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NY or LA which is earlier?
April 4, 2009 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Am I alone in regarding NY as being 3 hours *earlier* than LA?

Of course I know that when it is 11:00 PM in New York, it is 8:00 PM in LA, and 8:00 is 3 hours earlier than 11:00.
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but
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Since it becomes 11:00 in NY 3 hours before it becomes 11:00 in LA, conceptually, I feel that NY is 3 hours earlier than LA. I know lots of people say NY is 3 hours ahead of LA, but I believe that I am the only one who looks at a specific mark of time as an event, and since that event (say 11:00 PM) occurs 3 hours before the same event in LA, to me New York is 3 hours earlier.

In other words, most people are looking at a moment, say now, and marking the measurements in NY & LA, where it seems logical to me to look at the time as an event (say 11:00) and look at which city gets to that event earlier. After all when it is 1:00 in the morning in New York, we're not all of a sudden 21 hours earlier than LA.

Inspired by rwhe's post, I am now wondering if *anyone* thinks like me on this urgent issue of national import.
posted by xetere to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's all perspective.
Relative to the sun's position in the sky, at a given moment it is "earlier" in a sun-cycle day in LA than it is in New York.
Relative to the 6 o'clock news, the New Yorkers see it "earlier" than the LA folk.

Of course, it's really the same time everywhere. We're all simultaneously existing in the same moment regardless of what a clock says.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 9:34 PM on April 4, 2009


But if you're talking about a specific event like a television broadcast being watched around the world (the Oscars, for instance), that occurs 3 hours earlier on the West Coast than it does on the East Coast. The folks in California can watch the Oscars and *still* have 3 hours to goof off before bedtime. For this reason, I think of the West Coast as being "earlier" since my day is ending before theirs is.
posted by cabingirl at 9:34 PM on April 4, 2009



It's all perspective.
Relative to the sun's position in the sky, at a given moment it is "earlier" in a sun-cycle day in LA than it is in New York.
Relative to the 6 o'clock news, the New Yorkers see it "earlier" than the LA folk.


You explained it better than me! Thanks.

I think that most people have a "sun's position in the sky" idea of which city is earlier. Am I almost alone in having a "6 o'clock news" perspective?
posted by xetere at 9:38 PM on April 4, 2009


I think this may be one of those quirks of New York / Northeast English, like waiting on line for something. Or maybe it's an east coast thing as a whole.

At any rate, I occasionally think of NY as "earlier," but usually it's an "ahead" / "behind" thing. London is four hours ahead, LA is three hours behind. But for me, at least, earlier = ahead and later = behind.

So no, you're not alone.
posted by thecaddy at 9:44 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the sun's position in the sky. In Los Angeles, they're seeing the noon sun that we already saw three hours earlier in New York. We saw it first. LA is getting our sloppy seconds, so to speak.
posted by thebazilist at 9:48 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to bite my tongue and not go into the issue of gender & logic (I'm assuming you're female).

Actually, going by his posting history, he's male.

I've lived in both L.A. and NY, and I sort of see it both ways. The time (sun's position in the sky) is earlier in L.A. than NY, but we get all the good stuff (tv shows, sunsets, fashion) earlier in NY. I can see where you're coming from, but I understand the other perspective just as well, and so I would say that both are correct, depending on context.
posted by bedhead at 10:00 PM on April 4, 2009


I think the gap is less one of logic and more one of grammar. Cities are neither early nor late. When someone says Los Angeles is 3 hours earlier than New York, there's an implied 'The time in' in front of both city names. "The time in Los Angeles is 3 hours earlier than the time in New York" is clear and unmistakable and is what people mean when they say that.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:07 PM on April 4, 2009


I think that most people have a "sun's position in the sky" idea of which city is earlier. Am I almost alone in having a "6 o'clock news" perspective?

I don't think it's a matter of personal perspective, but rather perspective at any given moment. Most people are fully aware of both interpretations, and switch between them as context requires.

The only thing that I think is really tripping up your question and this discussion in general is your use of the word "earlier".

The term "earlier" implies to me, and many other people I'd warrant, strict temporal precedence of events. That is, if event A happens earlier than event B, event A must have occurred prior to event B regardless of how we're measuring time. "I got up two hours earlier than I left the house," means that literally two hours elapsed between waking up and leaving; not that I got up, adjusted my clock, and walked out the house twenty minutes later. It's not dependent on the system of measurement, or its calibration (the time zones)... only on temporal causality.

So, asking if NY or LA is earlier makes no sense to me... those are cities, not events. Are you asking which was founded earlier? Which goes to sleep at an earlier hour?

On the other hand, if you ask "is it earlier in NY or LA?", I can answer because the "it" in that situation is essentially "the hour". "Earlier", with regards to hours and numerical time in general, is a simple numerical evaluation. 8 o'clock is earlier than 14 o'clock because 8 is less than 14.

So, if I ask that question ("is it earlier in NY or LA?") and you answer "New York", this is not an interpretation. You're just incorrect. Identically incorrect as if you answered "Is 4pm or 7pm earlier?" with "7pm".
posted by Netzapper at 10:09 PM on April 4, 2009


Yeah NY isn't earlier it's ahead. Those words do have a similar feel so I can see why you're equating them but the difference in meanings is fairly distinct. Just because something feels a certain way doesn't mean it is.

For another fun but ultimately wrong feeling about timezones, I prefer to think of it as being in the future. As in, I live in the future and can tell all of you that Saturday evening is great, you'll like it when you get here.
posted by shelleycat at 10:19 PM on April 4, 2009


I, too, would think of places that are further through their day as being the place that is "ahead". Wellington is ahead of Sydney, which is ahead of Mumbai, which is ahead of Moscow, which is ahead of London, and so on.
posted by rodgerd at 10:21 PM on April 4, 2009


Those of us who work with (and god forbid have to schedule conference calls among) people on both coasts all probably have some strongly-held opinions about time zones. I don't know if I'm quite getting how you parse "earlier" vs "ahead" but I do think I fall with you in the "we get to 9 am first and thus time happens earlier" idea.
posted by desuetude at 12:28 AM on April 5, 2009


This has always been way more confusing to me than it should be. I for some reason cannot consistently hold one way of framing the situation in my head, since both are equally plausible. It it almost impossible for me to think about real time on trans-Atlantic flights, for example -- and normally I'm pretty good at analytic problem-solving.

The only way I can come to any clarity is to picture the earth as a ball and the sun coming around the side, and then I think: if two sets of numbers (5 o'clock, 6 o'clock, 7 o'clock) are racing up, then New York is ahead, but if the sun is racing around the earth, then California is further ahead on its path when New York is already behind.
posted by creasy boy at 12:38 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other words, most people are looking at a moment, say now, and marking the measurements in NY & LA, where it seems logical to me to look at the time as an event (say 11:00) and look at which city gets to that event earlier.

Well, I think there's where you're going wrong. In this context "time" is not "an event"; it is just "measurements." I mean, I'm not denying that events happen in time, obviously. But when you're talking time zones, you're just talking about arbitrary measurements, not different events.

It's not really about the sun at all. Just think of two people standing on opposite sides of the Eastern/Central border, watching the sun. They could be standing right next to each other -- they'd see the sun at the same time. Time zones relate to the sun only in theory, which is why at first I couldn't even understand your question -- it required a mental leap to first imagine that everyone in one time zone passes by a certain segment of the sun exactly one hour before people in the earlier (or you would say "later") time zone.

Considering that it's all arbitrary, you just look at the time. A TV show that starts at 10 p.m. in NY starts at 7 p.m. in LA. Based on my understanding of how a clock works, 10 p.m. is later than 7 p.m.


After all when it is 1:00 in the morning in New York, we're not all of a sudden 21 hours earlier than LA.

I don't see what 1:00 a.m. and 21 hours have to do with it. When I say NY is later than LA at 1 a.m., I'm obviously considering the time difference from 10 p.m. on the LA day (1 day earlier) to 1 a.m. on the NY day (1 day later). This in no way prevents me from understanding that 1 a.m. is 3 hours later than (not 21 hours earlier than) 10 p.m.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:28 AM on April 5, 2009


Considering that it's all arbitrary, you just look at the time. A TV show that starts at 10 p.m. in NY starts at 7 p.m. in LA. Based on my understanding of how a clock works, 10 p.m. is later than 7 p.m.

The OP isn't wrong, he's just using a different frame of reference. Yes, some TV shows are at the same local time, others, like showing a live event, are at the same UTC.

It makes perfect sense to say while celebrating New Years on the West coast that "NY celebrated New Years 3 hours ago." i.e. "New York celebrated New Years 3 hours earlier."

Lets take another clearer example. Two runners in a Marathon. A crosses the finish line first. When he does, B is still running the race. Both these statements are correct:

"A finished the race earlier."
That is, he finished the race first, at am earlier point according to an external clock.

"When A finished, B was still at an earlier point in the race."
That is, B, using the racecourse as a marker was still behind, or at an earlier point.

Again, neither of these statements is wrong. Like the questions about what it means to move a meeting "forward" there is ambiguity unless the reference points are clearly defined.
posted by vacapinta at 2:42 AM on April 5, 2009


I agree with vacapinta's analysis. Earlier versus ahead isn't a question of correct or incorrect, but of simple sentence construction and/or reference point.

If you are talking about time as the fourth physical dimension, as that thing that marches on despite everyone's best efforts, no, one coast is not earlier or later than the other. Each "tick" of time happens at the same moment.

But once you start getting relative about it, time as measured by our standards, it is quite correct to say that the further east you go, the "earlier" things happen. Their days events happen earlier in reference to yourself. "My friend in Prague woke up six hours ago, the sun rose earlier there." It's also correct to say that the time is later.

It's about what you are referring to- events happening, or what the clock says. "My friend ate lunch earlier than I did; it is six hours later there." or "It's earlier in Sacramento, Governor Reagan won't be eating his jellybean lunch until later."

(An interesting observation I made once when my first friend moved to the East Coast- the culture of time is different. I'd love to see a study of this, because I suspect that people on the East coast live their lives on a later schedule than say Central Time. Or, those of us in the CT live our lives relatively earlier. Look at it from the classic, old-school definition of bedtime- after Johnny Carson's monologue. In the ET, that happens at 11:45. In the CT, 10:45. We get our 8 hours, and wake up at 7:45 and 6:45, respectively.
posted by gjc at 4:56 AM on April 5, 2009


gjc - I've noticed this as well. I live in Michigan, on Eastern time. In Wisconsin, which is on Central time, they do not shift TV programs, etc. The news comes on at 10, the late night talk shows at 10:30.

Overall, they probably go to bed earlier. And maybe they are healthier, wealthier, and wiser.
posted by yclipse at 5:29 AM on April 5, 2009


I wonder if this is somehow related to the confusion I always feel when someone wants to move a meeting "forward". To me that implies further into the future; to others it seems to mean bringing it closer to now.

I read somewhere, but can't currently find, research on differing time perspectives, making the point that some people visualize time as if it were a tunnel which they were standing, extending forwards from them and backwards behind them, while others see it as points on an abstract horizontal line as if they were looking at a graph.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:30 AM on April 5, 2009


When discussing what time it is in various offices of ours at work, we don't use the words 'earlier' and 'later'. We say they are 'ahead' or 'behind' our time, which seems much less ambiguous. Using that terminology, New York is 3 hours ahead of LA. Noon gets to New York 3 hours ahead of when it gets to LA. The clock in New York reads 3 hours ahead of what it reads in LA. And so forth.
posted by FishBike at 6:57 AM on April 5, 2009


Are you younger than your children because you were born before them?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:17 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live in New York, and was in a long-distance relationship with a girl on the West Coast for a few years. We both talked about it being earlier/later in each others' respective home bases. So no, you're not alone!
posted by phaded at 7:58 AM on April 5, 2009


Say you're in LA and it's 9:01 on New Year's Eve. Someone walks up to you and says, "did we sing Auld Lang Syne yet?" You say, "no, that happens later."

In New York, they are signing Auld Lang Syne at that very moment, because to them, "later" is now!
posted by kosmonaut at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2009


Noon in NY comes 3 hours earlier than LA.

The time in LA is 3 hours earlier than NY.
posted by flug at 11:14 AM on April 5, 2009


As flug said: things happen earlier in NY because it's already later.

Things happening (earlier) vs. time they happen (later).
posted by rokusan at 12:12 PM on April 5, 2009


Since it becomes 11:00 in NY 3 hours before it becomes 11:00 in LA, conceptually, I feel that NY is 3 hours earlier than LA.

It's always the same time everywhere in the world (if you call someone who lives 12 hours "ahead" of you, they can't remember your conversation because it hasn't happened yet for either of you), but the clocks are set to different numbers to reflect the position of different places in the context of the solar cycle. And there's a fixed relationship between those numbers, e.g. 5pm is always later than 4pm.

You're conflating the relationship between the events and the relationship between the numerical time. They're different.
posted by clockzero at 1:05 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hope this isn't too much of a derail, but I think this is at least marginally germane to the discussion: game warden, the reason a situation like the one you mention ("Wednesday's noon meeting has been moved forward two days. What day is the meeting, now that it's been rescheduled?") is ambiguous -- it can be answered either Monday or Friday -- has to do with the ways in which we English-speakers talk about time, particularly about event-sequencing aspects of time, using spatial terms.

Everybody talks about time (an abstract concept) using spatial terms (concrete concept). English actually has two dominant spatial metaphors that we use to structure the abstract domain of time, commonly called the ego-moving (EM) and time-moving (TM) metaphors. The EM spatial metaphor structures time as a landscape through which we, the ego, moves. From this perspective, time itself is the landmark -- stationary, a timeline -- and the person experiencing time is the trajector, moving along in space from past to future. This perspective gives rise to language like "We're coming up on Easter" or "He didn't make it 'til Tuesday." (The ego moves.)

The other way of sequencing events is from a time-moving perspective. In this perspective, the ego can be thought of as the stationary landmark. As the name implies, in the time-moving metaphor, time is the trajector, and it flows past the ego like a river flows past a boulder. Talking about events from the TM-perspective gives rise to language like "Easter is coming up on us" or "Graduation's fast approaching." (Time moves.)

Why does this matter? The same words, used in both variants, have inconsistent readings. Think about the word "front," for example, which is assigned in both cases on the assumption of motion. Because in the ego-moving metaphor you (the ego) are the one in motion, the EM metaphor assigns "front" to the future (later) event: the same way you'd consider the runner furthest ahead of you in a footrace as "in front" of not only you, but all the other runners (xyz) between you and the leader as well. Now consider the time-moving metaphor, where the ego is static and time flows towards and past the ego like a conveyor belt. In this case, you'd be the ref at the finish line, watching all the racers come toward you. The person "in front" would be the person closest to you, with all the other runners (xyz) following behind the leader. This gives two different ways to read "front," depending on perspective: You, xyz, front (EM). Or you, front, xyz (TM).

All of this is to explain why questions like the noon meeting question can be ambiguous. If you're thinking about the question from an EM-perspective, pushing the meeting "forward" means pushing it further away from you into the future, so you'd assume the meeting was moved to Friday. If you're thinking about time from the TM-perspective, moving something "forward" means moving it closer to you in time, and you'd assume the meeting was moved to Monday.

Where this all gets really interesting is when you ask the question: are these two systems of metaphor psychologically real? That is, do people actively use these purely metaphors to structure their understanding and cognitive processes regarding time? Turns out they do. Lera Boroditsky at Stanford has all sorts of fascinating research on the topic [all links PDF except the first].
posted by sciapod at 9:26 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


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