“你知道时间吗？” / "Do you know the time?"
1884年，国际子午线大会确立了格林威治标准时间（GMT），即伦敦附近的格林威治皇家气象台（the Royal Observatory in Greenwich）的平均太阳时间。由此格林威治不仅作为起初子午线的所在地，也成为全球计算时区的基准线。
"Do you know the time?"
Time is a very complex thing. We're surrounded by it, yet all too often we feel like we don't have enough of it.
Sometimes, we take it for granted. At other times, we wish we had more.
When we're busy or having fun, time seems to pass quickly. When we're bored, or moving slowly -- for example, driving at constant speed across a monotonous landscape -- it seems to pass at glacial speed.
The average tempo of daily life and work has been dramatically sped up by advances in IT, communications, transportation, and productivity. Apart from objective changes in the pace of life, our perspectives change as we grow older.
Young people never say: "Wow. This year went by so quickly." Older people say this kind of thing frequently.
Our individual perceptions about the passage of time are influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. As a result, our feelings about the passage of time vary considerably, despite the fact that time's passage on a clock is a very consistent, measurable phenomenon.
Various types of instruments to accurately measure the passage of time were invented in ancient China, Greece, and other civilizations thousands of years ago.
There is no ongoing scientific debate about the fact that one day in solar time is comprised of 24 hours, or that one year is 365 days in length. On the other hand, for most of us, our individual perceptions about time are a curious mix of science-based knowledge and subjective experience.
The last time I said that the past year had gone by too quickly, for example, I did not conclude that the calendar, or the clocks, must be inaccurate as a result.
It is a huge blessing that among the things that people around the world still disagree about (which are many), the accuracy of standard clocks and calendars is not one of them. Otherwise, we'd be in even bigger trouble than we are now.
For one thing, the list of common excuses for missed deadlines would be exponentially expanded. This would be a headache for leaders in government, managers in business, sports coaches, editors, teachers and so on.
"Mr. Minister, the new bridge project will be completed right on time according to our calendar. Unfortunately it will be 10 months behind schedule on that calendar your people have been using. These damn regional calendars! So many choices available in the market...."
Although humankind has been able to accurately measure the passage of solar time for many centuries, international agreement on a framework to coordinate and standardize time zones around the globe is a relatively recent development, dating from the late 19th century.
The International Meridien Conference of 1884 established Greenwich Mean Time, referring to the mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, near London. Greenwich thus became established as the location of the prime meridian of longitude, and the base line for calculating time zones around the world.
This was quite a victory for England, which ultimately derived from the remarkable ingenuity of a 18th century British watchmaker with no formal education, John Harrison, who solved the centuries-long scientific mystery of how to establish accurate time-keeping on seafaring vessels, thus enabling accurate calculation of longitude.
Without a reliable measure of longitude, seafaring explorers, naval and merchant vessel captains had for centuries never been sure of their exact location while on the high seas. Thousands of lives and many vessels were lost as a result, until Harrison's breakthrough invention of the marine chronometer.
After the 1884 Convention, Greenwich officially became the place where every day, year and century began. The main international system of nomenclature for time zones around the world was thus referenced to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). A more recent invention is Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), which for all practical purposes refers to the same time zones by a different name.
The basic framework of international time zones is that there is about one hour difference in solar time for every 15 degrees of longitude. In the case of the continental U.S., for example, the approximate distance between the West and East coasts is 2,600 miles, equivalent to roughly 60 degrees of longitude. Thus, the continental U.S. (not counting Alaska and Hawaii) has four time zones.
The four continental US time zones, like most time zones around the world, are known by one set of names for domestic purposes, and in reference to GMT for international purposes. For example, New Yorkers know their time zone as Eastern Standard Time (EST), and only a regular international traveler would recognize it as GMT-5. Likewise, the U.S. West coast time zone is known to most Americans as Pacific Standard Time (PST) zone rather than GMT-8.
For national and regional governments, solar time is just one consideration, and not always the most important one. As a result, a review of global time zones reveals examples where governments have chose variations on solar time to define their domestic time zones.
China and India are cases in point, where there is one time zone from East to West. In China, the decision in 1949 to establish a single national time zone on Beijing time replaced the previous system of five time zones which had been established in 1912.
Greater China falls within the GMT+8 time zone, which is the most populous and geographically expansive time zone on the planet, comprising states, regions and countries from Western Australia in the Southern Hemisphere to North Korea, Mongolia and parts of Russia in the Northern Hemisphere, including large parts of Southeast Asia as well.
I have been a resident of the GMT+8 time zone for nearly 40 years. Apart from being a huge and populous time zone, it has been the earth's fastest developing region for 30 years, and is very much the focus of global interest and attention.
A hot topic in China these few years has been going global, and what individuals and organizations need to do to be successful at it. The answer has many facets to it, but undoubtedly begins with revisiting how we think about things. We'll get nowhere by always thinking from a "local" perspective.
An unfortunate paradox of globalization is that mutual understanding has not kept pace with global shrinkage. International communications and transportation networks are light years ahead of what they were 30 years ago, and yet we still routinely, and sometimes profoundly, misunderstand each other.
The primary time zone where we live and work defines an important vantage point from which to consider various issues. It is with this in mind that I chose the name "GMT+8" for this new blog.
Thank you for visiting and I look forward to your feedback, suggestions and criticism.