View From The Side: Could The 61-Second Minute Spark Chaos?


Though you might think that the headline here is a little over-dramatic, the inclusion of a extra second to world clocks that's set to occur in the early hours of 1st July might actually have a bit more of an effect on the world than you first thought.

Rather than just being an opportunity for you to let out a quick extra cough, have a lengthy extra second in bed or be one of those pointless milestones that people stay up for just so that they can brag about it to their friends, there have been genuine concerns about how this warping of the space-time continuum (Alright Ciaran, that's enough with the drama – Ed.) is going to affect markets around the world.

No, not that fruit and veg place on the corner, those bankers who have a worrying amount of power that we're always going on about.

Most of us may not be particularly affected by the extra second in our everyday lives – if my calculations are correct it'll occur at 1am UK time, I think – but when this phenomenon last took place all the way back in 2012 there were a fair few glitches including at Reddit, something which I'm sure shook most of you to your very core. While the markets have remained largely unaffected in the past, this time around they'll have to deal with the fact that in many countries this will be the first leap second during trading hours since markets went electronic.

So what does this mean? Well, since we made the big jump head-first blindly into the world of technology and essentially allowed it to run our everyday lives there has been an incredibly rigid system in place to handle all the tasks that could easily be transferred to our soon-to-be-robot-overlords to help prevent the risk of human error.

I'm not foolish enough to claim that I know the slightest thing about how market trading works, though I have spent at least five minutes quickly scanning through an article today so I feel that puts me at least on par with about 10% of the people currently working in 'The City'. As clocks now run on an atomic (unfortunately not as cool as it sounds) schedule which strictly adheres to the conventional constraints of time, as soon as the system is tweaked even in the slightest of instances such as this there's a genuine risk that technology across the world could struggle to cope with this my-newt (I thought writing 'minute' would be too confusing) change and markets from across the world may be thrown into chaos.

The timing of this potentially calamitous affair with everything that's currently going on in Greece seems particularly poignant, though I doubt that the destruction of markets in other countries would make much of a difference to the current plight of the Greek people – unless it were Germany that went into meltdown, in which case there might be a big of an old fashioned Greek knees-up. 

Fortunately there has been plenty of warning and different markets seem to have found their own ways to deal with the extra second – U.S. stock markets are ending some after-hours trading early and others from Sydney to Tokyo are recalibrating their clocks ahead of time. This probably means that there's not really any danger at all and I've probably just spent the last five minutes rambling on about nothing at all. Quelle surprise. 

However, the most intriguing thing to my mind – and the main reason I've become so obsessed with this my-newt incident – is; why the ruddy hell is this even happening? The problem is simply that 'time' is a man-made ideological construction.

As the Earth begins to naturally slow down, the constructs that we've put in place over human history have no automatic way of factoring this into account and there is something rather pleasing to me about how humanity has managed to get one of the most commonly adhered to concepts ever-so-slightly out of whack with reality. We love to be in control of everything and I'm sure there are plenty of people analysing, over-analysing and getting all bent out of shape over something which is essentially nothing more than the time it takes you to check your phone every five minutes just in case you didn't hear it buzz. 

It's truly fascinating to me that so many things are put at risk as a consequence of how our concept of time will never be able to match up to the nature of the Earth's rotation. As clever as we might think we are I doubt that anyone reading this has the exact science behind how time currently works or how it could be handled to ensure that there wasn't a minor panic in certain areas if such an occurrence were to confront us ever again. We're certainly not as smart as we think we are, despite some of the incredible inventions such as the automobile, electricity and this, and perhaps as a society we've taken our foot off the gas a little when it comes to understanding the world around us. Though landing the thingamajig on that comet seems like a step in the right direction.

But you've probably already tuned out by this point due to the inherent need to check Facebook and whatnot, so I'll leave you with a triple-threat of terrifying thoughts.

1. The time warp has the potential of making mischief with law enforcement, voice and data services, utilities and weapons systems.

2. In one second, $4.6 million in stocks is traded every second, all day, around the world.

And, finally, 3. Morris Day and The Time just don't seem to get the love they deserve any more. What's up with that?

If you want to read something a little more substantial, sensible and generally much more accurate then I suggest you give this a thorough read.