The media is reminding us once again this is the weekend to “fall back” – using that American mnemonic that is usually paired with “spring ahead” to help us remember that we are shifting our clocks back an hour tonight. (My wife prefers to make the adjustment in the morning, so that instead of it being 8:30, it’s only 7:30 and she feels like she just gained an hour.)

We love to think that we can control time. We can’t, but we do play some games with it.

Daylight Saving Time went into effect in the United States for the first time on March 31, 1918.

Good old Benjamin Franklin was the first person to come up with the idea of changing our clocks to take advantage of the longer days. Back in 1784. he was our delegate in Paris and he noticed that Parisians tended to sleep later in the morning than Americans. He wrote a semi-serious essay arguing that sunlight was going to waste in the mornings and would be much more appreciated in the evenings. By changing the clocks and shifting the daylight hours later, he wrote, people could take advantage of more natural light and save money on candles and lamp oil.

image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickhoff/

Daylight saving time (DST) is considered to be correct as opposed to daylight savings time (with an “s”) which you often see and hear. A hundred years ago, the term “summer time” replaced daylight saving time in Britain. There were also the similar terms sommerzeit in Germany, zomertijd in Dutch, horario de verano or hora de verano in Spain, l’heure d’été in France and in Italy the term is ora legale, that is, legal time (legally enforced time) as opposed to “ora solare“, solar time, in winter.

In America, we also change the local time when DST is observed, as in Pacific Standard Time (PST) becoming Pacific Daylight Time (PDT). British English calls UK time British Summer Time (BST), and typically inserts summer into other time zones, e.g. Central European Time (CET) becomes Central European Summer Time (CEST). Abbreviations do not always change: for example, many (though not all) Australians say that Eastern Standard Time (EST) becomes Eastern Summer Time (also EST). In Australia it is also called EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)

There has been talk in America about moving to “permanent daylight saving time” and keeping our summer hours all year. That has already been done in Iceland, Russia, Uzbekistan and Belarus. The United Kingdom stayed on daylight saving time from 1968 to 1971.

The disagreement is the same as the original discussions about whether there were true benefits to the time shifts.  Of course, a permanent daylight saving time would mean that it becomes “standard time.”

Controversy was present from the start.  Winston Churchill supported it and said that it offers the “opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness. ” Some of the opposition called it “Daylight Slaving Time” since it could encourage longer work days.

Most retailers, sports and tourism interests have been in favor for the benefits they would enjoy. On the other side, agricultural and evening entertainment interests have opposed it.

Initially, arguments in favor of the time shift argue that it saves energy, promotes outdoor activity in the evening, reduces traffic accidents, reduces crime, and is good for business. But opponents say that actual energy savings are inconclusive. How do you prove that it disrupts morning activities? How much of a disruption is it to change clocks twice a year?

Ben Franklin may have suggested the idea, but modern DST – adjusting forward one hour near the start of spring and backward in autumn – was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson.

Do we still need Daylight Saving Time? We are falling back again this weekend – but if you live in Hawaii, Arizona, the Midway Islands and Wake Island, they do not play this game.

People often say that we “lose an hour,” which sounds pretty negative, but sunset will be an hour later and that sounds positive.

Britain and Germany began using the concept in World War I to conserve energy and the U.S. used it briefly during the war. America passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 so that clocks should be set forward on the last Sunday in April and set back the last Sunday in October. But those masters of time control, Congress, has changed that several times to add more daylight saving to the calendar.