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The Geography of Time

Robert Levine's A Geography of Time provides a fascinating consideration of how cultures vary in their pace of life. Using three measures ­ pedestrian walking speed over a distance of 60 feet, the time it took postal clerks to fulfill a standard request for stamps, and the accuracy of 15 randomly selected bank clocks in main downtown areas ­ Levine's research team calculated the pace of life in 31 countries throughout the world. What were the key factors that predicted the tempo of a culture? 1. The number one determinant, Levine found, is economics. The healthier a country's economy, the faster its tempo. The fastest people were found in North American, Northern European, and Asian nations. The slowest were in less-developed countries, especially those in South and Central America and the Middle East. 2. A second important predictor, clearly linked to economics, is the degree of industrialization. The more developed the country, reports Levine, the less free time per day. He notes that one of the great ironies of modern times is that with all of our timesaving inventions, people have less time to themselves than ever before. Interestingly, poorer countries have more national holidays, on the average, than richer ones. 3. A third predictor is population size. Bigger cities have faster tempos. Levine notes numerous replications of this finding. In one of the earliest studies, researchers found that the average city child walked twice as fast through a supermarket as the town child did through a smaller grocery. The town children also spent triple the time interacting with clerks and other shoppers. 4. Climate is a fourth important predictor. Hotter places are slower. The slowest countries in the study were Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia, all having tropical climates. Levine notes that these are the sorts of places that people from the fastest countries ­ Switzerland, Ireland, and Germany ­ look to for their winter vacations. Does heat wear one down or do warmer climates simply encourage taking time to enjoy life? Or do less costly belongings ­ fewer clothes, simpler houses ­ make life easier? 5. Finally, a culture's basic values predict tempo. Individualistic cultures move faster than those that value collectivism. Collectivist cultures emphasize affiliation; individualistic cultures emphasize achievement. The focus on achievement may lead to a "time-ismoney" mindset. Where social relationships take precedence, there is a more relaxed attitude toward time.

From GEOGRAPHY OF TIME by ROBERT LEVINE. Copyright 1997. Reprinted by permission of BASIC BOOKS, a member of Perseus Books Group.

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Microsoft Word - The Geography of Time

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