Daylight Saving Time (DST) is, to many, a bizarre concept. While living in Paris, Benjamin Franklin first suggested that the populace should be awaken by cannon to make the most of the early sunlight, saving money on candles. It was, needless to say, something of a joke, but it certainly had practical implications that would not be fully realised until the advent of the communications and transport networks that would come to dominate the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In 1905, English builder William Willett first conceived of an alteration of the clocks to make the most of the sun's presence in the sky. Unfortunately for Willett, a keen golfer who hated having to end his games because of the fading light, his avocation of the proposal was ignored up until his death in 1915.
Germany was the first country to use Daylight Saving, seeing its value in increasing productivity as the tide of the First World War started to turn against them. Britain followed suit, and the USA adopted DST in 1918. Generally speaking, it is employed during the summer months as a way of maximising sunlight and providing as much extra leisure time for the workforce as possible.As the longer days near the summer solstice they offer extra scope for shifting work and living patterns.
It has been controversial since its introduction. It was repealed in America after the war, with some arguing that it is nothing more than a cynical attempt to coax people into easily controllable living patterns. Agricultural employees have long opposed it, arguing that it makes their jobs harder by imposing on them difficult working conditions. Peacetime Daylight Saving was not standardised in America until 1966. Since then, the continued use of DST has mainly been ensured by government lobbyists representing industries and businesses who feel it has a beneficial impact on the economy by providing extra shopping hours in the afternoon.
It is also claimed that DST can lead to a reduction in energy usage by minimizing the need for interior lighting at home and in the workplace. Changes in power usage since the introduction of Daylight Saving have, however, led to conflicting reports on its benefits, with some suggesting that increased activity on longer days actually leads to more energy usage.
The supposed health benefits have also been brought into question, with some reporting that the shifts in sleep patterns brought about by DST can lead to serious health problems - a few governments have, in fact, abandoned DST on these grounds. Still, it seems to help with sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression by forcing them to rise earlier and exposing them to more hours of daylight. Supporters have also claimed that it can lead to a reduction in traffic accidents as fewer people are made to drive in the dark or in otherwise unfavourable conditions.
Today, Daylight Saving is practised in most Western countries, but by a minority of the planet's population because it is not widely observed across Africa and Asia. Countries near the equator also tend to ignore it, as the differences in time and daylight are not significant enough. Generally speaking, countries in the Northern Hemisphere switch to DST around March and switch back in October, and in the Southern Hemisphere the process is reversed.