"A Geography of Time" is an almost-excellent study of perception of time, and how this perception is affected by culture and location. A new vocabulary is introduced to the reader, along with a host of new ideas about time, including "event time," "natural time," and the familiar "clock time." The author's research is enlightening and challenging.
The concepts are easy to absorb, and the subject is well-researched and documented. I have no doubt that Levine's work is strong. Some of the work involves providing evidence for well-known concepts, such as bigger cities have a faster pace than smaller cities. Interesting correlations are drawn between the pace of a location and the accuracy of it's timepieces. I found the concept of being able to train oneself to elongate and condense time perception to be particularly interesting, such as in the case of a martial artist who moves fast by forcing an opponent to appear to move slow. Other interesting tidbits include the "contradiction of Japan," which shows that an ultra-fast paced life can be balanced out with cultural rules to prevent aggression, and how a slow-paced city is not necessarily kinder than a fast-paced city.
The reason why "A Geography of Time" is only almost-excellent is due to the author's skills as a writer. Ideas are not presented in a structured manner, information is redundantly repeated and personal opinions are freely mixed with research and evidence. Some difficult concepts, such as Einstein's time dilatation in Special Relativity are introduced as window dressing for what amounts to a sociological subject. A brief history of the introduction of clocks in America is included. The last chapter is almost a "self help" opinion piece by the author, on how to use knowledge of time to greatest advantage.
All in all, while the research is interesting and the concepts are worth reading, the book would have benefited from a tighter focus on the author's part. The book wander's lazily from concept to concept, and hurts the material overall. All in all, worth reading and enjoyable, but falling just short of the mark.
on October 20, 2004
A Geography of Time, by 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 observed.
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.
on August 17, 2005
I was enjoying this book right up until the author felt the need to make this nutty comparison to Brazilians always being late:
"There is a practice in many Arab cultures whereby a young woman who is caught being intimate with a man she is not married to is sometimes murdered by her brothers. To Westerners, this is uncivilized behavior. But the brother is committed to protecting the role of an important institution-the family-in the social pattern. The temporal behavior of important Brazilians must, similarly , be understood as part of a larger pattern."
Okay Mr. Levine. There are healthy doses of cultural relativism and and then there is, like, femicide.
I love it when academics make these kinds of statements, declaring, essentially, that their brainy assertions are more important than people's (and usually women's) lives.
I mean, he has to use the Arab males murdering female kin example because that really helps him make his point; lets him show how impartial he is.
But this reveals the flaw that runs through the entire book. Other than a brief chapter on how power is asserted through making others wait, Levine barely touches on the issue of power, and thus,he can conveniently ignore the female question in all of his observations of other cultures and use murdered women as a prop to support his anthropology-lite observations of tardy Brazilians.
Levine's assertions about Japan are so horrifically and stupidly misguided as to be completely irrelevant. It is obvious that he saw and understood little of the country from his descriptions of stays in nice hotels, visits to tea houses, hot springs, and nightly bottles of Sapporo. Having lived in Tokyo for 13 years I can say that his observations are utterly ridiculous and shallow.
He merely parrots whatever he's been told by the propaganda machine that works keeps everyone in their place there. Among the assertions made by Levine are these tired old gems.
Japanese people don't like taking holidays.
Japanese people aren't suffering when their lives and relationships are destroyed, or just never allowed to grow, due to ridiculously long work hours.
Japanese people are the exception to the rule. All other people on earth are unhappy when their time and lives are wasted for the corporation, but Japanese people are somehow "special" and therefore we should let the corporate machine go ahead and keep them miserable.
His ludicrous section on Japanese meetings is so off the mark,he may as well have been basing his observations on the Orange County tennis club.
He asserts that while Japanese meetings do take a ridiculous amount of time...
It's okay for people to get up and leave the meeting (no one will hold it against them, he writes).
People can fall asleep in the meeting.
People can get up and get a cup of coffee during the meeting.
I don't know how many of these meetings Mr. Levine has suffered through, but obviously not many-he was too busy going to "tea shops" and "sitting next to Buddhas"-but having suffered through so many of those meetings myself, having watched my friends in Japan suffer (without getting coffee or falling asleep I might add) from wasted hours of life gone to deciding the color of buttons on a school uniform, or the wording of a table of contents, I can safely shake my head at this garbage.
What is most interesting though, is that Levine, admits to his minder. Instead of trusting his own observations here, Levine admits that like a good little honorary member of the Chrysanthemum Club he's allowed his minders to tamper with the truth:"Yoneda wrote because he was concerned (with good reason I might add) about the superficiality of my understanding of Japanese attitudes toward time."
And isn't that what always happens when someone who doesn't know the system is close to saying something less than flattering about Japan. Wasn't the Dutch government, after all, told to stop Karel Van Wolferen from speaking his mind? Levine's chapter on Japan is proof of business as usual.
While some of this book was interesting, it really shows how far off the mark some of these scholars, who either have a vested interest in asserting their own versions of foreign cultures, or the versions given to them by those who pay for their plane tickets and hotel rooms, are from
accurate observations of the places they explore.