A GEOGRAPHY OF TIME by Robert Levine


The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently
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 An amusing, informative account of how different cultures and subcultures have different concepts of time. Social psychologist Levine (Calif. State Univ., Fresno) loves anecdotes that illustrate a point, and he packs his report with stories about the frustrations of living in a culture where one is unfamiliar with the rules about waiting, punctuality, and time measurement. As a scientist, though, he employs objective tests to measure these temporal differences. Preceding his look at the pace of life in contemporary cultures, he gives a brief history of clock time that is full of quotable trivia (e.g., in the 1860s the US had some 70 different time zones). Among the factors that Levine says determine tempo of life are economic vitality, industrialization, population size, climate, and a cultural orientation toward individualism. Two questions command his interest: Which are the fastest and slowest cultures, and how does tempo of life affect quality of life? To find answers, he sent teams of researchers around the globe measuring walking speeds, accuracy of public clocks, and work speed, specifically the time required to purchase a postage stamp. The results are fascinating: Of 31 countries studied, Switzerland ranks as the fastest-paced, with other Western European countries and Japan close behind, the US in dead center, and Mexico the slowest. Applying slightly different criteria to US cities, he concludes that Boston is the speediest and L.A. the most relaxed. When he sets up situations designed to measure helping behavior in these same cities--giving change for a quarter, assisting a handicapped person, etc.--those with the most time do not necessarily turn out to be the most generous with it. Some stereotypes hold up: New Yorkers take last place in the civility ranking. Levine concludes with advice for the time-urgent when visiting slower-paced cultures and about taking control of one's own pace of life. Recommended for all time-pressured type As.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-02892-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997


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