December 12, 2004

The Importance of Time

Ian at Truck and Barter has an interesting observation on Time and Timeliness and the importance of this in economic development: bq. Timeliness important to development? Here's a random question inspired by a conversation with coworkers: does a "culture" of time-sensitivity have anything to do with economic progress? bq. After travelling a fair number of countries in Africa for a project, a coworker returned with stories about "meetings" that were the result of endless tracking down of people in government buildings that did not ever schedule anything. Time and again, secretaries would tell them that they don't schedule meetings, and that the best way to catch the person of interest was simply to talk to them on their way somewhere, or find them in their office. Meanwhile, I recently left school, where there were a fair number of students from Latin America, South America, and Mexico. Despite being among the best students in the class, there was a disctinct difference in their concept of time. From class times to meeting times to parties (which were, again, the best thrown at the school), preset times was clearly ignored. And from one of these students I learned that, at least in some countries, it is customary to have to ask someone three times to a function/event/meeting before the invitation is considered "real." And you need to hear a positive reply all three times to believe the person will show up. Anything less, and it's not binding. bq. Clearly, this paints with an awfully wide brush, and I mean to cast no aspersions. But from not simply my own observations but the comments of native people, there seems to be a distinct difference in how various parts of the world consider the issue of "timing" (as opposed to the passage of time). I can't help but notice that those areas with a less strict adherence to this "timing" also seem to correspond to less developed parts of the world; Africa, in specific. Though it's another stereotype (which I am uncomfortable about, but have no data at hand), compare this to the notion of German and Swedish punctuality. bq. Might there be some correlation between productivity and timing/timeliness, and thus perhaps development? What might be a good way to measure something like adherence to schedules? (And, while I'm asking, am I heading down a well-trod road that I don't know about?) Very interesting thought... I always looked at it as a matter of respect. If I ask to see someone and they schedule an appointment with me, I'm showing huge disrespect if I do not show up on time. A slap in the face. By the same token, if someone wants to see me, I will find out what time works well for them, make an appointment and be there. Posted by DaveH at December 12, 2004 8:58 PM