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Monochronic Time: The Western Way of Doing Things
A watch can help you keep track of your schedule, though some would argue there’s no need to keep track at all. Check out Groupon’s lowdown on a different way to look at time.
“Time is money.” Credited to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, this idiom reflects the relatively unique way that Americans think of time. In many Western cultures—particularly the United States and Northern Europe—time is considered tangible, a commodity measured in the completion of tasks or by the hands of a clock. This supposition is often taken for granted by people who live and die by schedules, appointments, and deadlines—in short, those who operate in monochronic time.
More than a few linear years after Dr. Franklin’s aphorism, anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term “monochronic” in his 1959 work The Silent Language, which explores the ways in which different cultures view the passage of time. According to Hall, monochronic cultures view time as a linear progression, in which the completion of a singular task—attending an important meeting, say, or eating the most hard-boiled eggs in one hour—is held in the highest regard. Conversely, polychronic cultures—found in parts of the Pacific islands, the Middle East, and Latin America—pay less attention to finite time restrictions, preferring to juggle numerous tasks at once and focus on maintaining interpersonal relationships rather than sticking to a set schedule.
While Hall’s seminal work was written through the lens of cultural anthropology, today his concepts are most often invoked in the world of international relations, where companies are always conducting business across temporal lines. To a monochrome, time is inflexible; to a polychrome, it’s fluid. Acknowledging and respecting these cultural differences can help people avoid misunderstandings about punctuality or why the hotel televisions don’t always air Frasier exactly at 8 o’clock.