December 29th, 2011
07:11 PM GMT
London (CNN) – I have always been fascinated by the international date line; The arbitrary line where one day gives way to the next. When flying across the Pacific I often try to stay awake for that moment when you gain or lose a day as you cross this artificial barrier. So Samoa’s decision to shift its dateline has enthralled me.
Samoa is slap-bang in the middle of the Pacific, just 20 miles from the U.S. side of the line. Currently, Los Angeles is two hours ahead, and Sydney, Australia - on the other side - a whopping 21 hours ahead. (Ed's note: Many thanks to everyone who pointed out our own time zone slip, which is now corrected.) According to the country, most business is done with Australia and New Zealand, so Samoans are losing out on two days of business, because of the timings of work weeks and weekends.
So on Thursday, at the stroke of midnight, Samoa will shift the line. And it will instantly be Saturday morning, just after midnight.
Friday would never have existed for those who live in Samoa. Vamooshed. (I know how it works, but I still can’t get my head around it).
There is real politics in this: Samoa used to be on the western side of the dateline. It was moved in 1892 after U.S. traders persuaded the king they would be better off aligning their time to California and the U.S. not Japan and Asia. But geographically, Samoa is 2100 miles closer to Sydney than Los Angles, so the change back makes a lot of sense.
The dateline itself is an entirely artificial construction. In 1884, at the Meridian Conference, it was decided the Universal Day would be determined from Greenwich, in the UK. The line itself wends its way through the conveniently sparsely populated ocean – twisting and turning to allow for national boundaries.
Several countries have shifted the line in one way or another for their own commercial, social or nationalistic convenience, so there are precedents for Samoa’s action.
The concept fascinates me. The myths and traditions of the dateline are many, from dunking sailors when they cross it for the first time, to the book “Around the World in 80 days” where the line plays a crucial part in the plot. The dateline has even played a role in my own business travel: I was once paid two per diems from CNN when travelling, because I had crossed the dateline and so had an extra day.
The dateline continues to be a source of bewilderment and confusion, but offers a practical solution to the philosophical idea of where the day begins. I love crossing the dateline, and I wish good luck to Samoa today. Or is it tomorrow. Or maybe it’s yesterday. Will somebody please get me an atlas…