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Time Zones: What If We Got Rid Of Them?

It sounds crazy, but it’s not as crazy as you think. (Actually, it might be just as crazy as you think.)

Time Zones: What If We Got Rid Of Them?
Images: NASA. Rakchai Duangdee, Africa Studio via Shutterstock

Every March, someone suggests getting rid of daylight savings time; in 2015, a dozen states considered it, and countries like Egypt and Chile actually did it. But a few proponents suggest something more radical: They think we should also get rid of time zones, and use a single, universal time around the entire world.


“We are living in a new age of interconnectedness, witnessing what I call a time-space-compression,” says Johns Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke, who proposed “Hanke-Henry Date and Time” along with physics and astronomy professor Dick Henry.

They point out that we’ve made wide-ranging changes to time zones before. For a long time, each city or town kept its own, local time. Because you could never speak to someone far away, it didn’t matter what time they thought it was relative to you. Railroads also kept their own, corporate time. In the late 1800s, as those railroads and the telegraph were bringing people closer together, making local time inconvenient. In response, he U.S. split up the country into four official time zones. Other countries followed with time zones of their own.

“What happened then? Many, many time zones were thrown in the dustbin,” says Hanke. “They were replaced by fewer time zones that more closely matched the realities of the time-space-compression that was occurring. For example, in the United States there were 75 railway times in 1870. In the spring of 1883 the railroads adopted Standard Railway Time. With this, the continental U.S. implemented four hour-wide time zones.”

If 19th-century technology brought the world closer together, then Hanke and Henry argue that the Internet has eliminated distance completely. Henry points out that from a physics perspective, there is only one time. Hanke says that a single time would be better for the economy by eliminating confusion.

Time zones are continually changing. In 2015, Mexico added a new time zone, North Korea created “Pyongyang time,” and Norfolk Island shaved a half hour off its time zone. Russia plans to add a time zone in March; China has a single time zone for the whole country that doesn’t line up with the standard time zone map. And every year, some countries begin and end daylight savings time at different times, or abolish it, or change their minds.

If it’s always 9 a.m. in London when it’s 9 a.m. in Tokyo, it would be easier to coordinate conference calls. But “Hanke-Henry Time” still assumes that people would choose their own local working hours, so there would still be a certain amount of confusion.

“You’d have to remember that it might be midnight somewhere,” says Henry. “But you have to do that now, anyway, right?”


Of course, it’s unclear how this could actually happen politically. “No one is in charge,” he says. “I really don’t know how it will happen, or if it will.”

The professors–who also propose an unchanging calendar that would always start on a Monday, but let’s deal with one crazy time-keeping idea at a time–are hoping that the world will adopt their plan in 2018.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.