A contagious confluence, metaphorical hydraulics in chronofluidity, multiple rippling effects.

Location: Lawrence, Kansas

Friday, December 10, 2004

Cahokia Man and the One Big Adjustment

Everyone called him Charlie, but to himself he was Cahokia Man, after his birthplace in Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. He imagined he was descended from the Missippian moundbuilders of the area, even though his American forebears were definitely post-Columbian, German immigrants to be specific. During the summers he would volunteer to help the anthropologists and their graduate students from Northwestern University process the Cahokia Mounds site. During those long summer days, painstakingly sifting through dirt for shards, artifacts of any kind that, when pieced together, might give a glimpse into a lost culture and a lost time, Cahokia Man let his mind wander, trying to imagine the life led by his people. Not the Germans. The Moundbuilders.

He was struck by how he knew they must have viewed time. There was no day carved neatly into twenty-four segments, certainly no time zones and daylight savings time. Sunrise, sunset, the equinoxes, and the solstices, these were how they reckoned—the mounds themselves, their orientation, told him this. And when this city had thrived, with its unencumbered, elegant sense of time, its population had been greater than that of Paris. It was Cahokia Man’s meditation on the Moundbuilders’ simple chronicity that inspired his idea for One Universal Time, to be carried out with One Big Adjustment.

The idea of One Universal Time was simple and profound. Forget about ante-meridian and post-meridian, and the fact that some people think noon is 12 p.m. and others that it’s 12 a.m., when it’s neither, and midnight is both. Forget about trying to figure out and adjust for what time it is somewhere else in the world. Certainly forget about the six months every year when Indiana, already divided into two time zones, observes or doesn’t observe daylight savings time, depending on which part of Indiana in which you happen to live or be passing through. Keep the twenty-four hours—a realistic concession to the global nature of commerce and communications; the Moundbuilders had an extensive trade network that spanned more than one of today’s time zones, but they didn’t have fax machines or telephones, or at least no fax or phone artifacts had turned up yet in the dig. But instead of having twenty-four parts of the world operating under twenty-four different hours, put everyone into the same hour. The costs of the current multiple time system were staggering. Cahokia Man had tried to calculate them but the costs were so pervasive, so minutely woven into the fabric of modern life, that he despaired of arriving at a number. How much time was lost every year just in resetting clocks and watches for time zone changes and daylight savings time? How much time was wasted in meeting rooms because one or more of the parties forgot to change his or her watch or clock? How many meetings, appointments, and transportation arrangements had to be rescheduled because the time differential hadn’t been calculated or calculated correctly? How many opportunities were lost when a businessperson on one side of the globe was working while his partner on the other side of the globe was sleeping? What was the cost of weekly having to print multiple editions of TV Guide? How much money was being spent to equip news rooms, war rooms, airports, and other such time track centers with multiple clocks lined up in a row on a wall, labeled Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Moscow? And how much extra electricity was being wasted twenty-four hours a day to keep these extra clocks running?

The benefits of One Universal Time were obvious. But to reap the benefits, humankind would have to make One Big Adjustment. Sure, One Big Adjustment would be wrenching to everyone. It would take some getting used to. Roughly half the world would need to start sleeping during daylight hours and working after dark. But what an improvement, no longer to have to make the Constant Tiny Adjustments every day. And what a beautiful thought—that everyone on earth would be sleeping together, waking together, working together. To educate and prepare people for the One Big Adjustment became the life mission of Cahokia Man. It would be his legacy to humanity. It would be the world-transforming transmission of his culture into the twenty-first century. He knew he was going to need a Web site.