06 December 2011

Redefining the Epoch

The Internet Calendar

In the Gregorian calendar, it is the year 2011 of the Common Era—or Anno Domini if you’re more of a traditionalist. In the Hebrew calendar, it’s 5772 Anno Mundi. In the Chinese calendar, it’s 4708 or 4648—depending on which of the two epochs you prefer. In the Islamic calendar, it’s 1433 Anno Hegirae. And, just for kicks, in the Discordian calendar it’s 3177 YOLD.

The epochs of all of these calendars have one thing in common: they refer to important historical events in the cultures that spawned them. But in an era of global communication, they are, for all intents and purposes, completely arbitrary. We can do better.

It’s fairly silly that the vast majority of us still cleave to the Gregorian epoch as though it were culturally neutral—because it is assuredly not. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a Christian epoch for a calendar, as least insofar as there’s nothing inherently wrong with any particular epoch. But certain dates are certainly more culturally relevant than others, and ours is not an exclusively Christian culture.

What, then, is the day that started our era?

My vote is for the day when the Internet—as we would come to know it—came into existence. That day, the 29th of October, 1969, defines a cultural turning point that has since changed the world in unfathomably many and deep ways.

The first year following the epoch is +0; the year preceding, −0. The best way to understand this is by thinking of a date as a fractional number of years since the epoch: January 1, 1970 (the epoch for Unix) is +0.1749. Lisp was created in −10. Keep in mind that I don’t want to change anything else about our calendar: not our system of months, nor the days of the week, nor the way we calculate leap years. Those all work just fine.

So, without further ado:

This is the year +42, and today is the day that I redefined the epoch.