TV REVIEW : ‘Time’ Surveys Research on Natural Rhythms

There are many manifestations of the ancient conflict between humans and nature, but one that may not come immediately to mind is the human tinkering with time. It’s a conflict that has a direct physical cost, as any late-summer traveler suffering from jet lag can tell you. “The Time of Our Lives,” an unexpectedly incisive look at time and the biological clock (at 8 tonight on KCET Channel 28), tells us this, and more.

For example, jet lag normally takes a full week’s recovery time. The disastrous accidents at Bhopal, Chernobyl and Valdez all occurred in the pre-dawn hours, when body rhythms and alertness are at their lowest ebb. One week after daylight saving time always marks an increase in car accidents. There is a group of people, diagnosed as victims of seasonal affective disorder, who react to changes of seasons with food and sleep binges and general depression.

A recent wing of biological science has even emerged to study these phenomena and the causes and cures of time-related disorders: chronobiology. “The Time of Our Lives” ultimately emerges as a survey of chronobiology.

With producer-writer Roger Bingham as a breezy, intelligent guide, this KCET production also becomes a parable on how a problem caused by the technological revolution can be itself solved by technology. Our natural body clock, organically calibrated on a circadian cycle (roughly 25 hours), was an unexplored area until jet planes arrived and electricity permitted the graveyard shift. The body can adapt to much, but not, it was found, to radical shifts in time.

A guest claims that when labor reaches a sufficient point of automation, thus eliminating the need for graveyard shifts, society may return to the natural rhythms of a bygone day. Such hyper-mechanization--if it happens at all--will surely, though, unleash its own problems. Bingham doesn’t address this here; perhaps next time.