Every day, the Earth rotates. The Sun appears on the horizon in the morning, and then some time later, it sets. We’ve built our lives and societies around this periodicity, with days that are divided into hours, minutes and seconds, all kept track of by clocks.
But in some places on Earth, the Sun rises only once per year, and sets once per year. With their concept of a day already so estranged from the rest of the world’s, one Arctic population started thinking: What if we ditched the concept of time altogether?
That’s the idea of Norwegian Kjell Ove Hveding, who lives north of the Arctic Circle in a town called Sommarøy. The idea has since taken off, and has been featured by Norway’s state news agency and at least one of the country’s large national newspapers.
This week, Hveding met with his local member of parliament to hand over a petition to get rid of time in the town. The driving motivator, it seems, is to make Sommarøy a place where people can do whatever they want, whenever they want.
“You have to go to work, and even after work, the clock takes up your time,” Hveding told Gizmodo. “I have to do this, I have to do that. My experience is that [people] have forgotten how to be impulsive, to decide that the weather is good, the Sun is shining, I can just live.” Even if it’s 3:00AM.
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The proposal is sparse on details, and to be honest, I’m still not quite sure how serious it is. But it was in part connected to the discussion over the usefulness of daylight saving time, which the European Union scrapped this year. These discussions are of no consequence to the people of Sommarøy, since the Sun only sets once per year.
Without time, stores would be open whenever the storekeeper wanted, people could go outside whenever they wanted, and rather than by appointment, people could just meet up impulsively. This kind of lifestyle is obviously not for everyone, and Sommarøy has only 321 residents as of 2017.
It still made me wonder — can humans truly ditch clocks? The answer, in short, is no. Most importantly, we live in a society that relies on days broken into hours and minutes. Removing the clocks might make things feel more flexible for a group that chooses to live outside these rules, but ultimately labour, schooling and transportation all rely on time.
Hveding himself was about to catch a flight after our phone call, something that would probably not be possible without clocks.
Then there’s the health component. “The problem is that humans did not evolve in the Arctic,” Hanne Hoffman, assistant professor in animal science who studies the circadian rhythm, told Gizmodo.
“Our bodies have adapted to this 24-hour cycle generated by the rotation of the Earth. We can’t really go against evolution, and that’s what is happening in those locations. You’re going against what we’re programmed to do.”
Typically, folks in the Arctic compensate by shutting out the light in their homes during what would otherwise be nighttime hours.
A series of hormones and metabolic processes respond to light and time, telling your body how to behave at different points during the day. Even processes you might not think about, such as your digestion and body temperature, are linked to this rhythm.
Circadian rhythm misalignment, where your body is working on a separate schedule from your mind, is a risk factor for disease, Hoffman explained. She was especially concerned that children, who already face changes to their circadian rhythm as they enter puberty, might suffer in school in such an environment.
And experiments have shown that humans don’t lose their rhythm, even in the absence of all light. Nicola Smyllie, investigator scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom, reminded Gizmodo of the case of Michel Siffre, who holed himself up in a dark cave for months. Though his schedule slowly went out of sync with the rest of the world, he still maintained an approximately 24-hour rhythm.
But honestly, I’d love to try living without time for a week.
Ultimately, Hveding told Gizmodo, he just wants people to see time from his perspective — and to be chiller and more impulsive.