Perspective is everything: How do our individual perspectives on time affect our work, health and well-being?

We came across this lecture by psychologist prof. Philip Zimbardo on how our individual perspectives on time affect our work, health and well-being (thank you Emanuele Cuccillato!). His current research on the psychology of time perspective focuses on “the ways in which individuals develop temporal orientations that parcel the flow of personal experience into the mental categories, or time zones, of Past, Present, and Future, and also a Transcendental Future (beliefs about a future life after one’s death).”

He is especially interested in temporal biases in which these learned cognitive categories (Past, Present and Future) are not “balanced” according to situations, contexts and demands, but one or another are utilized excessively or underutilized".

We also found this test you can try to do an inventory of your time perspective on the website where he is promoting his book on the topic:

In your experience, would you say there a relationship between the perspective on time and how decisions are made within the field you work in?

Can you give an example from work you’ve done?

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Professionals’ time

Hi and thanks for the challenge,

I think depending on the contexts within one moves and works in, time is valued differently. I came across this post a while ago which brings up a distinction between the so called Manager’s schedule and Maker’s schedule:

"The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started."

Many of my friends working in corporate environments’ are evaluated in the 9 to 5 framework, and leisure time is almost institutionalized, whereas in areas and environments like Edgeryders’ (where I do community management) or freelancing more generally, what matters is the focus on getting things done in one’s individual time frame. This brings up a lot of questions around hierarchy and values shaping our work culture… It’s a pity the way we use our time is not really a choice for many peers, so what I notice is they often end up constraining their versions of fulfillment and hapiness within the given “box”.

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Learning curves and Latency

Hi all,

I am teaching undergraduate classes in a polytechnic institute. Sometimes I get the chance to observe closely how a student develops over the course of three years. Altogether, it is much more helpful to NOT setting an equal standards and goals for all students alike, but to see where they (each student, individually, that is) are at the beginning of the first year, and then compare it to the point they have reached at the end of the third year. For me, it is by now clear that this is the only feasible (and fair) way to evaluate a student. Within these three years, you see a lot of “latency” time, where, on the surface, nothing much is happening, and it doesn’t make sense to rush people in these latency phases. Comments like “You should know this by now” are not helpful, because they bring upon a feeling of frustration in the student, and the whole “undercurrent” learning process could be in peril.

Obviously, these ways of teaching are not always in line with the official agendas of the institute or the ministry of education. Which makes me wonder why education has all of a sudden become such a competitive thing. It’s almost like putting out the decree that a pregnancy from now on has to be done with in only 5 months.

While it is true that you have to do the hours to learn anything, it doesn’t mean that you will see the fruits of these processes occur at a pre-calculated point of time.

I am a supporter of the slow movement,

not because I want everything to be slow, but because I know that latency and incubation phases are individual and relative to many other factors, and these phases, are, by default, slow.

What you call, Noemi, the schedule of command, is actually a tendency to apply the logic and the pace of machines to human beings, the 24/7 full speed ultimate efficiency kind of thinking that leads to the burned out wreckage we can see all around us.

This is a discussion and a challenge that I’m very interested in, and I hope I can contribute with some of my thoughts/ideas.

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Good teacher perspective

Yes Thomas. It’s a relief to see that some teachers do care about students’ individual learning processes, while in school and uni I was part of a system where you wouldn’t even talk about it. All people cared for were tests and grades, the underlying assumption being that they measure some kind of “performance”, performance at learning fast I might say, with no focus on learning well. That’s not the worse that can happen, I mean from a flawed education system you’d expect it all. As a student, the worse was not knowing how flawed it is to learn to prepare for the future, so one risks ending up a graduate who doesn’t know what they need to learn or to do next. That’s when the ball drops. I think any form of care for students, mentorship or some form of p2p learning can go a long way compensating for that, it sure helped me.

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Many, I mean Many ways to learn something

Fortunately, Noemi, there are so many ways, if you are willing to learn. Mainstream college or uni is flawed, and yes, most of the students and, sadly, most of the teachers, don’t even know how flawed it is. Whereas almost everything has undergone profound changes in the last 100 years, the frontal classroom situation: me teacher here - you students , there, sit quiet and listen, then at the end of the week there will be a multiple choice test - has been left unchanged for the most of us.

I was lucky (well , only after getting my high school degree, and high school was boring, humiliating and, simply, no fun), because I went to Art school, where there were mentorship and p2p learning principles very much established, I guess it has to do with this “maker” attitude.

However, I wanted to say something about the marshmallow test, which I also put in the “flawed” category:

I would have loved to see some of the children react like this:

“Hey Mister, don’t you know that eating two marshmallows is unhealthy? Haven’t your dentist or your nutricioner told you so? I’d rather have none.”


“Mister, why should I trust your word that you’ll be back in a minute? Can you show me a proven track record, that you’ve always come back with another marshmallow in the past?”


“Mister, to be honest, I just waited because I was scared of you. People with moustaches like you have scare me and you would have probably punished me if I had eaten the first marshmallow.”


“Mister, I was so hungry, because I haven’t had any breakfast. I was shaking already, so I thought I better eat the marshmallow right away. Now I feel much better, and can think straight. What was the question?”

What are your thoughts?

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I don’t know if they reported that behavior

I don’t know anything about psychology, but I believe in social determinism to a certain extent (yes, it’s sometimes a cheap excuse for self fulfilling prophecies). So ok, the children could answer anything in theory, but their answer is already conditioned by family relations, early growth, genes etc. Because our social institutions work hand in hand, some of us learn early on to question pre-given choices, to really ask questions, to think outside standardized answers; some aren’t that fortunate. It’s almost like: if you miss the start, your chances are lower and lower as you walk through one door (preschool) to the next (school, high, uni, job market etc).

Anyway, for me, what makes the research results relevant is that you learn about what is at the root of your behavior (or other people’s behavior), and maybe have a better chance at actual choices in your life as an adult. That, before fixing education systems.

PS I took Zimbardo’s test :slight_smile:

Past-negative: 2.90

Past-positive: 3.89

Present-fatalistic: 2.67

Present-hedonistic: 2.60

Future: 4.31

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How long is the present when the future is 10,000 years?

Somehow I wonder what happens with student’s responses, attitudes towards learning, relationships to authority as you point out above …and the perspective on time @ThomasVisCom.

I came across this post about a project to build a nuclear waste storage facility in the Yucca Mountains: “Here we were trying to build a structure that would last longer than the Great Pyramids of Egypt, longer than any man-made structure, longer than any language. When forced to adopt a long view of human existence—when looking back on today from 10,000 years into the future—it’s hard not to view Yucca Mountain in near-mythical terms.”

What do you think, does this have any relationship to what you were pointing out above or had my mind wandered off completely? :slight_smile:

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Assumptions (about future generations and time in general)

Mr. Zimbardo is definitely doing relevant work, but …

he works with some assumptions, that, as we speak/write are losing their validity. The kid with the first -imagined- answer questions if it is actually good or desirable to have more and more of something. For a generation (the generation of Mr. Zimbardo and his fellows) that had lived all their lives believing that scarcity is bad and abundance is good, it is inconceivable, that a future generation would rather have it on the contrary. It also does not take into account the quality of growth. A growth in marshmallows? (or war supplies, or toxic plastics or nuclear power stations, etc) No, thanks! Two fresh yummy apples instead of one? Yes, please!

The second kid is then doing what bankers have stopped doing and what then led to the subprime crisis: He wanted to know about the past behavior of someone he was supposed to trust (give credit). Had the guy at the counter always payed his bills on time? Has he always had a steady job or a steady income? Has he got some savings or is he what they call a NINA- no income no assets - person.

The bankers at some point started to shun these principles. They would go like: What do we know? If a person did not pay his bills in the past it doesn’t mean he will do so in the future. Everything is changing, people have no steady jobs, they have a job today, no job tomorrow, and in a week from now they can win the lottery. Everybody has a right to change and the only thing that matters to us is that he’s a client who lives up to his obligations.

What happened actually was something very “American”, I would say. The past did not matter anymore, only the future. What these people failed (and still fail)  to see is that there is no future without the past. Only the past can show us the behavior of a curve and then we can - more or less accurately - predict where it will go from now. Stock exchange traders are constantly looking at those curves, don’t they?

What brings me to your example, Nadia. 10.000 years is a period of time that nobody dares (or cares) to think about, unless …

Yes, unless you are in charge of dumping nuclear waste somewhere. It’s funny, because I am from a place where this is going to happen now. Salzgitter, Germany has an abandoned Iron ore mine that is now going to be used as a repository - here’s a link to the official state propaganda site that says how safe it all is:

When they started even considering this “endlager” (sounds like endloesung, doesn’t it?) in 1982, I was already participating in the first -mostly violent- protests and now, 32 years later, they have won all the legal battles, and they will implement it. So, there is a notion of my own present: 32 years is a long time in my life. And then there is the mind-boggling idea, like, the next 10.000 years, there will be toxic, radioactive waste right underneath the place where I was born and where I grew up with family and friends.

Of course they say that everything is safe for the next 10.000 years. And here you can see the flaws of supposedly scientific / responsible / official assumptions at its purest.

Authority , those in power - will always tell you that the sun circles around the earth, and that you have to postpone gratification to be successful or that radioactive waste is safe for the next 10.000 years in Salzgitter. Yes, these things are related.

Here’s something I found the other day and it deals with time, trauma, gaming and narratives. Anyone interested?

Think you can weave together these threads into a post?

I think this is going somewhere interesting and meaningful. It would be nice to invite more people into the conversation. Think you can put together an article around 1500 words for the blog? Then we can invite others inside and outside the community to engage with this.


If you meet an expert on the road, kill her? No way, she’s got expertise! Mediatize her!

Do it like uber or airbnb or Huffington Post! That’s the future.

Or better, even: do it like Donatella Versace;

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lost you there :slight_smile: Between German fiefdoms and Versace’s bizarre proposition I lost the thread, help?

Future - Resilience - Diversity

Hi Nadia,

It was sort of a spontaneous, somewhat sarcastic reaction to your blog post “Kill your experts”.

There are many core questions here: Maybe it isn’t so much about “Do we need experts?” If the answer is “No”, then we better kill them, but I think we do need them, but indeed, we have to treat them differently (Which also means we have to treat ourselves differently, since we’re all experts in something).

Then there are the questions about the future. In order to prepare for the future, we want to built up resilience and key to resilience is diversity. If you have a bunch of experts, everyone with some expertise in a special field, now that , as a whole, gives you diversity, right? Or maybe not … only variety. If all these experts don’t talk and interact with each other, there is no diversity, only variety. Or if all these experts only report to some “master”, one level up higher in a hierarchy, that’s not diversity, that’s Mediatization.

Mediatization is a bit like a uniform. You put it on, or better, someone else makes you put it on and you’re temporarily deprived of own will and conscience, and you’ll accept it, sometimes even like it.

Mediatization means you’re giving up you’re own reasoning, but you still have your body and your expertise. You still got your car and you’re driving, but now uber is telling you what to do with your car and your driving expertise. And you feel empowered, because you’re earning some money, but you have lost the ability -and the motivation - to interact with all the other cars and drivers on the road. They’re all competitors now.

Probably uber will then go on and brag about what a diverse company they are : They will put up pictures of a black driver and a chinese one and a caucasian girl (see linkedin or any other global company) on their website and say: look, that’s diversity!

Well , it isn’t.

So, I think it’s important to distinguish false diversity from real diversity. Next question would be: Is real diversity always a good thing?

If I have 5 excellent cooks from 5 different countries and they are cooperating closely and they give each other feedback and they talk and listen to each other and so on,

they can still mess up the whole dish can’t they ? (I mean, they can be very very efficient, but not effective at all)

Do we need a sort of moral / ethical compass (meaningful projects, as you put it) or is that not part of the deal? The experts in a more and more technocratic society shrug it all off: I’m just doing my job, like “I’m a doctor, I don’t care if my patient is called Hitler or Gandhi, I’ll cure them, no matter what.”

We are all using the future already. Everyone does. Some things are programmed, life cycles, biorhythms, etc. So, my -and yours - individual perspective have these things in common. We all know we’ll be hungry around 8 in the evening today, so we’re planning for dinner … : ). If you’re 50 years old now, you’d expect to live some 30 years more, if you’re 30 now, you’d expect some 50 years more. Ok, then you get a cute newborn kitten, and you know, she’s got more or less 15-20 years to live. Then, when she dies after 18 years, you’re sad, even though you knew it would happen, but you rather think: Well, she had come full circle. When an old person dies, it’s sad, but it’s not a tragedy. Tragedy (call it crisis, call it trauma) is something that happens against these expectations, outside of these -natural, biological - cycles. You could say it’s “disruptive”. Now, when everyone wants something disruptive to happen, we have to conclude, that he expects to benefit from this disruption.

When we know that radioactive waste is radioactive for the next 10000 years, it would perhaps be more honest, intellectually, to say: Ok, folks, we don’t know shit about the next 10000 years, but we have reason to believe that at some point, someone will come along with the ability to neutralize radioactivity (that would be the negative form of trauma, call it “miracle”, if you like). If that’s too optimistic, whishful thinking, they could say: At some point within the next 10000 years, people will be happy to die young, the world is hot and crowded and living has become unbearable, and everyone who endures more than 20 years will be looked upon with pity. (When we look at the past, dying prematurely wasn’t always considered a bad thing, for example when it happened in military service, fighting for your home country, or when you were one of the chosen human sacrifices in an aztec ritual).To some degree, this is happening already: Lately, I was walking around in Lisbon and some outdoor ads caught my attention. They depicted young people with no hair (supposedly cancer patients) who were cheerful and laughing. (look at the link below) I thought, "well if someone has cancer and is happy, that’s great, for him. Why make it an advertising campaign? Are we being prepared for the future where cancer is so common that we better start looking at it like the new normal? Like having a flu?

Any thoughts?

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hey guys, came across this post while searching for something else - maybe it is relevant for EarthOs stuff @noemi @alberto @ilaria ping @inge

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Hi Nadia,

let me know more about the project.

I have written an article lately for a book that will come out in Portuguese.

The title is “O futuro de quase tudo”. The future of almost everything.

It’s about different future scenarios and general assumptions about the future.

Hope at some point we manage to work together on something.

Cheers, Thomas

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