Jan 22, 2020–I’m convinced we are a society stratified not by age, wealth, position, or education, but by our perception of time.

There are two tribes: those who are “on time,” and those who view time as a malleable construct. I call them On-timers and Non-timers.

If you could visualize how each experiences time, on one side would be digital clocks, coolly clicking off the seconds until the next appointment. On the other side are Salvador Dali’s clocks, draped casually over treeless branches, dripping languorously onto the desert sand.

I first detected this pattern while running adult education classes. On-timers would show up 10 minutes early, find the location of the classroom and restrooms, select their preferred seat, lay out pens and paper, and wait for the teacher.

Non-timers arrived 10 minutes late. They burst into the building, trailing loose papers, frantically asking where to go while ranting about traffic, lack of parking, or bad directions.

Most amusing to me is that members of either group have no understanding about why members of the other group can’t see the shortcomings in their own behavior.

Why do you always make us wait, ask the on-timers.

Why are you so uptight about everything, ask the non-timers.

I believe their minds are wired differently.

Say an event begins at 9:00 a.m. You live 10 minutes away.

The non-timer thinks, I’m 10 minutes away, I’ll leave at 10 minutes to 9:00.

The on-timer thinks, I’m 10 minutes away, but I also need to allow time to:

  • Walk from front door to car–1 min
  • Adjust seat belt and maneuver car from drive into traffic­–2 minutes
  • Find parking/drop off spot–2 minutes
  • Walk into building–2 minutes
  • Find room and get settled–3 minutes
  • Build in a cushion for the unexpected–5 minutes

That adds up to a 10-minute trip taking 25 minutes for an on-timer. Time wasted, according to a non-timer, who keeps trying to bend the space-time continuum and leave at 8:50, week after week, convinced one day they will beat the clock.

Another apt example is how the two groups approach a holiday. The on-timers have all their Christmas gift bought and wrapped weeks before the big day. The non-timers seem surprised every year when Christmas arrives on December 25.

Being late is more than a matter of “not having enough time.” Every year, when the clocks add an extra hour, you would think employees who are uually 10 minutes late would show up early. Yet, even on that first Monday, they still come in 10 minutes after the hour. Where, on-timers wonder, did those extra 60 minutes go?

Perhaps non-timers embrace Oscar Wilde’s observation, “Punctuality is the thief of time.” They have better things to do with their bonus time than arriving early.

I don’t pretend to understand these two views of reality. I do know it is not a cultural thing. Or a gender thing. It’s a random trick of the universe to hand out different constructs of time to different individuals. It is a malicious trick of the universe to always throw them together, creating the paradox: How can two people occupying the same space not be in the same time zone?