As all programmers know, there are serious problems with the way our society has chosen to divide up time. As an example, right now it is 9:44pm on Monday, 21 March 2011. Quick, what is the date and time in one month, five days, eight hours, 23 minutes and 45 seconds.

I’m sure you’ve all worked that out by now. It’s not actually hard, but it is labourious. And it is hard to do that programmatically for arbitrary time periods.

Compare to the following. Here’s 15kg and 400g of flour. How much flour if you add 2 tons, 67kg and 700g? Much easier right? Also much easier to do programmatically. This is the beauty of the metric system.

So let’s metricise time.

There are only two periods that are fixed in length: the year, and the day. All other divisions can be whatever we want them to be.

So working back from the year and the day, here’s my modest proposal for the metrication of time:

  • Each year will be exactly 360 days long. The remaining five days will not be part of a year: instead this gap will become the mid-summer (or winter) festival. Coinciding with what is currently the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Any leap days or seconds will be included in this period. Every four years the festival will be six days long.

  • The year will be divided into 36 ten day long weeks.

  • These weeks can be further collected into all sorts of other periods: 90 days for a quarter — which would be nine weeks — and a month would be 30 days, or three weeks. All very straight forward to convert between.

  • And there would still be twelve months in a year.

  • Each day would have 10 hours, with 100 minutes per hour and 100 seconds per minute. Which would make the metric second equal 0.864 ‘imperial’ seconds.

And this is where we hit the last remaining, apparently insurmountable, problem of time. The second is an SI unit. And a fundamental one at that.

Changing the definition of a second, especially by that much, would make existing scientific results confusing and misleading to work with.

Time zones are a good thing. With time zones I can convert my time into the time in some other part of the world and instantly have an idea as to what people there are probably up to. Without time zones I would require a lookup table to determine that information. And that would be an inconvenient lookup table.

But this last remaining problem can also be solved easily: use a different name. When weights went metric the ounce and pound weren’t re-named, new names were introduced. SI can retain the current base unit of time as the second, while the metric unit will be known as something else. And as it is so easy to convert between metric units of time, all that needs to be done is convert a metric time into base units, and then convert those to seconds. Ta da!

There will be the small problem of mapping pre-metric dates to metric dates. But I’m sure we can work something out. Perhaps a grand re-labelling?

Ultimately, our current system of sub-dividing time is painfully inconvenient. Do you really think that we’re going to keep it forever? Or, do you think we’ll need a complete societal collapse to replace? I think we can do better than both those options.