A Geography of Time: A Review
By Baruti KMT
Sunday, 31 December 2006 - 12:00 PM
A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a
Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit
Differently (Paperback), by Robert Levine Basic Books; New Ed edition, 1998, 288pp.
Robert Levine, discusses time as few may have
previously considered it in their daily pursuits. Through personal
experience, via a sabbatical, Levine offers keen insights into the
rhythms of life as experienced by peoples and places the world over.
Offering "tempo" and what he calls "clock time" and "event time," as
points of departure in an analysis of his and his colleagues
observations, Levine successfully illustrates how not only "personality
types" impact a region, but also how the region impacts the personality
as well; thus revealing the symbiotic relationship between the person
or persons and place or places respectively.
By traversing not only the globe, but the subject of time as well,
Levine has allowed readers to come closer to understanding their world
and those of others with whom they come in contact. Of his main points,
Levine successfully argues that we are oriented to clock-time,
event-time, or "multitemporality," i.e., psychological androgyny. [Of
this in between time and state of mind, Levine shows that we are better
served in such a space than that of being exclusively in one or the
other of either clock or event time; especially as it relates to our
social, physical and psychological well being.]
Two chapters considered interesting by this reviewer are chapters
one and ten. Due to the foundation established in chapter one regarding
"tempo," and the last wherein Levine offers practical solutions to
balance our activities and potentially lead healthier and happier
lives, A Geography of Time, is not only a delightful read, it is also
enormously illuminating. By providing an approachable perspective for
consideration, as it relates to human activity and interaction, i.e.,
tempo, coupled with personal and collegial anecdotes, Levine has
broached the subject of the relativity of time and pace with
considerable depth and admirable precision.
In chapter one, "Tempo: The Speed of Life," Levine shows how
humans, despite best efforts of social constructionists, still "march
to the beat of different drummers." Borrowing from the field of music,
the element of tempo, Levine notices, along with colleagues who have
both traveled and lived in other countries, that not only do people
have different rhythms in locales the world over, but that there seem
to be distinguishable characteristics of and between the places as
well. In asking the question, "what characteristics of places and
cultures make them faster or slower?" Levine posits two elements for
consideration: "economic well-being" and "degree of industrialization."
With these elements in mind, Levine, in later chapters, develops some
rather interesting and amusing ways to determine not only people's
level of helpfulness in a specific locale, but also the pace of locales
In chapter ten, "Minding your time, Timing your Mind," Levine
successfully answers the "so what?" question. By illustrating that
there are significant and avoidable consequences to certain tempos; he
offers practical suggestions for a new way of not only interacting with
members from different locales, but also for simply living. In coupling
"lessons" learned in chapter nine, with ideas regarding middle-time in
chapter ten, readers will come away from Levin's work with a clearer
understanding not only themselves as "paced" individuals, but also how
pace affects others in their midst. With this newfound knowledge, if
put into practice, readers are sure to be in a better mental space for
having been so informed.
As with any work, it has both its high and low points. With
Levine's A Geography of Time, there are a few that deserve mention.
However, for the sake of space and time, I will relegate my comments to
chapters with the most "lows." That being said, chapters three and
seven: "A Brief History of Clock Time," and "Health, Wealth, happiness,
and Charity" respectively deserve my attention in this regard.
In chapter three, Levine discusses the "history of clock time," but
omits some important elements for consideration. Having presented good
historical information regarding the emergence of both watches and time
zones in America, with the latter having ties to the railroad industry,
it would have been illuminating to understand more about the
socialization process of convincing the mass of people to accept this
new way of thinking about the day. Another missed opportunity is found
in the lack of in-depth discussion surrounding the carving up of the
day into units of time, i.e., the twenty-four hour period and the
sixty-minute hour. Perhaps a discussion of this element of the social
construction of time would have lent more meat to a good beginning to
the question of time and its social meaning.
Additionally, given his discussions of "time zones," it would have
been equally revealing to read of the need for the creation of
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), as it relates to globalization and
economics. Not to mention the politics surrounding the choice of
Greenwich as the focal point around which time has been socially
constructed. Given that the Giza Plateau in Egypt is the geographical
center of the pre-plate tectonic shifting of the earth's land mass,
which for logical reasons seems a truer fit for the center of a
"time-line," perhaps a discussion of some of the then discussions
surrounding this event and its consequences, both pro and con, would
have been a more just treatment of not only time in America, but around
the globe as well; all of which serve as social tethers to and for
time, clocks, watches, and socialization alike.
In chapter seven, while discussing "health, wealth, happiness, and
charity," Levine merely makes allusion to that intangible something
that gives a place its certain "feeling." In omitting this element of
the place, Levine opts not to reveal the evident, but intangible
components of a respective locale. Beyond stating, "our data strongly
support the notion that cities, too, can be Type A" (as in
personality). Perhaps it is in his "silence" on this subject that one
may find some substance for consideration. For him with eyes and ears,
this element is quite revealing.
Overall, Levine's work is compelling in that it reveals elements of
our daily lives that provide clues as to how we have come to be that
which we are: either a clock-time or event-time person, or some
"androgynous" realization of the best of both worlds. In presenting
this work, Levine has allowed for a clearer understanding of not only
other locales around the world, their paces and people, but also those
closer to home as well. In so doing, he has given the traveler and
non-traveler alike, an opportunity to broaden their perspective on
different cultures and potentially foster an even greater understanding
of new peoples and societies with their time and pace peculiarities.
Should the ideas be both understood and employed by readers, a level of
respect will not only emerge for different cultures, but a more
profound understanding of one's own culture as well; for this and many
other reasons Levine's work should be praised.
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