Pretty soon, Babylon’s method of dividing up the day will be expensively inconvenient. Yes our present system dates back to the Babylonians. The decimal system, which has already conquered the coinage and led to the metrification of measures of weight and distance, suits the modern world better. Move to ten hours to the day, 100 minutes to the hour, 100 seconds to the minute. Your grandchildren will thank you for it.
If the EU decides to opt for the digital time scale then Britain could get left behind again. We already have the problem of having to translate between miles and kilometres, yards and metres. We fortunately changed to the centigrade system so we now all know what 25 degrees means whether we are in Brighton or Barcelona and we also have a decimalised currency, making it easier to convert between euros and pounds.
The most likely scenario if such a conversion occurs is that for some time the scientific community, the computer industry and airlines will use the new decimal system whilst day to day the general public will use the old system but at the same time reference will be made to the decimalised time. So the evening six o’clock news will also be 7.5 hour news. Gradually, as happened with the change from Fahrenheit to Centigrade, the decimalised time will be quoted first and the old time second and then finally the old time will be dropped altogether.
Decimalisation of the clock has been tried before, but clumsily and for bad reasons. In 1792, the National Convention of the French Revolution revamped the calendar and introduced a ten-day week and a ten-hour day with 1,000 minutes and 100,000 seconds. It was done largely to spite the church, because it was hard to spot saints’ days in the new calendar. Nobody took a blind bit of notice.
Long-distance travel will become simpler with decimalisation. Few people except airline pilots are entirely at home with the 24-hour clock. Ten new hours—each measuring 2.4 old ones—will retain the advantages of a 24-hour system yet passengers will not have to juggle mentally with two clocks—the 24-hour clock used by airlines and the 12-hour one they think with. Decimalisation will ease the problems of jet lag by cutting the number of time zones. Dividing the 360º globe into 24 means having bands that are are just 15º wide. This gives the continental United States (without Alaska) four time zones, the Soviet Union an absurd 11. A ten-hour system calls for 36º bands, yielding just two zones for America and five for Russia.
A further possibility would be to extend the system so that there are 10 days in a week and 10 months in a year. This would still mean a non metric measure for the number of weeks in a month and for that reason this could be a step too far.
Were the EU to adopt this system then the right date to make this change is the beginning of the month that contains the year’s 100th day: April 1st.