You’ll notice, readers, that this post was published exactly at 9:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. This is partly because I want to avoid Evan’s routine beatings as punishment for tardiness, and mostly because you, as an overwhelmingly Western audience, expect everything to be exactly on time.
Now if you were all mostly from Bolivia, or Syria, or Morocco, or Thailand, chances are that you wouldn’t care so much. After all, 9:00 in the morning is really more of an approximation than anything else, right?
Now anyone who’s spent time overseas at all can probably attest to this. Punctuality is, more than anything else, a Western concept not usually observed by folks living in other cultures. We tend to simplify this as simply an East-West quirk, but I think it goes deeper than that. Here and now I’d like to submit the counter-theory that this all boils down to not East-vs-West but Industrialized-vs-Agricultural.
Take a look at all the countries we associate with this “lateness”:
The Phillipines, mostly agricultural; Mexico, mostly agricultural; pretty much every single African nation- you guessed it- agricultural. Heck, there’s even an entire Wikipedia article devoted to the subject of “African Time“.
Alright, now let’s reverse the process and look at countries we do associate with punctuality:
America, heavily industrialized; the UK, heavily industrialized; Germany’s very image is based largely upon their stereotype has utterly punctual and highly mechanical.
Again, I submit the two go hand in hand.
Think about the implications of a factory society- it’s all about production. Time is money. Work begins at eight on the dot, lunch will happen from 12:00 to 12:30 and not a second later. You go back to work until 4:00, not a moment earlier. Everything is about pumping out as much ______ as you can within a given time frame to force down prices and saturate the market with your products. It’s the nature of an industrialized Capitalist society.
Now let’s consider a farming or fishing society. Everything related to life happens in terms of seasons, not hours, and there’s so much more that’s simply outside your realm of control. I can cast my lines out into the river, but the fish are going to bite only whenever they bite.
I’m not trying to portray farming as easy– it’s not- but there do come times when your work is simply “accomplished”. Nothing left for it but to wait and let the sun and rain take their course. It strikes me that this far more long-term, “it’ll happen when it happens” mentality would result directly in this more “lax” understanding of punctuality among non-industrialized countries.
Of course, this doesn’t just shift over cultures but across generations as well. One of the newest developments in the sphere of work accompanying the millennial generation is this seeming return to “project-based” tasks. You go in to work, you’re given a job to do, and whether it takes you two hours or twelve to complete is irrelevant to the boss just so long as it gets done. It’s part of the reason you can see plenty of businesses, especially those headed up by or seeking to employ younger folks create work spaces tending to look more like McDonald’s fun-houses than rows of cubicles.
Older generations seem simply unable to get this concept, and again, I think it goes back to industrialization.
Once upon a time in the West, factory work was far more common than today (where we have our industrial work outsourced to 3rd world sweatshops).Your value, your pay, your survival was all linked to your ability to produce, and the only way to produce was to put to your nose to the grindstone and hash out more and more each day.
Technology’s done a lot to change that.
The data entry, filing, and copying that once took an entire floor of clerical workers to accomplish can now be done in the space of a few hours by one guy with a computer- if even that.
Yet that association so often does not carry over the generational gap. If someone from the 50s, 60s, or even 70s sees you simply lounging around, the assumption is going to be that you’re not doing your work, rather than you having finished the brunt of it three hours ago. We could probably branch off into a whole discussion of post-scarcity economics, futurism, and the nature of our work, but let’s stay on target here.
So what does this mean for us?
Well, it goes a little way to explain the miscommunication across the generational divide- why young people get called lazy and older folks get called inefficient. It helps us understand a bit about ourselves and our relation to technology, but we still have a long way to go here. With production becoming increasingly easier, the retirement age rising, and entirely new industries emerging, much of what still lies ahead of us has yet to be discovered.
That’s what I’ve got, people- thank you for your time.