This past Sunday at 2 am, my phone silently skipped ahead to 3 am. It lost an hour to daylight savings all by itself, I didn’t do a thing. It’s a smart phone — it knew the date and time and what it needed to do even while I obliviously slept through the whole performance.
In contrast, the clock on my bedside table is pretty dumb. But also inspiring in its handling of daylight savings. When I woke up in the morning on Sunday, it had no idea what’s just happened. The fact that we had collectively decided to lose an hour hadn’t even registered. But it has a little toggle switch at the back. When I woke up, I sleepily reached behind the clock and pushed the switch over. In the fall, I did a similar thing – although I may have remembered to do it the night before.
What’s inspiring here?
- Simple Interface: It’s a switch with two positions. Unlike me, it remembers whether I need to spring back or fall forward (or fall back and spring forward – that mnemonic never worked for me). It remembers this, because there are only two settings, and it always occupies one of the two (either on or off daylight savings). All I have to remember is that two days out of the year it must change positions.
- Solving a problem: It takes a repetitive task with so much drudgery – resetting digital clocks to account for daylight savings – and makes it into a single flip of a switch. The drudgery in this task is the reason that the clocks in both my car and microwave still show the wrong time.
- Low tech: It does its job without relying on a digital network or a complex system made by someone with a computer science degree. It’s a relatively simple system compared to my smart phone and laptop that make the change without any input on my part. I appreciate that those systems handle daylight savings so smoothly, but they’re also complex machines that do a lot more than tell the time. My bedside clock isn’t a powerful networked computer. It’s a small piece of consumer electronics and fittingly solves daylight savings in a relatively non-technical, physical solution way.
The biggest lesson in that little switch is that it solves the most difficult things for me about daylight savings: remembering which direction to move (an hour forward or an hour back?) and the tedium of setting digital clocks (mash down the ‘reset’ button and ‘clock’ button together and ‘click . . . click . . . click’) without being smarter than it has to be. Abstracting this lesson is helpful in a world filled with increasingly ‘smart’ technology. Good solutions are only as smart as they need to be, they pick up where our own intelligence falters.