Temporal Liminality

This week, I’m staying at a house in the middle of nowhere in Northern Arizona, after a visit to Las Vegas. When I walk from the upstairs bedroom down to the ground floor kitchen, the time zone changes. This is reproducible, reliably.

It took me a couple days to notice, since the purpose of this trip is a deep work & hiking retreat and I don’t have the usual temporal appointment constraints associated with civilization. There were a few days of temporal gaslighting until I saw the time on my iPhone change by a whole hour while I was looking at it, sitting still on the couch drinking coffee.

The geographical area I’m in is the Arizona Strip, geographically closer to Utah or Nevada than the rest of Arizona, as it is cut off by the Colorado River (i.e. the Grand Canyon). Nevada is in the Pacific Time Zone. Utah and Arizona are in the Mountain Time Zone. However, Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time. Therefore, in April, it is the same time in Nevada and Arizona, while Utah is 1 hour ahead. I’m currently 5.4 km from the Utah border. It is more heavily populated north of the border, where presumably there is more cell tower infrastructure. When I move between rooms of this house, location services with its limited information presumes I cross the state border.

But, dear reader, it is in fact more complicated than you imagine. There are more possible misconceptions about time than you could dream in your philosophy…

Arizona contains many large Native American reservations. The Navajo Nation opts in to observing Daylight Saving time, while the Hopi Reservation, just like the state of Arizona, opts out of observing Daylight Saving. In a topological configuration that China Miéville would envy, the Hopi Reservation is entirely contained within the Navajo Nation.

…driving the length of Arizona State Route 264 east from Tuba City while DST is in place involves six time zone changes in less than 100 miles (160 km).

I am about 105 km from the edge of the Navajo Nation. The max range of a cell tower should be around 40 km. I believe that is too far for my iPhone to mistake I’m in the Navajo Nation, and this time zone flipping is entirely a confusion about the Utah border. Right now, if I look at iOS’ Date & Time settings, it reports me in the “Phoenix” time zone.

I tried to get more detailed information for how my iPhone thinks of its time zone using the lovely diagnostic app Lirum Info Lite. Incredibly, each time I open the section containing time and region info, the app crashes.

The kitchen contains 3 appliances: an analog wall clock, a microwave and an oven. The analog wall clock is set to the correct Arizona time, whereas the microwave and oven are set to one hour later. Presumably, these modern digital appliances were purchased at the nearest large city north of the border, and have their own internal model of the world, which includes changing Daylight Saving Time as a fixed constant.

PS. To expand the theme of atemporality, the nearest town to me is Colorado City, one of the last headquarters of a fundamentalist polygamist cult, who seem to fit better in the 1800s. This reminds me of a side plot in Greg Egan’s Schild’s Ladder, where a generation ship is launched before more modern space travel is discovered; wherever the generation ship’s “Anachronauts” travel, at a much slower speed than all other humans, their moral value system is increasingly out of date; they are stuck traveling forever in aspiration of returning to a irrelevant constant.

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