I’ve been thinking quite a bit about time recently: about how it seems to slow and speed; about how to utilise it as a medium; about memory and future memory; and about how people experience moments and experiences in different ways.
In my late teens I lived in Brazil and part of the acclimatization was getting used to a totally different time scale: Social time, one of the silent languages of a culture. What was once familiar and comfortable became unfamiliar and wrong. Notions of ‘tomorrowness’, the looseness of social meeting times and time appropriateness were all challenging to me. It did me the world of good to fundamentally understand that everyone’s internal metronome ticks differently.
It might have helped me greatly to have had access to the wonderful video above. In it Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world.
What we have discovered in 30 years of research is that there are six main time zones that people live in: two focus on the past, two focus on the present, two focus on the future.
He goes on to segment them into:
- Past positive: focus is on the “good old days”, past successes, nostalgia, etc.
- Past negative: focus on regret, failure, all the things that went wrong
- Present hedonistic: living in the moment for pleasure and avoiding pain, seek novelty and sensation
- Present fatalism: life is governed by outside forces, “it doesn’t pay to plan”
- Future: focus is on learning to work rather than play
- Transcendental Future: life begins after the death of the mortal body
He notes that we all divide our experience into time categories; the difference is simply how. When you’re speaking with someone he or she might be thinking about past experiences, and ignoring the present. You might be doing a cost-benefit analysis and thinking about the future. Are you Past-Positive or a “Transcendental” Future-oriented person? Find out by taking his Time Perspective Inventory, then watch last year’s TED talk on the secret power of time.
Drawn by Andrew Park of Cognitive Media.
(I should note the listing of the 6 time zones is Jason Kottke’s.)
Fun fact: Zimbardo conducted the famous Stanford prison experiment in 1971
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