Derek Sivers

Geography of Time - by Robert Levine

Geography of Time - by Robert Levine

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Interesting look at how different cultures consider time in different ways.

my notes

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

The psychology of time and the psychology of places.

Places, like people, have their own personalities.

Empirical tests of the raw material of popular stereotypes.

The pace of life or movement of time that people experience is characterized by:
- rhythms
(what is the pattern of work time to down time? is there a regularity to social activities?)
- sequences
(is it work before play or the other way around?)
- synchronies
(to what extent are people and their activities attuned to one another?)

People are prone to move faster in places with vital economies, a high degree of industrialization, larger populations, cooler climates, and a cultural orientation toward individualism.

The healthier a place’s economy, the faster its tempo.

Every technical advance is accompanied by a rise in expectations.

People in bigger cities move faster

Hotter places are slower.

Slowest countries: Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia

Fastest countries: Switzerland, Ireland, Germany

Individualistic cultures, compared to collectivist ones, put more emphasis on achievement than on affiliation. The focus on achievement usually leads to a time-is-money mindset, which in turn results in an urgency to make every moment count. In cultures where social relationships take precedence, however, there is a more relaxed attitude toward time.

The clock moves faster than people think it does. Videotape of a bank robbery: observers described the 30-second tape as having lasted for about 150 seconds.

Extroverts are more accurate time estimators than are introverts.

One of the primary tasks of Zen is learning to experience the here and now so utterly that time appears to stand still, to be “liberated from time.”

They gave hypnotized college students the simple suggestion to “allow the present to expand and the past and future to become distanced and insignificant.” These instructions led to dramatically increased absorption in the present moment in people’s language, feelings, thought processes, and sensory awareness.

Hypnotically induced time expansion may result in greater accomplishment per unit of real clock time.

For the depressed person, however, the stretching of time is a chilling experience. The belief that there is no future, that the pain of the present is eternal, may lead to suicide.

Time is experienced as shorter when people believe that they are making progress toward a goal.

The greater the urgency, the more slowly time passes.

No single temporal dimension tells us more about the psyche of a culture than knowing what its denizens think about activity and inactivity.

- United States: keeping busy is generally considered a good thing, while doing nothing signals waste and void. Inactivity is dead time. Even leisure time in the United States is planned and eventful.
- Brunei: people wake up in the morning asking, “What isn’t going to happen today?”
- In Nepal and India: I have watched friends drop by one anothers’ homes, only to sit and remain silent. Simply sitting, they explained, was doing something.

Now again we wait, facing each other silently. Balkan time. We sit, the way Zen masters sit. There’s no awkwardness in it, no frantic noddings of the head or reassuring smiles. I’m beginning to find it strangely relaxing. I’m shifting to another sense of events, in which you don’t insist on fulfilling a plan, but wait for what happens next.

Japanese, for example, hold the concept of ma - roughly meaning the spaces or intervals between objects and activity - in the highest esteem. Westerners might refer to the space between a table and a chair as empty. The Japanese refer to the space as “full of nothing.”

Chinese, for example, are said to be masters of waiting for the right moment. They believe that the wait itself is what creates that moment. How long is the wait? As long as it needs to be.

A major factor in obesity is a tendency for eating to be governed by external cues from the surrounding environment. People of normal weight, he believed, are more responsive to their internal hunger pangs.

“There’s no such thing as wasting time where I live. How can you waste time? If you’re not doing one thing, you’re doing something else. Even if you’re just talking to a friend, or sitting around, that’s what you’re doing.”

The Nuers from the Sudan: They construct their fishing dams and cattle camps, for example, in the month of kur. How do they know when it is kur? It’s kur when they’re building their dams and camps. They break camp and return to their villages in the months of dwat. When is it dwat? When people are on the move. There’s an old joke about an American on a whirlwind tour of Europe who is asked where he is. “If it’s Tuesday,” he responds, “this must be Belgium.” If Nuers were asked the same question they might answer: “If it’s Belgium, this must be Tuesday.”

The Andamanese have constructed a complex annual calendar built around the sequence of dominant smells of trees and flowers in their environment. When they want to check the time of year, the Andamanese simply smell the odors outside their door.

Daybreak: “when there is light enough to see the veins in their hand.”

Three English verbs “to expect,” “to hope,” and “to wait” all translate into the single Spanish verb “esperar.”

Gulliver, who looked at his watch before doing anything. He called it his oracle. The Lilliputians he met in his travels decided that Gulliver’s watch must be his God. In other words, they thought he was crazy.

The most fruitful approach of all is one that moves flexibly between the worlds of P-time and M-time, event time and clock time, as suits the situation.

It is easy to confuse cultural normalcy with ethnocentric superiority.

“Make ‘em laugh, make ’em cry, but above all, make ‘em wait.” - Bill Smethurst, soap opera producer

The more important we are, the greater the demand for our time.

Important people are usually seen by appointment only. While those of higher status are allowed to make people below them wait, the reverse is strictly prohibited.

Brazilians rated people who are always late for appointments as most successful and punctual people as least successful.

Brazilians rated a person who was always late for appointments as more relaxed, happy, and likeable.

The value of financial consultants, attorneys, or performers is enhanced by the simple fact that they are booked well in advance. This leads to even greater demand for their time, and so the cycle continues.

In a building: In a literal sense, the higher up you go, the longer the wait. Low down on the scale are the men you can walk right up to. They are usually behind a counter waiting to serve you.

The French term “attendant” makes clear - was one who served the whims of his superior.

Gathered in front of the building are people who will hire themselves out to stand in your place overnight. In Brazil, there are more highly trained professional waiters known as despachantes. These are para-professionals who serve as intermediaries between well-off citizens and the endless bureaucratic red tape.

Siddhartha, who believed: “Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.”

Israelis at bus stops stubbornly resist forming distinct lines. But established implicit rules, so that commuters almost invariably boarded the bus in order of arrival.

Italian queues are more likely to be characterized by lighthearted conversation and a general atmosphere of gaiety, as opposed to the irritability and impatience that typify American lines.

Cultures that emphasize productivity and making money typically create a sense of time urgency and a value system that fosters individualistic thinking; and that time urgency and individualism in turn make for a productive economy.

Japan’s special blend of collectivism focuses on devotion to the group. For most workers, by far the most important of these groups is their company.

In Japan, these efforts are cast in dimensions of patriotism.

Through sharing the suffering of the group - could the body reach that height of existence that the individual alone could never attain.

“I feel toward my department as you feel toward your family.”

Japanese workers’ hours are long, but their production is not as great as Westerners might expect. They spend a lot of time talking with colleagues, going to meetings, idly chatting. Their workday, in other words, is not just production-oriented.

Even after a long day on the job, workers at Sapporo Medical University will often hang around for another couple of hours, perhaps drinking beer and watching a ball game with their co-workers. These habits help create the desired harmony in social relations.

Extreme present-orientedness, not lack of income or wealth, is the principal cause of poverty.

An elaborate set of timeteaching exercises they have designed to train children from third-world cultures to adapt to Israel’s mainstream pace of life.

Preparing children to deal with ideas like time limitations, the value of time, and the desirability of efficiency, they are helping them to understand that in their new culture anyone who fails to master the clock may be labeled a failure.

If you are moving in the opposite temporal direction, from fast to slow, there is as much or more to learn.

Learn to translate appointment times.

In the United States, the major unit of time for assessing punctuality for appointments is usually on the order of five minutes. When visiting traditional Arab cultures, however, you should know that the corresponding unit of time is fifteen minutes. If an Arab is thirty minutes late by your clock, he is only ten minutes late by his own standards.

A Brazilian friend, he explained my error, one I was to repeat many times: how a “yes” often meant “no” and that it was more important to Brazilians to appear helpful and polite than to stand by their time commitments. My friend then scolded me for having backed my colleagues into a corner by making a request they could neither deny nor deliver on. Rejecting my request would have been both rude and an acknowledgment of their inefficacy. Missing an appointment is simply a severe case of lateness, a well-accepted Brazilian behavior. And in Brazil, people’s feelings are more important than accurate information.

Study the rules of the waiting game. When you arrive in a foreign culture, be sure to inquire about the specifics of their version of the waiting game. Are their rules based on the principle that time is money? Who is expected to wait for whom, under what circumstances, and for how long? Are some players exempt from waiting?

What is the protocol for waiting in line?

Is there a procedure for buying oneself a place in front, or off the line completely? What social message is being sent when the accepted rules are broken?

Learn to reinterpret “doing nothing.”

Is appearing chronically busy a quality to be admired or to be pitied? Is doing nothing wasted time? Is constant activity seen as an even bigger waste of time? Is there even a word or concept for wasted time? Of nothing happening? Doing nothing?

You may have the opportunity to discover how curiously relaxing it can be to sit together in silence, free from plans, simply waiting for what happens next.

Ask about accepted sequences. Each culture sets rules about the sequence of events. Is it work before play, or vice versa?

Is one expected to have coffee or tea and socialize before getting down to serious business, and if so, for how long?

Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to make a lifelong arrangement based on an emotional reaction?

The time it takes to move from out-group to in-group status. How long should you expect to be an outsider?

A move from clock time to event time will require a complete shift of consciousness.

Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.

How one has to live in an Indian village: I would often get up in the morning and ride my bicycle five miles, say, to meet a particular farmer. Arriving there, it was usual to find out that he was away or expected back soon, which might well mean the next day. By the second year, this type of event had stopped feeling like a disappointment, because I no longer really expected to accomplish anything in the first place. In fact, it seemed almost humorous to think that you could truly accomplish what you had set out to accomplish. Instead, I would just go and sit in the local tea shop and meet some new people or simply stare at the animals, children, and other assorted passersby. Then, maybe, something else other than what I’d planned to do would happen. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Whatever work was going to get done would come to me.

At least for Americans, the least happy people are those with no time pressure at all.

Many situations are best met by a temporal approach requiring a rapid pace of life: speed, attention to the clock, a future orientation, the ability to value time as money. Other domains in life - rest, leisure, the incubation of ideas, social relationships - are more adequately met with a relaxed attitude toward time.

People who are confined to rigid and narrow temporal bands are unprepared to determine their own futures and political fates. Multitemporality is the ticket out of these temporal ghettos. To have the ability to move quickly when the occasion demands it, to let go when the pressure stops.

Is this something that I absolutely must do? Is it something that I choose to do? Unless there was a “yes” to one of these questions I would not invest my time

Having arrived home, to cease the hard work of coping with constant change. (It is for good reason that the word “travel” is related to the French “travail,” meaning hard work.)