On time or late? It's a cultural debate : Shots - Health News People who lose track of time aren't rude, researchers say — they may just be listening to their inner timekeeper instead of an external clock. Living according to "event time" has its benefits.

In praise of being late: The upside of spurning the clock

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The device you're using to listen to us right now can probably tell you what time it is. So does knowing the time help you orient your day? Or could you just not care less? Next in our science series, "Finding Time," Pien Huang finds advantages to getting off of clock time. And for her, it is personal.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: I'm a person who's chronically late. I've always just missed the metro. Or I'll show up at your house 20 - really 30 - minutes later than I meant to. It's not on purpose. I just lose track of time. And if you're like me, you might have heard what I've been hearing from friends and from partners my whole life. I'm being disrespectful. I'm not valuing their time. But what if their perspective is part of the problem?

IRMA MCCLAURIN: It's not disrespectful. I don't think it's disrespectful, but that's what I've been told. And somehow you are valued according to how timely you are.

HUANG: Irma McClaurin is an anthropologist and founder of the Black Feminist Archive at the University of Massachusetts. And she says that being on time is a social value that people made up.

MCCLAURIN: It was designed after the Industrial Revolution, when they started doing assembly lines. And it's like they want people to work around the clock. And suddenly our lives are, like, really kind of organized according to this.

HUANG: Clocks are great tools for improving efficiency. And sometimes it's important to be on time, like if you really need to catch the train or you're working with others to coordinate a rocket launch to the moon. But the idea that every minute of the day should be constructive and billable is also limiting.

MCCLAURIN: That's where we lose creativity. That's where we lose flexibility.

HUANG: In a culture obsessed with timeliness, we don't make room for difference, McClaurin says. Time researchers say people fall into two basic time styles. There's clock time, and there's event time. For clock timers, the start and end of doing something is dictated by the clock. For event timers, it's more based on a feeling. Tamar Avnet is a time researcher at Yeshiva University. And she has two kids - one on clock time and the other on event time.

TAMAR AVNET: I ask them, do you want to have lunch? And my clock person will ask, well, what time is it? And my event kid will ask, well, I don't know if I'm hungry at the moment.

HUANG: Avnet says there are pros and cons to each.

AVNET: My clock will eat even if he's not hungry, or he will starve because it's not time to eat yet. My event, on the other hand, will satisfy his needs when they need to be satisfied, but it might not fit with the rest of society. So it might be that when he wants to eat, there's no food.

HUANG: Most people can do a bit of both mindsets, but they generally gravitate towards one or the other. Avnet, who's a clock timer herself, works a lot with Anne-Laure Sellier a business professor at HEC Paris and a total event timer. When Sellier is late...

ANNE-LAURE SELLIER: I do apologize 'cause it's - I'm aware of social norms. But I don't care about it.

AVNET: Exactly. But she doesn't feel guilty.

SELLIER: That's right. No, no. But it's very important.

HUANG: After 10 years of time research, Sellier knows it's OK to be an event timer who loses track of time. In fact, it has its advantages.

SELLIER: Probably the best kick out of event time is you have pleasure in everything you do because you keep doing them as long as it feels good to do them, right?

HUANG: Sellier says, event timers like us are more in tune with our emotions because we use them all the time to figure out when a conversation is over or when to move on from a task. We're also better at staying in the moment and tapping into positive feelings like pride, joy and gratitude. And since event timers move through the world as we feel like it...

AVNET: We did see that event people feel they have more - they believe they have more control over what happens to them.

HUANG: That's because clock timers give their agency to an external mechanism - the clock. And that leads clock timers to see the world as a random, chaotic place where whatever they're doing doesn't really change the outcome, whereas event timers see more connections and more cause and effect in the world at large. Sellier says these are traits that should be encouraged, not stamped out by forcing all of us to stick to clock time all the time.

SELLIER: I think there's a tendency for event timers to know more about clock time than the reverse just because we're in a very clock-time world.

HUANG: So this is my plea for some grace and understanding for us event timers. Sure, we might be a little late. We might even be a little early. We're not exactly sure what time it is. But when we are here, we're present, and we're ready to work and play. So my question to clock timers is, is it worth stressing about the extra 10 minutes you spent waiting for us? Or can you join me in savoring the good moment that we're having and take some control back in your life instead of giving it up to the clock? Pien Huang, NPR News.

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