During winters on Sommarøy, a small Norwegian island that sits north of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not rise. And for 69 days during summer, it doesn’t set. Needless to say, residents of Sommarøy have a different conception of time than people who live in parts of the world where the hours of the day are split into darkness and light.
“In the middle of the [summer] night, which city folk might call ‘2 a.m.,’ you can spot children playing soccer, people painting their houses or mowing their lawns, and teens going for a swim,” says Kjell Ove Hveding, who is among the island’s 300-odd inhabitants, according to Maureen O’Hare of CNN.
Hveding is among those who want to see time abolished on Sommarøy. Last week, he presented a Norwegian member of parliament with a petition, signed by the island’s residents, asking for Sommarøy to become the world’s first time-free zone. The proposal is “sparse on details,” according to Gizmodo’s Ryan F. Mandelbaum, and O’Hare notes that a publicity boost for this tourist destination “could well be the primary aim of the campaign.” But in practice, living on a time-free island might mean that stores would open when staff is available, school hours would be flexible and, reports Joseph Brean of the National Post, there would be no clocks.
“One does not need to be put into a box in the form of school or working hours,” Hveding says. “Our goal is to provide full flexibility, 24/7. If you want to cut the lawn at 4 a.m., then you do it.”
To those of us accustomed to living by a fairly regimented schedule, this might seem like a strange attitude. But the people of Sommarøy already have a fairly lax approach to time-keeping—an attitude symbolized by the discarded watches that are strapped onto a bridge leading from the island to the mainland.
“To many of us, getting this in writing would simply mean formalizing something we have been practicing for generations,” Hveding says, according to O’Hare.
There are those who say that time is a construct, and there is undoubtedly some flexibility in how we keep it. Earlier this year, for instance, the European Union voted to abolish the mandatory transition to daylight saving time, giving its member nations the opportunity to choose whether they would continue turning clocks ahead one hour in the spring and back one hour in the fall. But some aspects of time are innate, honed over the course of our evolutionary history.
“[H]umans did not evolve in the Arctic,” Hanne Hoffman, assistant professor of animal science at Michigan State University, tells Gizmodo’s Dvorsky. “Our bodies have adapted to this 24-hour cycle generated by the rotation of the Earth. We can’t really go against evolution, and that’s what is happening in those locations. You’re going against what we’re programmed to do.”
People who live in regions with little-to-no sunlight in winter and a never-setting sun during summer are advised to take various measures to help maintain a regular sleep cycle—like exposing themselves to diffused florescent light, or using black-out blinds, depending on the season. Research has shown that circadian rhythm, which is effectively a 24-hour internal clock, is vital to human health, regulating not only wakefulness and tiredness, but also hunger, stress, immunity and heart function.
Then there is the matter of operating as a timeless zone in a world that runs on schedules. Hveding tells Brean of the National Post that he understands planes and trains need to depart and arrive at certain hours. But he also thinks that people create unnecessary stress by imposing schedules on themselves, and could benefit from his way of looking at time.
“When you are finished with work, please, just put the watch away,” he says. “Don’t let the clock lead us.”