationed, and the rationing be enforced by the constabulary.

3. That coaches not be allowed on the streets after sunset, unless carrying doctors or midwives.

4. That sunrise be accompanied by church bells and cannons to “awaken the sluggards effectually and make them open their eyes to see their true interests ... All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity. ... Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening.”

But Franklin’s proposals were meant to be satirical; the only thing he was actually advocating was that people go to bed and get up earlier. And the joke is on us: Franklin, due to this essay, is credited with the idea for Daylight Saving Time/European Summer Time.

The main benefit of Daylight Saving Time is supposed to be the saving of energy, but DST can no longer save energy to any significant degree. Apparently any energy we save on lighting, we now more than make up for with air-conditioning.

And Franklin’s joke isn’t funny anymore. Practically everyone I know has been suffering from some degree of depression since we set the clocks back two weeks ago; people are sleep-deprived, irritable and irrational. Studies have shown that traffic accidents and fatalities are higher twice a year just after clocks are changed. People are less productive at work. DST has completely outlived its usefulness. In the big picture, it makes no difference whether we are on standard time or daylight time. The only problem lies with the semi-annual transition, i.e. the changing of clocks, which is itself a harmful thing.


Riggs is Crazy said...

Is this a joke? I think DST is outdated too, but come on.

Max said...

No joke, Riggs. I think the change affects people more in places where the days are already much shorter (i.e. farther from the equator). You may not see it in San Francisco, but Prague lately has been like the depression ward of a mental hospital.

Monkey said...

I'll drink to that.

Skeeter said...

What about China that only has one time zone?

Audie said...

Totally agree. I lived in Arizona for 4 years, where DST is not observed, and it was, simply, saner.

It always seemed odd to me anyway, that, at the time of year at which it's getting dark earlier ANYWAY, we move the clocks back and make it get darker at an even earlier hour still. But then, maybe it makes more sense for a morning person (which I am not). I dunno.

Max said...

Skeeter - really? China has only one time zone? That is crazy. But as long as they don't change the clocks twice a year, I guess they'll be all right.

Aud, that is a very good point. The days get shorter so fast here and with the change in time, it was like all of a sudden I was working until the middle of the night every day. It's nearly dark at 4 p.m. already. Awful.