What is Standard Time? | Origin, Working, Pros and Cons

Also known as the ‘winter time’ or ‘normal time’, standard time is the authorised local time of a region or a country.

It differs from the local mean time insofar as the latter varies from place to place as it is determined by the position of the sun over the meridian running through a particular location.

In contrast, the standard time is set by the law and administration of a country or a region. The aim is to synchronise the clocks of that country or region with a single standard time instead of local solar time that varies from place to place.

Origin of the Standard Time

Standard time as a concept was introduced in the late nineteenth century when the local mean time or the sundial time started acting as an obstruction in the path of administration, specifically railway administration.

The prevalence of local time made it almost impossible for the administrators to create a uniform train time-table because of the temporal variation that the concept of sundial time created.

The problem was more predominantly felt in Canada and the United States where the trains used to traverse longer distances, often passing through locations that differed from each other by several hours when considered under the concept of local time.

Accordingly, in the 1870s, Sir Sandford Fleming, a Canadian railway engineer and planner, came up with the idea of a global standard time.

The idea was worked upon in 1884 by a delegation of 27 countries who gathered at Washington, D.C. The delegates agreed upon on a timekeeping system that is fundamentally similar to what we use today and in this way emerged the concept of standard time.

How does Standard Time work?

The international delegation that met in 1884 divided the world into 24 time zones as the earth completes a 360° rotation in 24 hours.

Accordingly, these 24 time zones remain apart by 15° longitudes starting from the Prime Meridian or the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude running through an observatory of Greenwich, England) as the earth travels this much distance in one hour.

However, the boundaries of the 24 time zones designated by their location from the west or east of Greenwich has been altered, keeping in mind various nation-states, provincial and ocean boundaries.

Therefore, each country has fixed its own standard time by holding its central meridian’s distance from the Prime Meridian as the standard meridian and its standard meridian’s local time as the standard time.

The selection of standard meridian is made in such a way that it is divisible by 7° 30′ or 150°. It makes it easier to calculate the distance between the Standard Meridian and the Prime Meridian in terms of the multiples of an hour or half an hour.

As the concept of standard time has been primarily introduced for administrative purposes, a country may choose to have multiple standard meridians to accommodate its administrative boundaries. Correspondingly, countries like the USA, Russia, France, Canada and the like have more than one standard time.

Advantages of Standard Time

The adoption of the concept of a universal standard time was not done without any purpose. The following are some of the significant advantages of standard time.

  1. Promotes administrative uniformity: Lack of administrative uniformity was the precise reason why a universal standard time became the need of the hour.
  2. Promotes coordination of economic activities: A uniform clock-time for an entire country or a geographical region helps in coordinating economic exchanges and activities.
  3.  Generates a sense of belongingness:  A uniform clock-time for an entire country generates a sense of harmony and togetherness within its population.
  4. Promotes national integration: The sense of belongingness generated by a uniform clock-time helps in the advancement of national integration. 
  5. Helps in fixing DST: About 40 per cent of the world countries, including the United States, use the standard time as a reference to set Daylight Saving Time during summer months.

Disadvantages of Standard Time

Although the concept of standard time is the predominant time concept followed by the world today, it is not without its share of limitations.

  1. Lack of synchronisation of clocks with the earth’s rotation: Standardisation of time according to administrative borders often leads to deviation of the clock-time from the earth’s rotation and therefore, the actual clock-time is not always followed.
  2. Ignores the movement of the sun: Taking the local time of the central meridian of a country as the standard time often ignores the sun’s position in the far east and the far west of the country. Consequently, the residents often encounter problems with day and night.
  3. Wastage of energy resources: As the concept of standard time often deviates from the movement of the sun and the earth, a vast amount of energy resources encounter wastage. It happens due to the extended hours of economic activities and the resultant usage of power resources like electricity, petrol, diesel and the like.
  4. A problem for astronomers: Astronomers require the precise time of a particular location to enunciate their observations which is not possible under a legally fixed clock-time like the standard time.
  5. Have less effect on people’s daily activities: Even though the standard time of a country brings about uniformity in its administrative activities, its impact on ordinary people’s day to day activities is not that profound.