Norwegian island wants to become the world's first time-free zone

Time is perhaps one of the few universal constants that dictate our societies. No matter where we are, we build our lives around the clock, with days that are divided into hours and minutes, morning and night. But what would it be like if we decided to take away time? 

One Norwegian island is on a quest to find out.

Sommarøy Island, literally meaning “Summer Island,” is located in West Tromsø, north of the Arctic Circle. Some residents who live there want to declare the island as the world’s first time-free zone. 

During the summer months in northern Norway, you can experience up to 24 hours of sunlight for a full 69 days. After having endured no sun throughout the Polar Night from November to January, locals look forward to making the most out of the few sunny months of the year. 

From May 18 to July 26, time is simply no object to the people of Sommarøy. Whether they paint their houses at “2 a.m.” or mow their lawns at “midnight”, islanders hope to free themselves from the restraints of time. 

“When you live in Northern Norway, it doesn’t make sense to talk about daylight saving time, bedtime, dinner time, or any other time,” says Kjell Ove Hveding, one of the key islanders behind the initiative. “The midnight sun makes clocks an unnecessary nuisance, and we wish to be a time-free zone.”

On June 13, islanders signed a petition for a time-free zone during a town hall meeting. Hveding then met with a member of the Parliament to hand over the signatures and to discuss the practical and legal challenges of becoming the world’s first time-free zone, according to a statement. 

“To many of us, getting this in writing would simply mean formalizing something we have been practicing for generations: that is, time-free living,” says Hveding. “There’s constantly daylight, and we act accordingly.”

Islanders hope for the government’s approval to be free of traditional opening hours and to introduce more flexibility within the island.

Time-free living aligns well with the main industries of the island: fishing and tourism. According to Hveding, the local fishermen and women already spend days on the ocean without any regard for time and sleep. When crossing from the mainland to Sommarøy Island, intrigued visitors are greeted with a bridge covered in watches, instead of the traditional padlocks like on similar bridges. 

Perhaps for a multitude of reasons, this time-free initiative has stirred up media attention. From Norwegian national television to the largest national newspapers, the small island, with a population of just over 300 people, has managed to drum up widespread awareness for an initiative the residents hope others will take seriously.

“Sommarøy experiences many days of constant light during the summer. This means that the regular time rules don’t apply in that region. You can see, for example, people mowing their lawns or playing golf at 2 a.m., going for a swim at 4 a.m., or playing soccer in the middle of the night,” said Yuri Sali, the media lead for Visit Norway. “This, of course, is exotic for people who have not lived there.”

Although it is unclear whether the islanders will succeed in their efforts, the mass publicity boost that the initiative has received could provide enough legitimacy for Parliament to consider the campaign seriously.

Until then, the islanders of Sommarøy will continue to have a full five weeks of daylight before nightfall comes once more.