Beyond 9 to 5: your life in time

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Beyond 9 to 5: your life in time. By Sarah Norgate. Orion Books. Pounds 16.99

Comedian Peter Kay does a routine about the way people make absurd but instantly recognisable hand gestures, such as the one that signals, "Phone! You're wanted on the phone!" or the universal hand wobble that says, "Want a drink?" The one that gets most laughs, though, is the double-reaching flourish that accompanies, "Going to Ibiza. Not next week, t' week after."

The gesture points forward. Where else? Well, if you were a member of the Peruvian Aymara people, you'd reach behind you, because, as Sarah Norgate tells us, "Aymaran children gesture in front of them to talk about the past, and behind their backs to refer to the future. These stark divergences show both how arbitrary our relationships with time are and how influential culture is in how we treat it."

That's just one revelation in this fascinating book. Norgate, a lecturer in psychology, tells us that industrialised countries work to "clock time", where "relationships with colleagues are lower in priority than the task in hand. Latin American and Mediterranean people, however, work to "event time", meaning, basically, that the restaurant closes when everybody's gone home.

The message here is the wise use of time for work, life and sleep, and there's a sobering account of the savage timetable worked by child labourers in the developing world.

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