Overview

“Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires.”- Charles Caleb Colton

The idea of time is a very broad and important concept that impacts every culture through out the world. What is time? Dictionary.com has twenty-six definitions for the noun “time.” The most common definition is “a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

There are many questions that researchers attempt to answer in regards to the perception of time across cultures. They look at how our perception of time effects our behavior and actions. What happens to behavior when time is viewed as open ended rather than limited and vice versa? How does our perception of time influence our personal relationships? (Cartensen et al., 1999) Researchers look at how much each culture emphasize the three stages of time (past, present, and future), and how that influences behavior and beliefs (Block and Buggie, 1996) . They compare many different groups – perception of time in the young versus the elderly, in collectivist cultures versus individualist, in poor countries versus rich, in cities versus rural areas.

There is a saying that goes, “time is money.” Time is considered a commodity or resource in some cultures and can be very valuable (Stix, 2006). Researchers look at the value of time as a commodity for sale, this idea varies between cultures. Our perception of time influences how hard we work and how we arrange our lives. Work can influence how much we value personal or “free” time. The pace with which we carry on our lives varies based on our perception of time.

Clearly the idea of time impacts our lives and our cultures greatly. The broad concept of time, its many interpretations, the beliefs about it, and how it impacts our behavior contributes to a wide variety of avenues for researchers to pursue.

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