Dracula, the Time Disrupter

Count Dracula possessed many supernatural powers, including telepathy, hypnosis, shapeshifting, and weather control.  But he also possessed the less frequently recognized power of time confusion.  Dracula caused his victims to lose track of time, to mix up times and dates, and to abandon precise statements of time in favor of such vague terms as noon, midnight, sunrise, and sunset — all of which hindered their ability to resist his evil plans.

As Hollis Robbins argues in her chapter in Economics of the Undead, “Killing Time: Dracula and Social Discoordination” (excerpted here), Count Dracula arrived in London at a key point in economic history.  In 1897, Europe had only recent undertaken a shift in timekeeping standards, from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and from local time to Standard Time.  Notably, Dracula hailed from a region of Europe known for resisting the new timekeeping standards.  Austria-Hungary and Turkey, on either side of Transylvania, had voted against the 1884 resolution that established Standard Time and the 24-hour day starting at midnight.  And Eastern Orthodox countries — notably Romania, including Transylvania — did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918.  Dracula’s power of time confusion is connected, both literally and figuratively, to his place of origin.  By disrupting perceptions of time, Dracula poses a threat to economic health.  As Robbins puts it:

Britain’s economic prosperity in the nineteenth century was largely dependent on the adoption of international standards such as Greenwich Mean Time and the universal day, which ensured smooth coordination for trade, legal transactions, railroad travel, and mail delivery. Dracula, whose powers are governed by the sun and the moon rather than clocks and calendars, works to destabilize social coordination.

This concern with social coordination appears more recently in Matthew Yglesias’s recent article at Vox, wherein he makes the case for eliminating time zones and replacing them with Universal Time — that is, having the entire world operate according to a single clock, presumably Greenwich Mean Time.  Yglesias hastens to say that people would still live their lives in a manner that makes sense given the local position of the sun; only the names that people call their hours would change:

All of which is to say that within a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It’s to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it’s dark out and work when it’s light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. … The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there’d be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don’t need to remember that it’s in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

In other words, the argument for replacing Standard Time with Universal Time is that it helps people to better coordinate their behavior — which was also the argument for replacing local time with Standard Time in the 1800s.  Yglesias is essentially saying that the people of the world didn’t go far enough back then, and that it’s time to take the universalization of timekeeping conventions to its logical extreme.

All of which makes me wonder:  What would Dracula have been like had he arrived 200 years later, in the year 2097?

In the mid-21st century, Yglesias’s proposal gained traction, persuading much of the world to abandon time zones in favor of Universal Time.  Yet a few intransigent nations have stubbornly clung to the old time zones, and their continuing recalcitrance creates the potential for confusion — confusion that a supernatural being might exploit to his advantage.

Our 21st-century Dracula hails from Finland, a country caught between modern Sweden (among the first adopters of Universal Time) and backwards Russia (which still uses the old time zones).  When he goes on a whirlwind tour of the political and financial capitals of the world, he causes everyone he meets to forget about Universal Time.  Some reset their clocks, watches, and computer settings to their old time zones.  Others see existing clocks on Universal Time but unconsciously interpret them as the old time zones.  The resulting discoordination leads to Y2K-like disasters, from stock market crashes to debt crises — or worse, collisions of orbiting satellites and lunar transport ships.  And God only knows what happens to the unlucky tourists whose teleportation pods materialize them in the same destination at the same time…

2 responses to “Dracula, the Time Disrupter

  • Assorted links

    […] 2. Canine bodyguards for bandicoots.  And Dracula the time disrupter. […]

  • HR

    When Yglesias writes that: “The need to constantly specify which time zone you’re talking about is a drag,” he would be pleased to know that in eighteenth century London, Lord Chesterfield, the leading advocate for the new calendar in the House of Lords, similarly complained that complications of corresponding across the dateline with his mistress in France had convinced him of the necessity of reform. [1] Complaints about how best to specify time have been going on for centuries. Emile Durkheim observes, “what the category of time expresses is a time common to the group, a social time, so to speak.”[2] Like systems of language, calendars and timekeeping standards—both civil and religious— are structures that bind communities together. Dracula in the 21st century would still tear them apart.

    Yglesias’s penultimate paragraph indicates that he knows things are never as simple as they first appear. Does anybody really know what time it is after taking a flight from New York to Paris for an appointment in El Paso? Dracula would exploit these mists of uncertainty. Unless, of course, Yglesias means something explicitly Christian in his last sentence: “a single Earth Time for all of humanity.” Perhaps he is anticipating the need to hold up a crucifix against the vampire of time confusion. Why does he worry when the internet tells our time for us?

    In 663 CE at the Synod of Whitby (the town where Dracula comes ashore in England to wreak havoc), the principle of synchronized prayer and celebration prevailed in the spirit of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of the Abbey. As Anthony Aveni notes, worldwide prayer by the clock was the child of the sixth-century monastic tradition:

    “Many religions of the world call for regular times of prayer. Islam specifies five: sunrise, noon, sunset, evening twilight, and after dusk, while the Jew prays after daybreak, before sunset, and again after dark. Only in the Christian monastery were the times set by the hours—by the rule of an organized clergy whose duty it became to codify the schedule for prayer. Around 530 AD, the rule of Saint Benedict specified when to “recite the hours”: the Lauds, the prime, the terce, the sext, the none, the vespers, and the compline in the waking hours, and two more at night—the vigils and the matins. If we all pray to God together, the better will He hear our plea” [3].

    [1] see Robert Poole, Time’s Alteration: Calendar Reform in Early Modern England (UCL Press/Taylor & Francis, 1998)
    [2] Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Trans. Joseph Ward Swain (New York: Free Press, 1965)
    [3] Anthony Aveni, “Time’s Empire,” Wilson Quarterly (Winter 1998)

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