“Can you hear it? Hear this rhythm? It’s the rhythm of time … and life.” ~ Fatman, Metal Gear Solid 2.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this animated lecture called The Secret Powers of Time, by Philip Zimbardo. I watched it, trying as best I could not to analyze it, but to just empty my cup and take it all in as new information and a different perspective.
The general gist of the lecture is that there are six different “time zones” that people live in and that this has a profound effect on the way those people view the world, conduct themselves, where they live, how their mind works, and so forth. I won’t go into too much detail about that. If you wanna know, you can just watch it yourself. This post is mainly my reflections on it.
From my own experience, I can attest that cities in the southern portions of countries tend to have a much different experiences of time than people in the northern portions.
Let’s compare two such cities: Savannah, Georgia, and New York, New York. Both are major cities, but the overall pace of Savannah is much slower, much calmer, much more relaxed. Even the appearance of the city seems to reflect this difference. Where New York is crammed and full of skyscrapers, Savannah is much more open, with the tallest buildings being scarcely above twelve floors. The whole city of Savannah seems to shut down somewhere between 6PM and 10PM, with few exceptions, whereas some place like New York is still alive and active during that time; in fact, it’s often just beginning to wake up.
This is just one example taken in brief. I’m sure if you’ve traveled at all in your life, you can think of many examples like this. You could probably also notice the subtle differences in pace between some place like New York and Philadelphia, where the change in latitude is smaller, but the relative pace is still proportional.
So a general rule, what Philip Zimbardo said about north-south relations of time seems accurate.
It makes sense from a physical standpoint too, since as you go north, the distance between lines of longitude grows shorter. You can cover more ground (in a polar sense) in the same amount of time, ergo you are more productive.
But one thing I noticed as Zimbardo was talking is that this is a relative value. Time is a factor in pace, but so are other things like climate, population, and the availability of resources. For instance, Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole is a highly efficient machine compared to New York, but the same can’t be said for Albany or Toronto.
Perhaps the most valuable insight in Zimbardo’s lecture is how he highlights the way in which younger generations are geared to think digitally and thus at a faster pace than their parents and grandparents, who are accustomed to analogue. That every second is precious and waiting is a pain is something I think will only become worse (or better) as time goes by. Soon, it won’t be seconds we’re counting, but microseconds, especially with the advancement of computer technology wherein computers begin to piece together complex patterns that only the human brain can do right now.
Technology doesn’t make things better, it just makes things faster. Technology only makes things better where lack of speed and efficiency in accomplishing a task was the fundamental problem in the first place.
The same fundamental problems exist for humans everywhere. The disparities between the pace of life in the north and south, I think, are ultimately largely a matter of differences in the way in which people have resolved these problems. How they’ve assessed what their needs are and how to go about acquiring them. The same can be said of the conservative vs. liberal model, or of the traditional vs. modern model. Such extremes are only paths and we take a left or a right at any given fork based on what we want or need in any given moment.
I’m sure all of you reading this right now, if I asked you to, could come up with a list of values, beliefs, and practices that you agree with and those you disagree with, and in full assessment of said lists, you’d find that, more than anything, you probably aren’t fully to one side or the other in any of those models I just described.
Some of you may consider yourself pious, religious persons, for instance, yet you don’t dive into the deep end of the pool and live monastically in a convent, eating mush and practicing asceticism. Do you?
Conversely, those of you who abhor religion probably see the value, either from a rational perspective, or otherwise through intuition, that certain rules and morals like “don’t hurt people on purpose without a good reason” are good and necessary and that, whether you’re aware of it or not, society is living and functioning because of such rules and principles.
All things in moderation, including moderation. Your pace should change with the circumstances. When you drive a car, you go one speed in a school zone and another on the highway, and somewhere in between all other times, right? You adapt your pace with the changes in the road, and you adapt your pace of life, and your temporal focus in much the same way.
So which time zone should we live in? Zimbardo seems to favor the future, but I think the present’s where it’s at. When you look out, you see mostly just what is right in front of you in that moment, occasionally glancing to the left and right through your peripherals. If you turn your head, you environment changes, but your anatomy hasn’t changed. You’re still looking at what is directly in front of you in the immediate sense. So I think it must be in life that we remain mostly in the present, while keeping the past and the future in our peripherals.
The past tells us where we came from and how we got to the state we’re in. The future gives us a sense of where we are, or would like to go. But the present just is. And let it be.