RSA ANIMATE: The Secret Powers of Time

Renowned psychologist Professor Philip Zimbardo explains how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being.

This RSA Animate was taken from a lecture given as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. The RSA is an Enlightenment-founded charity, and is dedicated to driving social change and spreading world-changing ideas.

Follow the RSA on Twitter:
Like the RSA on Facebook:
Listen to RSA podcasts:
See RSA Events behind the scenes:

This audio has been edited from the original event by Becca Pyne. Series produced by Abi Stephenson, RSA. Animation by Cognitive Media.


Add Yours →

There's something in it… The very fact we seek too watch a 10min material rather than reading the book. I'm glad I was born before the social media and mobile phones were invented. @Non existence of future tense in Sicilian dialect vide Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Also predestination concept stretching back to St. Augustin(?) and elaborated on in Weber's Protestant ethics…

Great talk, but I think he is wrong in attributing the variance in different countries' paces of life to inherent cultural values alone. Economic factors and the way that the masses are socialized/brainwashed by the ruling class in a given country are the major factors IMO. People walk fast, take little time for meals, socialize and spend time with family less, and so on, mainly because in their society they are driven to by necessity, and are indoctrinated with the belief that if they don't spend their time renting themselves, doing work that they don't particularly like, or (if they're privileged with rare access to capital) finding ways to accumulate more and more wealth, that they're bad people who lack initiative and don't care about their lives, and that they ultimately will deserve to end up on the steeets or in poverty (which is a realistic fear in those neoliberal capitalist economies). They choose to spend a hypothetical 8th day of the week working, because they know that an 8th day of work could be the difference between having some minimal stability (or even a slightly more decent standard of living) versus teetering on the poverty line (as almost half of people in America, the richest country in the world, do). I also think people largely escape through present-oriented hedonism for this reason– they have few prospects for the future, and they know that, and between that lack of motivation in a horrible system and their very real anxieties, fears, and depression about their circumstances, life becomes about dulling or escaping those stressors and somehow making yourself functional from one day to the next so that you can reproduce your ability to spend all your time working at a job you hate so that you (and your kids or spouse if you have them) don't go hungry. 
I would bet that the children of the upper-middle and upper class tend to be more future, because they do have prospects and reasons to be hopeful. This is probably less true now, since the 2008 collapse, the concurrent restructuring of the economy, and the imposition of neoliberalism in the First World, because now even if you're wealthy and fortunate enough to go to college, you have probably caught on (thanks in part to Occupying Wall Street) to the reality that awaits you: that there aren't enough professional jobs, that even if you take the majors that people consider "responsible" and "career-oriented," even if you go to grad school, it's still entirely possible that you'll end up taking your advanced degrees and having to take a job as a barista or a waitress rather than a doctor or a chemist, because neoliberal capitalism is not providing opportunities enough even for the elite. Which of course means that the rest of the workforce are put in an even tighter bind, because now to get a shitty job as a barista or a waitress, they have to compete with applicants who have all kinds of advanced degrees, internships, years of experience, etc..
My point is that we are shaped by the social relations imposed on us by the socioeconomic system in which we live and the ideologies we're indoctrinated with, and that these time-personality types are not just the results of some arbitrary cultural peculiarities– they have real causes and real outcomes, and if we want better outcomes we need to examine what kind of systems are causing our problems. To me, the answer seems very clear. Capitalism means most people will be overworked; overstressed; anxious and afraid of the future, rather than hopeful and in a state-of-mind where they can plan. Their pace of life will be rapid, because they're trying to live like cogs in a profit-driven machine (a corporation) rather than independent human beings whose quality of life has value– not because they have low self-worth, but because they are right that if they don't accept it and live that way, they'll end up in poverty. We've reached a kind of dystopian world that is a combination of 1984 (with mass surveillance, militarized police, totalitarian ethics, endless war against fabricated threats, global empire, etc.) and A Brave New World (a brainwashed consumer-oriented society, mass hedonism as a palliative to cover up our lack of control over our own lives and institution, the superficial appearance of freedom but without substantive power over our lives)… And we've been convinced to believe that this condition is "free," "democratic…" I don't think people accept the pretense that it's "just" anymore, and minorities like black people and women certainly don't have to be told that it isn't "fair," but I think a lot of people do still imagine it to be "meritocratic," even when people born into wealth have very obvious, very extreme advantages and people born into poverty have almost no chance of achieving the same kind of success (or even reaching middle class normality). I think we need to shed our illusions about this system and start thinking about alternatives before it's too late. Theories exist and alternatives have performed admirably in the past; council communism, communalism, systems of radical democracy based on syndicalism and anarchism. One such experiment, Rojava (in Syrian Kurdistan) is doing remarkably well, even under siege (from ISIS, Erdogan's Turkey, and Assad's Syria). Their social revolution has transformed the lives of their people– women have an equal voice in government and in the military. Direct democracy is functioning. A revolution based on anarchist principles (opposing the state, capitalism, and patriarchy) is succeeding without the need for despotic authoritarianism (as the 20th century Leninist left always claimed was necessary). These are the kinds of ideas and institutional structures we could use as the inspiration and example for a far better system in the West– one which truly embraces democracy, which rejects neither egalitarianism nor individualism, and which I think could slow down our pace of life while giving us the stability and hope to be more future-oriented.

I can't say people are either right or wrong in respect to time. All I can say is what is the pace that works best for that person given their life circumstances. I know that my perspective of time has changed throughout my life and I now value a slower pace, whereareas in the past I couldn't even stand in a grocery store without being upset when someone was in my way trying to make a decision. Giving your time is very different than someone taking your time.

Very good video!!! This is an invitation to see an artist theory on the nature of time as a universal process of energy exchange with an emergent future relative to the atoms
of the periodic table (us). In this theory ‘time’ is a creative process not just a process of decay or entropy. In such a theory the Planck's constant ħ= h/2π is a constant of action in the process that forms the continuum of time. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle ∆×∆p×≥h/4π represents the same uncertainty we have with any future event with the future unfolding photon by photon with each new photon electron coupling
or dipole moment

I completely agree with this, but when u look at it from their perspective… They want to raise people who are not thinking with their own head, who sit and do what their told to, makes it easier to control, right? Like a bunch of sheeps. I do strongly believe that we can break this system together tho, and make it into something amazing for the next generations, image the world with creative, happy people who have found jobs that they love…. Seems great, eh? Well… We keep spreading all those ideas and facts, now it's time to achieve all that, and I do think we are on the right way!

I think that I would be pretty future oriented, but it makes sense to not wear wrist watches. It being single function devices is a ok reason but more importantly we have mobiles now! why wear it? Fashion? we decide what is fashion, fashion should be based on utility imo

Anyway waiting, I hate waiting too, but thats because that time that you could potentially spend on something useful, learn something, listen to music, ANYTHING. but imagine just standing in a line for an hour. If you don't do anything, that hours a waste.

But thankfully we can imagine, we can day dream, so really that time cant be wasted.

Oh yeah family dinners are Super important. Guys we need more of those.

I think it's ludicrous to say there cannot be family values without family dinners. Families can do many other things as a whole, and to apply your barometer as the only one is preposterous.

But societies are never truly homogeneous, especially in today's global world. Not everyone thinks the same. And taking average doesn't really present the whole picture or even the truthful picture.

So… we should change the educational system. It is a little bit difficult in some places. But why not introducing games and such in schools…. Hmmm… how much time did I spend thinking something that didn't help at all…. whatever It will just keep playing my Rpg.😜

and to make any decision in life one must always be in the present, the longer you take to make a decision shows how much consideration is being spent of the future or past, and one enjoys the fruits of the present even longer

Now this has nothing to do with the video and you can skip if you want,
I feel like life itself is just a concept of the fabric of time, i keep having these ideas of what happens after death and i just feel like life is just a dream that people have in purgatory. I feel that once you die you are left in the world with a void in your life until you get to purgatory

Leave a Reply