March 8, 2011

A.M./P.M./EST/PST

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This coming Saturday night, as the clock strikes one and the bouncers at Dino’s usher the crowds out onto the street, you will take that last sip, make your way onto College Ave. with the masses and allow the crowd to carry you to CTP. The usual deal. You sit with friends for a while, chowing down and people-watching out onto Club Sidewalk. Soon enough, you check the time to see how long until it’s appropriate to either a) call the night quits — the third blizzard of the week wiped you out — or b) abandon the CTP crowd and show up at Charlie-Sheen-themed after-hours without looking too eager. All of a sudden, time has flown and you notice that just as 1:59 a.m. is supposed to turn into 2:00 — poof! It’s now 3:00 a.m. Huh, weird. You don’t usually hallucinate, and you even refused that third FourLoko. Oh. Daylight savings.  As the third grade lesson goes, daylight savings started because Benjamin Franklin, father of “early to bed, early to rise …” wanted more daylight hours for farmers to work during the colder months. But what does that mean for those of us who have no intention of using the extra sunlight to plow the fields? In a sense, it’s strange in itself to think that because of this one decision, every single person’s life completely shifts by one hour twice a year. We fall back and spring forward every year because someone thought it was a good idea 300 years ago. Then again, Benjamin Franklin did discover electricity, so maybe he was on to something. At the heart of Franklin’s idea was that we use time as a yardstick of when we can and cannot do certain activities. Farmers in the 1700s could have just as easily risen at 5 a.m. instead of 6 to get the necessary sunlight, but instead the solution was to change the time entirely, so the 6 a.m. routine would not be disturbed. Time is just a construction of human beings meant to give their lives structure. The signals of time — be they clocktower bells, the angle of the sun or the sound of a rooster — indicate when it’s time to eat, sleep, exercise, go to work or socialize.  For college kids, though, time is another beast entirely. Time dictates at which points in the semester it will be impossible to find a seat at the library and when we’ll see a crowd outside CTB. Rather than know it’s Wednesday, so you have section today, you know it’s Wednesday because you have section today. And the way Cornell students measure time can be different from the way others do. We determine the passage of time by how many days or weeks until or after break, or the sound of the bells at 2 a.m. at Olin’s nightly closing. We determine how long it will be until we eat by counting the number of people ahead of us on the Terrace line during prime hours, and we can tell what day it is based on whether we’re lining up for fishbowls outside Level B or resting our voices for karaoke night at Ruloff’s. In this regard, we have it easier than those philosophers and scientists who meditate on the meaning and source of time and its passing. College students do not consider the speed of light in figuring out how long it’s been since they’ve been to class — we just look at the last date we took notes. St. Augustine wrote that the perception and duration of time is directly linked to memory; that is, we are measuring the length of an event by how we remember it. Lucky for us, if we cannot recall what happened last night or even three years ago, we have Facebook and tagged pictures to keep track for us.It’s not that college students disregard the views of the rest of the world or ignore the bigger picture; rather, the nature of college life requires us to shift to a more narrow focus, one with weekly tasks and daily commitments. This schedule shapes our perspective of time as we assign meaning to mundane routines. Still, taking a step back to look at the bigger picture is important. And fortunately, as they do every year, these extra hours of daylight in the coming weeks are sure to serve as a reminder of the impending days of spring. While getting up at 6 a.m. to be productive is not a college student’s ideal situation, maybe Benjamin Franklin wasn’t so far off: In our constantly changing notion of time, this universal standard gives us at least some consistency. One measure of time everyone can use : 1 week, 3 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes… spring break!Jane Mermel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jmermel@cornellsun.com. Hilary Oran is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She may be reached at horan@cornellsun.com. The Shorthand appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Hilary Oran