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If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Thursday

By Allan Eastman

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Strange Times at the Date Line

Map showing the International Dateline

Above is a map showing the approximate location of the International Date Line.

The Time Zone system counts 12 hours in either direction from Greenwich and meets up more or less in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This imaginary boundary is called the International Date Line and anywhere it meets, an extremely strange thing happens. Time jumps ahead 24 hours – an entire day.

If you paddled your outrigger canoe out from Samoa and floated along the date line pointing North, the right side of your body would be at say, noon Wednesday but your left side would be at noon Thursday. You have to agree that this is pretty weird.

This is because Time as delineated by the Prime Meridian Conference counts eastward from the International Date Line, gaining an hour as it moves through each successive Time Zone. When you finally get back to the same point all the way around the planet, you have counted 24 hours so basically, you have added a day.

Curiously, the Conference never officially defined the Date Line. In essence, it doesn’t really exist except as a matter of convenience and as an unusual phenomenon in human existence. My own opinion is that all those delegates in 1884 just couldn’t get their Victorian heads around the strange goings on at the Date Line so they just decided not to mess with it. There it was out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where it wasn’t going to bother anyone except the odd mariner or South Sea Islander.

Nobody had conceived of international jet air travel or worldwide instantaneous communications.

In theory, the Date Line lies along the 180 degree meridian of longitude, on the opposite side of the planet from Greenwich. In fact on any general map, it jogs wildly east and west in its passage from the North to the South geographic Poles to accommodate various countries’ desires to be on one side or other of the line and hence closer in time to other places near to them. The Aleutians want to be the same time as the rest of Alaska. Just to complicate matters, the island state of Kiribati has chosen to be in the time zone to the west of it, closer to New Zealand so the date line stretches way east to take it in. So even though Kiribati is further east than Samoa, it is a day later in Time. It makes your head ache.

Back on my Jumbo jet headed for Australia, I couldn’t get over my discomfort with the whole date line experience. And when I landed and got to work on the project, it further complicated matters.

More than once , I called my Agent in LA on Monday to complain about something and was outraged to get the answering machine. Eventually, I would realize that it was Sunday in California and no one could be expected to be in the office.

A few times actors scheduled to fly in for guest parts were a day late arriving because somebody in LA had forgotten to factor in the lost day crossing the date line.

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Conference calls with the production partners were a nightmare. Two days of the business week we couldn’t talk at all because it was the weekend in one place or the other. A call from Australia at 0800 Tuesday would be connected with Los Angeles at 1500 Monday and Toronto at 1800 Monday.

Even worse, one time we decided to take a quick holiday to the Cook Islands, forgetting that we were going back eastward across the date line. We arrived the day earlier than the one we had reserved and had to scramble to find a bed for the first night.

Going east across the date line was the great plot device Jules Verne used in his classic novel, Around the World in 80 Days. By sending Phineas Fogg eastward around the planet, Verne has his hero arrive back in London in the required 80 days although for himself personally, 81 days had passed.

And so, that philosophical problem...would crossing the date line make you live a day longer or a day less in your life? Well, that’s still a hard question to answer because you have to apply a kind of relativity to it.

In fact, your body will live the same amount of time – the same number of days – but generally speaking, the dates will vary according to how many times you’ve crossed the date line. If you’ve traversed the line westward 10 times say and never returned eastward back across it, your life would be more or less 10 days longer according to the calendar than if you’d stayed at home.

In some ways, this is as close to time travel as any of us are likely to get.

Should anyone be as bemused by the Date Line paradox as I am?

Probably not.

It is just another manifestation of the mysterious nature of Time itself and of our brave but inadequate human attempts to try to codify something that refuses to be bound by definitions.

I have to admit I admire the strangeness of it.

Oh, and to close with one more prime sample of weirdness, did you know that for 2 hours every day – from 10:00 to 11:59 UTC – there are actually 3 days coexisting on Planet Earth? When it is UTC 10:15 Thursday, it is 23:15 Wednesday in Samoa and 00:15 Friday in Kiribati.

I mean, really.

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