Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Clock Rage

Why the hell do we use a 12-hour clock? 

The idea of a 12-hour clock is both antiquated and stupid, and I seriously don't understand why we use it.

Okay, so I don't live in Alaska but other people do. Probably.

Originally created by the.... blah blah blah. I'm not going to try and explain the origins of who created it and why it was implemented in the first place namely because Wikipedia does it so much better than I could right here.

Allow me to briefly summarise it for those of you who are lazy: We no longer use it for the reason that it was first implemented, so it is pretty much just legacy at this point. Not everyone's legacy, though: Only a handful of countries actually still use the 12-hour clock, as most of the countries in the world either phased it out as it no longer made sense or simply never adopted it to begin with.

So, why is it that supposedly progressive nations like pretty much the whole Western World still use 12-hour clocks? 

...Oh, I'm sorry; Did you think I was going to provide you with the answer? I don't know, either. We're all in the dark. Metaphorically. Alaska is actually in the dark (in some parts real far North and if it's winter). Sorry guys. I've been meaning to get up there to check out The Wall that I keep hearing about, actually. Also, say hi to Jon Snow for me.

Anyway, being unable to explain why we use the 12-hour clock over the 24 hour one, at least I can still make my argument that one is better than the other. Just because this is mostly opinion and conjecture, doesn't make it any less right.

So, let me lay it down for you. What's the most obvious reason the 24-hour clock is better than the 12 hour clock? Any takers? Well, I've got one: Because we measure our days in 24 increments and not 12. Am I making sense so far? 

Why else is 24 hour time better than 12 hour time? Hmmm... another reason. Oh, I know: Because it's less ambiguous. Tell me you haven't had this conversation.

Click to embiggen. I have this problem booking seances all the time.

If you've ever worked in an airline call centre (okay, that's quite an explicit example which excludes most but not all of you), you'll know that poor passengers get this wrong all the time. It's not their fault, it really isn't. Let's call it what it is; A confusing way to measure time.

Who's ever had that argument about whether or not 12:00 am is today or tomorrow? 

Okay, so most of you haven't, and instead point out that I'm weird. Far enough, I pay that. But the confusion still stands. For example, the day is cut up into two equal parts, right? So, 1 should be the first hour, right? Well, it's not because 12:00 p.m. is midday and 12:00 a.m. is midnight. This means that the count begins at 12, not 1. So, 1 is 2 and 2 is 3... and so on. Make sense? No it doesn't make any goddamn sense!

Let's compare this to the 24-hour clock convention. A conversion between two people:

"What time are we gonna do this?"
"0000 on the 17th."
"Okay, sweet."

Life would be so much simpler.

There is no confusion. 2359 is today, and 0000 is tomorrow. 0100 is in the morning, 1300 is in the afternoon. Every single hour and minute is unique with out suffix or context. Whether it's written or verbally stated, anyone who has ever learned 24-hour time (it ain't rocket surgery, people) will immediately understand what time that is.

Get with the program, Australia.


  1. One shouldn't be the first hour and isn't, not even on the twenty-four hour clock :P

    But I have often wondered why we still use a 12 hour clock now that digital is everywhere. Most European countries use it for all but the least formal occasions. I blame the buses.

  2. 24 hour clocks and the Metric system: Two things the United States REFUSES to accept.

    1. I suppose I should be thankful that we AT LEAST have the Metric system and Decimalisation.

  3. I feel like this needs a conclusion. I agree with you but what do you want to see done about it! Eradication of all only 12 hour capable clocks? a stimulus package for people to convert their pre-existing clocks to 24-hour time? Some sort of legislation? Criminalise the ownership of all (12-hour) analog clocks and any discussion referring to non 24-hour time? At least stop all manufacturing of regular watches.

    1. I think the we should put together a think tank to nut out the specifics; We will meet at 1800 tomorrow, don't forget to bring your monocle and tophat.

  4. Is it a.m. or p.m. ? Most people where I live (the Netherlands) don't even know which is which!
    I work in shifts 07 to 15, 15 to 23, 23 to 07. I have been wearing only 24 hour analogue wristwatches for years now, so I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Why do UK TV guides still persist in using 12 hour indications of broadcast times? It's a riddle to me. Only one gripe with your clock above: I prefer noon at the top.

  5. 24 analogue clocks aren't completely standardised either:
    - noon at the top of the analogue 24 hr clock is much better; sunny noon at top and moon cresent at bottom icons would make that clearer. That way matches the sun's movement too, (sunny at mid day = top hour). The midnight at the top version 24 hr analogue clock is more common and I don't think it makes as much sense!
    - some clocks have '24' mentioned even though there is no '24' hr - that is zero hour (should be indicated by '00') eg "zero 30 hrs" = 12.30am
    - I prefer the numbers indicating minutes of the hour to be on the outside ring not the inside ring. Some analogue clocks do this (both 12 and 24 hr) and it makes sense as the minutes hand is longer than the hour hand, which is shorter thus should point to a closer number. The site referred to below has an example of such as a clock

    Standardisation of the above points would be best also, or it'll just create more confusion with rival ideas of what a 24 hr clock should look like - eg "mine's different to yours, so I'll give up and use a 12 hour clock instead!". The inclusion of a shaded 'light' indicator helps; the shaded part for no sun out as indicated in the clock image above - plus maybe a moon symbol at bottom and sun symbol at top, to make it clearer also.

    I believe with so many digits on 24hr analogue clocks many find it too confusing, hence stick to the 12 hour analogue wristwatches (many of which are status symbols only and very hard to read); many grew up with that model and don't want to give it up, or learn a new system.

    A free 24 hr analogue clock app for android phones that I tried (but is very small to read on my cellphone) is explained here -
    and that site gives the image file used, which you can use (with a free-to-download editor program) to edit a clock face image and print it; you can buy a 24 hr analogue clock and fit a clock face you printed that looks just you want it. I edited one i liked and printed it, but haven't sourced a clock yet. I reckon 24 hour analogue clocks are likely best as wall clocks where the amount of numbers isn't off-putting (due to the large size making up for the complexity). The visual guide of seeing a full day right there and how you're doing can assist in planning ones day in full.