Levine (1997). A Geography Of Time.

Levine, R. (1997). A Geography Of Time: On Tempo, Culture, And The Pace Of Life. Basic Books.

[“Preface: Time Talks, With an Accent”]

“No beliefs are more ingrained and subsequently hidden than those about time.” (p xv)

“The work reported in subsequent chapters begins with the assumption that places, like people, have their own personalities. I fully concur with sociologist Anselm Strauss that ‘the entire complex of urban life can be thought of as a person rather than a distinctive place, and the city can be endowed with a personality of its own.'” (p xvii)

[“PART I – Social Time: The Heartbeat of Culture”]

[“Tempo: The Speed of Life”]

“… five principal factors that determine the tempo of cultures around the world. 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.” (p 9)

“In the United States, for example, many economically impoverished minority groups make a point of distinguishing their own shared temporal norms from those of the prevailing Anglo-American majority. American Indians like to speak of ‘living on Indian time.’ Mexican-Americans differentiate between hora inglesa–which refers to the actual time on the clock–and hora mexicana–which treats the time on the clock considerably more casually.” (p 10)

[re time-saving devices/technology]

“One reason for this is that almost every technical advance seems to be accompanied by a rise in expectations.” (p 12)

“Johnson, borrowing from recent economic theory, argues that industrialization produces an evolutionary progression from a ‘time surplus’ to a ‘time affluence’ to a ‘time famine’ society.” (p 13)


“As a result of producing and consuming more, we are experiencing an increasing scarcity of time. … Free time gets converted into consumption time because time spent neither producing nor consuming comes increasingly to be viewed as wasted…” (p 13)

“Harry Triandis … individualistic cultures, compared to collectivist ones, put more emphasis on achievement than on affiliation.” (p 18)

“Our results confirmed the hypothesis: greater individualism was highly related to faster tempos.” (p 19)

“Time travels in divers paces with divers persons — WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, As You Like It”

“Most of the attention to individual differences has centered on the concept of time urgency—-the struggle to achieve as much as possible in the shortest period of time.” (p 19)

[“Duration: The Psychological Clock”]

“…the perception of duration–the denominator of the tempo equation–resides in the realm of subjective experience. The psychological clock, or the speed with which time is perceived to move, is distorted by a host of psychological factors, each of which may have profound effects on how the pace of life is experienced.” (p 28)

“We may experience the duration of the moment as it is passing and may then reexperience this same time period retrospectively–what cognitive psychologist Richard Block refers to as ‘experienced duration’ as opposed to ‘remembered duration.’ There is considerable evidence that these two visions of time passing not only diverge from one another, but that both are subject to great distortion. They also vary wildly from situation to situation in their degree of inaccuracy, and each individual and culture experiences them very differently.” (p 29)

“…time stretching … a professional violinist reported that she was able to use her subjectively expanded time to practice and review long musical pieces. She later reported that the extra time improved her memory and her technical performance.” (p 35)

“… slow-moving time … too much time can be extremely oppressive. When the duration feels too slow, life is experienced as simply boring. As the speed of time descends below a critical point–what personality psychologists refer to as one’s ‘optimal arousal level’–the clock often seems to drag. This boredom may then perpetuate itself as a self-fulfilling prophecy; by its very definition, one of the characteristics of boredom is a lack of interest in whatever is occurring, which, in turn, drains us of the energy required to create the very stimulation needed to push the speed of time passing to a more agreeable level.” (p 36)

“Robert Ornstein believes that the perception of duration is determined by how much we experience and remember of a situation. A successful experience, he argues, is better organized in memory than a failure. Better organized memory packages result in smaller storage sizes, which are perceived as shorter in duration. In other words, our memories of good experiences take up less cortical space and, consequently, are experienced as having taken less time.” (p 38)

“The reverse also appears to be true. When time is made to pass quickly, people usually perceive what they are doing to be more pleasant. … ‘time flies’ phenomenon … . In one project, for example, psychologist Robert Meade was able to improve workers’ morale by speeding up the psychological clock. Meade took advantage of the fact that time is experienced as shorter when people believe that they are making progress toward a goal. This sense of progress, he found, can be enhanced through simple procedures such as establishing a definite end point to the task and providing incentives to reach these goals. … It is difficult to know, of course, to what extent speeding up the passage of time led to a more pleasant experience or vice versa. The direction of cause and effect, however, is less important than the net effect on workers’ well-being. Employers might be pleased to note that these increases in morale are often also accompanied by accelerated production.” (pp 38-39)

“Employers might be pleased to note that these increases in morale are often also accompanied by accelerated production.” (p 39)

“When silence is valued, it ceases to be wasted time. It no longer drags on the clock.” (p 42)

“In some cultures, doing nothing is highly treasured. It is not seen as merely a break in the action, but as a productive and creative force. … For example, comprehending the meaning of verbal communication in Japan requires attending to what is not said, sometimes more than to what actually is said.” (p 42)

“The need to be heard first seems to be more important than the appropriate response.” (p 43)

“Japanese friend once told me more bluntly: For Westerners the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. (pp 43-44)

“Perhaps the epitome of time-free thinking that characterizes the R-mode is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow.'” (p 47)

[“A Brief History of Clock Time”] 51

“The moral gatekeepers of the new industrial society were equally convinced of the virtues of clock time and were more than willing to add their own voices to its promotion. The latecomer was characterized as a social inferior and, in some cases, a moral incompetent.” (p 69)

“The infatuation with clock time reached a peak with the arrival of Frederick Taylor and his system of ‘efficiency engineering.'” (p 70)

“‘The new man and woman,’ observes Jeremy Rifkin, ‘were to be objectified, quantified, and redefined in clock-work and mechanistic language . . . Above all, their life and their time would be made to conform to the regimen of the clock, the prerequisites of the schedule, and the dictates of efficiency.'” (p 72)

[Attributed to Joseph Meeker:]

“My conventional watch (called these days an “analog” model) is a symbolic arrangement of numbers representing twelve adjacent hours, with continuously moving hands to indicate time passing. When I look at it I see a twelve-hour span, and I learn which part of it I am moving through. The watch measures time by rearranging its objects in space, …” (p 80)

[… further attributed to Joseph Meeker:]

“Digital clocks and watches convey no such context. Impaired instruments that they are, they are unable to comprehend more than one instant at a time, with nothing to hint that there is a process going on that includes what went before and what comes after.” (p 80)

[“Living on Event Time”] 81

“One of the most significant differences in the pace of life is whether people use the hour on the clock to schedule the beginning and ending of activities, or whether the activities are allowed to transpire according to their own spontaneous schedule. These two approaches are known, respectively, as living by clock time and living by event time.” (p 82)

“Philip Bock, for example, analyzed the temporal sequence of a wake conducted by the Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada. He found that the wake can be clearly divided into gathering time, prayer time, singing time, intermission, and mealtime. But it turns out that none of these times are directly related to clock time. The mourners simply move from one time to another by mutual consensus.” (p 92)

“Many North American Indian cultures also treat time only indirectly in their language. The Sioux, for example, have no single word in their language for ‘time,’ ‘late,’ or ‘waiting.’ The Hopi, observes Edward Hall, have no verb tenses for past, present, and future. … the Hopi treat temporal concepts more like adverbs than nouns. … It is difficult for … the Hopi to conceive of time as a quantity. Certainly, it is not equated with money and the clock. Time only exists in the eternal present.” (p 94)

“Clock time cultures tend to be less flexible in how they schedule activities. They are more likely to be what anthropologist Edward Hall calls monochronic or M-time schedulers: people who like to focus on one activity at a time. Event time people, on the other hand, tend to prefer polychronic or P-time scheduling: doing several things at once. M-time people like to work from start to finish in linear sequence: the first task is begun and completed before turning to another, which is then begun and completed. In polychronic time, however, one project goes on until there is an inclination or inspiration to turn to another, which may lead to an idea for another, then back to the first, with intermittent and unpredictable pauses and resumptions of one task or another. Progress on P-time occurs a little at a time on each task.” (p 96)

“P-time cultures are characterized by a strong involvement with people. They emphasize the completion of human transactions rather than keeping to schedules.” (p 96)

“Mr. Yoneda wrote because he was concerned (with good reason, I might add) about the superficiality of my understanding of Japanese attitudes toward time. He wanted me to understand that the Japanese may be fast, but that doesn’t mean that they treat the clock with the same reverence as people in the West.

“Meetings in Japan, he pointed out, start less punctually and end much more ‘sluggishly’ than they do in the United States. ‘In the Japanese company I work for,’ he wrote, ‘meetings go all the way until some agreement is made, or until everybody is tired; and the end is not sharply predefined by a scheduled time. The agreement is often not clearly stated. Perhaps in order to compensate [for] the unpredictability of the closing time of a meeting, you are not blamed if you [go] away before the meeting is over. Also, it’s quite all right to sleep during the meeting. For instance, if you are an engineer and not interested in the money-counting aspects of a project, nobody expects you to stay wide awake paying attention to discussions concerning details of accounting. You may fall asleep, do your reading or writing, or stand up to get some coffee or tea.'” (p 98)

“Monochronic and polychronic organizations each have their weaknesses. Monochronic systems are prone to undervaluing the humanity of their members. Polychronic ones tend toward unproductive chaos. It would seem that the most healthy approach to P-time and M-time is to hone skills for both, and to execute mixtures of each to suit the situation. The Japanese blend offers one provocative example of how people take control of their time, rather than the other way around.” (p 98)

“Because cultural norms are so widely shared by the surrounding society, people often forget that their own rules are arbitrary. It is easy to confuse cultural normalcy with ethnocentric superiority.” (p 98)

[“Time and Power: The Rules of the Waiting Game”] 101

“Waiting, then, originates out of limited resources. But the laws of economics are only the beginning. How these resources are distributed forms the real heart of the waiting game. If you look more closely you see the essence of status, power, and self-worth.” (p 109)

“Our data also showed that Brazilians rated a person who was always late for appointments as more relaxed, happy, and likeable— all of which tend to be associated with being successful.” (p 110)

[“PART II – Fast, Slow, and the Quality of Life”]

[“Where Is Life Fastest?”] 129

“Eventually, three measures of the pace of life were developed: (1) walking speed—the speed with which pedestrians in down- town areas walk a distance of 60 feet; (2) work speed—how quickly postal clerks complete a standard request to purchase a stamp; and (3) the accuracy of public clocks.” (p 130-131)

“… where else besides Japan would our experimenter encounter postal clerks who sometimes wrapped the stamp in a little package, or, without being asked or required, sometimes wrote out receipts? We tried to correct for these extra seconds in our final tallies, but can one really give due credit to postal clerks who operate at near capacity speed while providing luxury service? The clerks in Frankfurt may have scored a few seconds faster, but it is difficult to imagine consumers there leaving the post office feeling like they had just made a purchase at Tiffany’s. Or how about compared to China, where several clerks laughed at an experimenter, whom they apparently thought was crazy because he communicated with a note? And India, where we had to abandon our experiments because most clerks didn’t believe it was their responsibility to carry change?” (p 133)

“(New York and Budapest were the only cities where experimenters reported being insulted by clerks.)” (p 134)

[“Health, Wealth, Happiness, and Charity”] 153

“Fast places appeal to fast people, and fast people create fast places.” (p 156)

“Social psychologist Stanley Milgram believed that the rapid pace of life in modern cities confronts people with more sensory inputs than they are able to process, creating what he calls psychological overload.” (p 160)

[“Japan’s Contradiction”] 169

[“PART III – Changing Pace”]

[“Time Literacy: Learning the Silent Language”] 187

“There are areas in the United States that offer vivid evidence for these assertions. Dolores Norton, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, has been studying the intellectual development of children in poor U.S. families for more than a decade. Her research has focused on the experiences of an extremely high-risk sample—the children of low-income black adolescent mothers living in the most blighted, impoverished pockets of Chicago. Norton videotapes the social interactions of these children at home and then uses this information to pinpoint the most difficult barriers they face in school. She has found ample evidence for Rifkin’s and Banfield’s temporal deprivation theories, seeing over and over again how many of the children’s most formidable problems relate to an unpreparedness for the mainstream culture’s use of time.” (p 188-189)

“The less congruent their concept of time is with that in the classroom, the poorer their achievement.” (p 189)

[Advice for understanding event time…]

“Here are a few lessons that can be learned by clock timers who wish to understand the temporal logic of slower cultures.” (p 193)

“Punctuality: Learn to translate appointment times.” (p 193)

“The fundamental cultural clash here often comes down to what is more important: accurate information and facts or people’s feelings?” (p 194)

“Understand the line between work time and social time.” (p 196)

“Study the rules of the waiting game.” (p 197)

“Learn to reinterpret ‘doing nothing.'” (p 197)

“Ask about accepted sequences.” (p 198)

“Are people on clock time or event time?” (p 200)

“… world-mindedness.” (p 202)

“These misinterpretations are examples of what social psychologists call the fundamental attribution error—that, when explaining the behaviors of others, there is a pervasive tendency for people to underestimate the influence of the situation and to overestimate others’ internal personality dispositions.” (p 203)

“Without fully understanding a cultural context, we are likely to misinterpret its people’s motives.” (p 203)

[” Minding Your Time, Timing Your Mind”] 207

“‘Counting is our way of noticing,’ observes writer Letty Pogrebin about her Judaism. ‘It reminds us that a day counts or it doesn’t. Counting imputes meaning; one does not count what one does not value.'” (p 208)

“They also found an inverted U-shaped relationship between time pressure and how well people perform. Once again, the best work occurs at an intermediate degree of time pressure.” (p 212)

“Many contemporary psychologists believe the flow experience is an important key to a happy and satisfying life. Studies have shown that flow experiences are not only exhilarating but empowering: they raise self-esteem, competence, and one’s overall sense of well-being.” (p 212)

“Time pressure can be energizing and invigorating when served in the right dosage.” (p 213)

“‘I went to another country once. You learn a lot about yourself.'” (p 221)

Selected references

  • Block, R. (1990). Models of psychological time. In Block, R. (ed.). Cognitive Models of Psychological Time, 1–36. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Bluedorn, A., Kaufman, C., and Lane, P. (1992). How many things do you like to do at once? An introduction to monochronic and polychronic time. Academy of Management Executive 6, 17–26.
  • Bock, P. (1964). Social structure and language structure. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 20, 393–403.
  • Brislin, R., and Yoshida, T. (1994). Intercultural Communication Training: An Introduction. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.
  • Cooper, L. F., and Erickson, M. H. (1959). Time Distortion in Hypnosis. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Freedman, J., and Edwards, D. (1988). Time pressure, task performance, and enjoyment. In J. E. McGrath (ed.), The Social Psychology of Time: New Perspectives, 113–33. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.
  • Friedman, M., and Ulmer, D. (1984). Treating Type A behavior. New York: Random House.
  • Greenberger, E., O’Neil, R., and Nagel, S. (1994). Linking workplace and homeplace: Relations between the nature of adults’ work and their parenting behaviors. Developmental Psychology 30, 990–1002.
  • Hall, Edward T. (1959). The Silent Language. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
  • Hall, E. (1983). The Dance of Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
  • Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam.
  • Johnson, A. (1978, September). In search of the affluent society. Human Nature, 50–59.
  • Levine, R., West, L., and Reis, H. (1980). Perceptions of time and punctuality in the United States and Brazil. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38 (4), 541–50.
  • Meade, R. D. (1960). Time on their hands. Personnel Journal 39, 130–32.
  • Meeker, J. Reflections on a digital watch. Quoted in Utne Reader (1987, September/October), 57.
  • Mehrabian, A., and Russell, J. (1974). An Approach to Environmental Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Milgram, S. (1970). The experience of living in cities. Science 167, 1461–68.
  • Norton, D. G. (1990, April). Understanding the early experience of black children in high risk environments: Culturally and ecologically relevant research as a guide to support for families. Zero to Three 10, 1–7;
  • Norton, D. G. (1993). Diversity, early socialization, and temporal development: The dual perspective revisited. Social Work 38, 82–90.
  • Ornstein, R. (1977). The Psychology of Consciousness (2nd ed.). New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
  • Pogrebin, L. C. (1996, May/June). Time is all there is. Tikkun 11, 43–47, 46.
  • Rifkin, J. (1987). Time Wars, 110. NewYork: Henry Holt.
  • Smith, T., & Anderson, N. (1986). Models of personality and disease: An interactional approach to Type A behavior and cardiovascular risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50, 1166–73.
  • Storti, C. (1990). The Art of Crossing Cultures. Yarmouth, Me.: Intercultural Press.
  • Strauss, A. L. (1976). Images of the American City. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.
  • Time is not on their side. Time (1989, February 27), 74.
  • Triandis, H. (1994). Culture and Social Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Zimbardo, P. G., Marshall, G., and Maslach, C. (1971). Liberating behavior from time-bound control: expanding the present through hypnosis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1, 305–23.
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