As we switch out of daylight saving time, let's admit it — the way we keep times and dates is a ridiculous mess. Last week I missed a phone call to Belgium because the guy on the other end got the zones wrong. A few years back, I ruined a family vacation because I booked a 2 March start as Canadians do, 2/3/2013, where the hotel booked it as Feb. 3 as Americans do, 2/3/2013. In two weeks, I am on a ridiculous 6 a.m. flight because I got the a.m. and p.m. wrong when I bought my ticket.

Sandford FlemingSandford Fleming tells the time. (Photo: Canada Archives)

Coincidentally, in 1876, Canadian engineer Sandford Fleming missed a train because he arrived at 6 p.m. for a 6 a.m. departure. He then proposed Cosmic Time, a 24-hour clock for the entire world — one time for everyone, irrespective of meridian. When that idea got rejected, he developed the idea of Universal Standard Time with 24 time zones, and he became known as the Father of Standard Time.

Almost a 150 years later, it seems that he was right the first time. Twenty-four hour clocks make a lot more sense than the North American use of a.m. and p.m., day/month/year makes more sense than month/day/year, (though year/month/day makes more sense than either) but what we really need is Sanford’s Cosmic Time, where everyone on the planet is following the same time.

Swatch TimeAnd the beat goes on with Swatch Time, (Photo: Screen capture, Swatch)

There have been many attempts at this over the years. Two recent ones are Swatch Time, where the watch company developed a time system that divided the day into 1,000 beats that were the same all over the world; I am writing this at 802 beats, the number since midnight at Biel, Switzerland, where Swatch is located. It’s 802 all over the world.

new earth timeNew Earth Time makes a lot of sense. (Photo: Screen capture)

Then there's New Earth Time, developed by Mark Laugesen in Auckland, New Zealand, where the day is split into 360 degrees with 0 degrees being midnight at Greenwich, as with Universal time now. Each net degree is four minutes long, and divides into 60 net minutes and 60 net seconds. This makes some sense, as the 360 system is well known. So as I write this, it is now 283°58’ here and everywhere else in the world. Sadly, this idea didn’t go anywhere and the website is stuck in time.

But let's at least start somewhere...

Of course, we should be getting rid of the seven-day weeks, clean up the different lengths of the months and start the year at the fall equinox as was proposed after the French Revolution, but that's probably too much to handle all at once. And since Americans won’t accept doing something so French as day/month/year, let’s dump both and go with the most logical year/month/day. And while I like the idea of Swatch time, even they have given up on it and no longer sell a watch that shows it.

Perhaps we should all just settle on Universal Time (formerly Greenwich Mean Time) on a 24-hour clock, with an add-on at the end to help adjust to local time and zone. So right now for me it is 2015.10.30/19:09/3PE.

If we did that, I would never get the hotel dates or meeting times wrong. I would not be getting up at 4 — sorry, 08:00/4AE — to catch a flight. Mister Belgian tech developer and I would both know that we are meeting at 2015.10.30/14:00/10AE.

That seems so much simpler, doesn’t it?

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

It's time we fixed the way we tell time
In an increasingly globalized society we need to agree on a common way of expressing time and date.