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Daylight Saving Time: Is It Worth The Savings?

Thursday, 1 Feb 2007 | 4:04 PM ET

If you’re someone who hates when it gets dark early, you’ll be relieved to know Daylight Saving Time is coming earlier this year. It starts on March 11th – nearly two weeks before the first day of Spring. But don’t do the happy dance, yet. Your PC doesn’t know, and neither do the computers that run the airlines or the trains or just about anything else. What does this mean for business? We asked CNBC’s Margaret Brennan.

The idea of saving daylight was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin who wanted people to get up earlier and save wax by not burning candles at night. (Historians debate whether he was being serious or satirical.) It wasn't until 1916, however, that Daylight Saving Time was first put into practice by the Germans, likely to increase productivity as WWI dragged on longer than expected. In 1918 Congress placed the USA on Daylight Saving Time but it was so widely disliked they repealed the legislation, and didn't introduce it again until WWII.

By 1966, about 100 million Americans were observing Daylight Saving Time through their own state or local laws. Congress then decided to step in, and establish one standard across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 created Daylight Saving Time, then in 1986 the law was modified to make it longer.

"From the beginning the reason we extended daylight saving was retail sales profited," said Michael Downing a professor at Tufts University. “In 1986 the last time we extended the period… the golf industry said it was worth $200 million.”

Daylight Savings Time
Discussing Daylight Savings Time's early arrival this year and whether it's still necessary, with Michael Downing, "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time author; Michael May, Sporting Goods Manufacturing Assoc.; CNBC's Margaret Brennan and Erin Burnett

It’s good for the country and it’s good for our health," added Michael May, Director of Media Relations at the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. "We live such sedentary lives… when it’s light outside we gravitate to that light.”

For decades now, people have remembered to “Spring forward and Fall back, but that’s about to change.” Starting this year DST begins on March 11th, during the last weeks of Winter and ends on the first Sunday in November.

Congress believes those extra four weeks will save the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day, explained Brennan. As in all things political, not everyone agrees. “The savings have never been realized,” argued Michael Downing, “because we don’t use oil to put on the lights. Electricity is generated by nuclear power and steam.”

And there's the Y2K effect. That's the potential to trip up time-related technology used in ATM's and PDA’s. "If your BlackBerry is set to a default timezone and not the network time, the clock and timestamp on your messages will be incorrect," Brennan said. "Most large vendors like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBMand Ciscohave posted patches on their websites for customers to download to avoid the glitches."

According to a study done by Gartner, the changeup could cause bank transaction errors and glitches in calendaring applications. For example, Microsoft says Outlook will be affected.

But don’t worry about trading. The New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ – both told CNBC they don’t expect any complications.

We'll keep you posted.

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  • Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs."

  • Co-anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs," Amanda Drury is based at the network's global headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.