SO THE Japanese are thinking of converting to Daylight Saving Time in the summers. If history is any guide, I'd say they won't do it. It's all just some sort of ploy. You watch. They've ruined Daylight Saving Time for the rest of us, and they'd be crazy to subject themselves to the same torture.
Let me explain. It used to be fun, arbitrarily changing the time of day. Kind of God-like. But today, thanks to the Japanese, there are timepieces built into virtually everything, from video-cassette recorders to cars. Last October, it took me so long to reset all my clocks at the end of Daylight Saving Time that I lost the extra hour we're supposed to get. Thanks again, Japan.
Once, my life was simple. I had a clock in my stove and I had a wristwatch. That was it. Then I bought a computer, which had a clock in it. I bought a video-cassette recorder, which had a clock in it. My local video stores stopped stocking the tapes that fit in my Beta VCR -- another Japanese plot -- so I bought a new VCR, which also had a clock in it.
To make a long story short, my efficiency apartment began filling up with timepieces, like an old clockmaker's shop. I started out with just a surplus army cot, and by the time I began furnishing the place some years later, the Japanese were building clocks into damn near everything.
I think it's deliberate, and I think it explains our declining productivity -- mine in particular. Oh sure, the Japanese are gadget freaks and they have a lot more clocks per person than we do, but they haven't been driven out of their minds switching their clocks back and forth -- because they don't have anything like Daylight Saving Time. They're talking about it again, but I still smell a plot.
They used to have Daylight Saving Time, but that was only because we made them. This is true, really. Under the U.S. occupation, the Japanese were forced to adjust their clocks in spring and autumn from 1948 to 1951. Then in 1952 we signed a treaty with them, and they dropped it right away.
Not long after that, the tiny island nation began developing the electronics industry that would soon bring America to its knees. And I'm not talking about some economic miracle here, I'm talking about flooding us with clocks.
We showed them how Daylight Saving Time works, and they figured out how to use it against us. I don't want to sound paranoid, but it's not so hard to imagine a bunch of Japanese industrialists sitting down in the 1970s and saying something like, "Okay, then we're agreed. We put clocks into everything, and Americans spend so much time and energy resetting them twice a year that we put them out of business. Banzai!"
And that doesn't even count the devastation wreaked by the two or three power failures most households suffer each year.
Take a look in an electronics store. Try buying anything that runs on electricity and doesn't keep time. Cellular phones. Calculators. Telephones. Answering machines. Coffee makers. Televisions. Microwave ovens. Tape recorders. They've all got clocks in them.
They seem like good ideas, sure, but you get them all in your home and they'll make you crazy, springing forward and falling back.
All those neat new labor-saving devices they want to sell you are just an excuse to put another clock in your home. Trust me, I know. Once, in a desperate attempt to reduce the number of remote controls I had floating around, I bought one of those universal remotes that you can use to work anything. Not only does it have a clock in it but it requires constant adjustment.
Even perfectly normal things have been victims of forced mutation, of chronographic coupling. I have in my possession a pen that has a digital clock in it. The pen part doesn't work very well, but it keeps great time.
As a Christmas gift two years ago, I received a wristwatch. A real one, the kind with hands that go around, so that kids will understand the meaning of clockwise. This watch also has a separate digital display and was designed for people who bounce between time zones. The basic idea here is that you can set your home time with the hands, and the time in Japan on the digital display.
Do you see the insidious nature of this device? They're building clocks into our clocks.
And the really horrible part is that almost all are digital. Your archetypal mechanical alarm clock had but one twirly thing in the back that you spun to set both the time and the alarm. The beauty was that every mechanical alarm clock in the world worked the same way; once you understood how one worked, you could deal with all of them.
But digital clocks are like unto snowflakes. Each is programmed differently, using a specific set of instructions unique to each digital readout.
And what instructions. Punch this button twice, wait five seconds, flip that switch, insert something small and pointed -- but not too pointed -- into that hole.
I estimate that it takes upward of 10 minutes to set a digital clock, depending on how frequently you set it, how intuitively obvious the operation is and how small your fingers are.
A co-worker recently purchased one of those portable tape-players. It had a little display attached to it, and she asked me to set it for her. Day, date, time and tiny buttons had to be pressed, not just in sequence, but in some weird rhythmic fashion that left me with a nervous tic.
I urge my countrymen to combat this Far Eastern fifth column. Do not reset your clocks. Unplug them, cover them up, allow them to run wild, but for God's sake, don't keep fiddling with them. If the current trend continues, the average American family by the end of this century will finish resetting all its clocks to Daylight Saving Time only to immediately begin shifting them back to Standard Time.
I've taken the plunge myself. Last week, I tossed out about 35 pounds worth of instruction manuals whose only purpose was to tell me how to reset all my clocks. It's a very liberating experience. Join me in rejecting the compulsion to have every clock in your household set, and time will once again be on your side.
Dave Wilson writes for National Journal.