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More at the same time

The first people only followed their feelings, like all other animals do. If they were hungry, they went to look for food. If they were sleepy, they went to look for a place to sleep. If they felt like having sex, then oh well… With the development of civilization, and its complex rules to make sure we know what we can expect from one another, rationality took its chance. And we started to think about how we could do things better.

Edward Hall in his book ‘Beyond Culture’ describes the developments of this culture characteristic he calls M-Time: Mono chromic time. This stands or ‘one task at a time’, and leads to making agreements, planning, and executing them step by step. M-Time means planning meetings, reserve rooms, and closed doors during the meeting. There is no room for disturbing. The motto is: one thing at a time. The M-Time concept into the finest details is part of the western cultures. Because of this concept the western countries efficiently developed into becoming world powers, and the concept was embedded into the whole culture as ‘best practice’. As a result M-Time thinking is now present in almost everything.

Opposite of M-Time is P-Time. P-Time stands for poly chronic time. In P-Time many things can happen at the same time. People in P-Time cultures, like Turks and Arabs, are almost continuously connected to various people. At a counter in a P-Time country there is no such thing as ‘the first in line’. Everybody is standing there at the same time. Meanwhile, business is taken care of. Waiting, having fun and working go perfectly together here.

Hall further states: “Monochronic time is arbitrary and imposed; that is, learned. Because it is so thoroughly integrated into our culture, it is treated as though it were the only natural and ‘logical’ way of organizing life. Yet it is not inherent in man’s own rhythms and creative drives, nor is it existential in nature”

So M-Time thinking is learned, and P-Time best fits human nature. The modern western M-time person almost completely lives mono chronic. Even when television was introduced, people sat on the couch, watched, and didn’t do anything else at the same time. Since the introduction of e-mail and text messaging something seems to fundamentally change. Young people are sending text messages to indicate the subject of MSN is going to change. Meanwhile, there is TV in the background, the radio is on, and the telephone rings. At discussion forums nobody has the last word, discussions are never-ending, or conversations end totally unpredicted. Besides, young people very quickly filter relevance out of three thousand commercial messages a day: they grew up with them. At the office the e-mails rush by, the customer calls, a friend sends a text message, there is an Instant Message of a colleague. The amount of impulses a person needs to manoeuvre through increases rapidly. And as if that in itself is not enough, people themselves get themselves into many more new impulses. We move once every seven years, and change jobs every four years. Adolescents are used to it. They grew up in a context with lots of room to try all different kinds of things. Why read a manual? Just push that button and look what happens. Try quickly, as there is not much time.

It looks like young people are constantly hyper tasking, and that seems to be very unhealthy. Reality is more subtle though. Humans are designed for hyper tasking: to do more things at the same time. Western cultures now just partly go back from M-Time to P-Time, the time vision that is closest to human nature. They leave structures and planning to technology. In the years to come people will live more in the moment, they will be more impulsive and more creative. Where technology adapts to people, people don’t have to adapt to technology any more. People therefore will start behaving more natural, they can let themselves go. Be authentic, so you wish. This trend is as clear as it can be.

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