Norway’s “Summer Island” Wants to Be the World’s First Time-Free Zone

In the Norwegian island of Sommarøy, locals are pushing to eliminate conventional timekeeping during the midnight sun months.

Norway’s “Summer Island” Wants to Be the World’s First Time-Free Zone

Sommarøy, a fishing village near Tromsø in northern Norway, wants to eliminate the concept of time.

Photo by FSvetlana / Shutterstock

In the polar regions north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for 69 days every summer, typically from mid-May to late July. The opposite phenomenon occurs during winter: The sun stays below the horizon, and skies remain dark from November to January. This means that in places like Sommarøy, a Norwegian fishing village covering a tiny island north of the Arctic Circle, it can be somewhat arbitrary—if not a total nuisance—to live according to the ways time is traditionally measured.

For this very reason, residents of Sommarøy—which translates to “Summer Island”—recently signed a petition to make their home the world’s first time-free zone during the midnight sun period, from May 18 to July 26. At a town hall meeting on June 13, Kjell Ove Hveding, one of the key islanders behind the initative, handed over dozens of locals’ signatures to members of Norway’s central government.

The idea behind the islanders’ request, Hveding says, is that when the sun doesn’t set during the summer months in Sommarøy, “there’s no need to know what time it is. The midnight sun makes clocks an unnecessary nuisance.” Declaring the Norwegian island “time-free” during the midnight sun period would permit residents to eliminate traditional business hours during summer, adjusting, for example, inflexible opening and closing times. This would allow residents, especially students and workers, to make the most of the months when the sun remains permanently above the horizon.

Sommarøy locals say that the formal “time-free” designation would make official a way of life that Norwegian islanders have been practicing for generations—essentially, throwing away their clocks during the midnight sun period. “There’s constantly daylight, and we act accordingly. In the middle of the night, which city folk might call ‘2 a.m.’, you can spot children playing soccer, people painting their houses or mowing their lawns, and teens going for a swim,” Hveding says.

The bridge to Sommarøy is decorated with watches, marking the island’s unique relationship with time.

The bridge to Sommarøy is decorated with watches, marking the island’s unique relationship with time.

Photo by Jøran Mikkelsen

Earlier this month, Hveding met with a Norwegian lawmaker to discuss any practical and legal obstacles that might arise from going off the clock completely. According to Hveding, the Norwegian island “likely won’t become an entirely time-free zone, as it will be too complex.” However, the objective of the petition filed to Norway’s Parliament in mid-June was to “put the time element on the agenda”—in other words, to open up a discussion about potential ways to make time a more flexible concept during the midnight sun season for Sommarøy’s 350 residents.

“This is not a new concept to us. We merely want to formalize our island’s way of living,” Hveding said in regard to Sommarøy’s unique campaign to “stop time.” “We don’t want to know what time it is, we want to have fun together and enjoy what the moment, the nature, and our community provides,” he continued, adding that if the Norwegian island were to become the world’s first “time-free zone,” the move might even attract visitors who wish to forget about what time it is, too.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

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