I recently had the pleasure of getting away for the weekend in a remote cabin in the Alabama woods, right outside of Chattanooga and on the border of a few different states.

In addition to being on the edge of multiple states, the cabin was situated on the edge of space and time. And by that I mean, it was essentially perfectly bisected by the time zone line.

Living in a location on the brink of two time zones for a week was an interesting experience, and was, to put it lightly, maddening. For a week straight, neither me nor my partner could reliably tell you what time it was, at least not without consulting multiple devices and doing some mental gymnastics. I grant you, if I had been wearing a classic wrist watch, it would have been easier. But instead, I had a smart watch, connected to a smart phone.

I assumed that the phone would just sync with an NTP-server based on its geolocation as determined by the GPS radio, but as I soon discovered, the phone sets its time not based on a GPS-based NTP sync, but primarily based on which tower it happens to talk to at a given time.

To make matters worse, there were three clocks in the cabin. Two were set to central time. One was set to central time, before daylight saving time. My laptop was set to eastern time. And to top it all off, my devices would randomly decide to change their time, even when my physical location hadn’t changed by more than a few meters. I discovered that when I would visit the restroom, that was a prime spot to pick up a different signal, and the clock would change from central to eastern. Even in downtown Chattanooga, squarely inside of the eastern time zone, it happened to ping a tower on the other side of the time zone boundary, and bam, I suddenly discovered an extra hour.

I set an alarm one time to make sure we woke up in time to make our appointment for a local attraction, but my phone changed times in the middle of the night, and I soon discovered that the alarm clock makes its decision for waking not based on the time when you set it, but whatever time the phone is currently in. Thankfully, I wake up at the crack of dawn naturally most days.

After putting up with this for a week, I have firmly changed positions and am now a proponent of using UTC (Coordinated Universal Time - although some might argue it makes more sense to be called Universal Global Time. But one battle at a time.). With UTC, rather than there being a local time all around the world, everyone would just have their clocks set to the same time. This does come with its own set of peculiarities (you might have midnight in the middle of the day, or your noon might be hitting right as the sun sets), but I suspect the world would quickly adapt.

And the benefits are quite numerous:

  • It makes working on distributed, globally diverse teams easier, because no one has to do “time zone math” to figure out when a meeting is scheduled, or when they need to show up for a shift.
  • It would help reduce jetlag and make travel less stressful. It always makes me feel way more tired when I travel from the west coast to the east coast, where I depart at lunch and then three hours later when I arrive and suddenly my watch says that seven hours have passed.
  • It simplifies the timekeeping logic on computers and reduces the number of bugs in a large set of applications.
  • It eliminates the maddening issues I mentioned above for those who are on the edge of a time zone.
  • It also eliminates any confusion caused by half-timezones, differences in daylight saving time observation, and political differences in time when one country or goverment decides to set its own time.

I used to be hung up on how weird having one single worldwide time zone would feel. I’m in the eastern time zone primarily, which is currently UTC-4 (because of daylight saving). If we were to switch to UTC, at this moment, it would be 13:30 rather than 09:30. That means my local noon would take place at 16:00, and the sunset would happen around 0:00. At first, that seems strange, just because it’s so different from what I’m used to. But really, time is just a way of measuring the progression of things, and the numbers we use are, at least to a degree, arbitrary.

So count me in as an ally for the UTC cause, for I am now a believer.