Time Zones

What criteria is a first world country defined by? The list of developed nation characteristics may range from a generally high average income per capita of the population to a majority of the population living in cities and receiving relatively high levels of education and health services. However, to the ordinary man on the street, a developed nation classification generally boils down to two things: economics and technology. I would even venture to say that for our more recent generations, the latter outweighs the former in making that determination. Today, we embrace technological advancement as tangible evidence that we are a progressive society; one that’s moving into a promising future as noted here by Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director of Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, White House.

This optimism around the future and the role technology plays in it is shared by Nicholas Negroponte in Being Digital. Published in the 20th century, the chapter The Post-Information Age, revealed to its readers back then the many turns the digital age has taken to date. As though a “digi-prophet”, Negroponte writes about ultra-focused narrowcasting and the ability to “explicitly and implicitly ask for what we want, when we want it”. This idea of on-demand information like your pay-per-viewing and DVR-ing. Indeed, between the times Being Digital was published and now, these revolutions in technology have already taken place. Negroponte’s gaze into the future from a very American point of view is in stark contrast to West Indian writer Derek Walcott’s glance back into the past in his essay, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory.

Both write about time, its social impact and how it is valued. While Negroponte focuses on the future and what will happen, Walcott focuses on the past or as he puts it, History, what has happened and how it explains the present. He writes, “…and much of our life in the Antilles still seems to be in the rhythm of the last century.” As a West Indian myself, this resonates oh so well. And so this hanging on to the past, struggling to keep up with the present, being less concerned about the future and resisting rapid change is a part of West Indian culture; the West Indian mentality.  A bad thing? Not necessarily so as it seems to work for the lifestyle of the majority. However, with this kind of cultural stance, are we impeding our progression towards developed nation status, where thinking about and planning for the future is the usual order of the day? Countries like the USA, the UK, and Germany always have the next piece of fascinating technology, the next breakthrough in medicine, the next change in the economy on their lips; a telling characteristic of their first world mentality. Trailing behind are countries in the Antilles where a high value is placed on History. Negroponte is right when he says, “…In some countries…it will take longer to move away from space and time dependence, because the native culture fights the trend.”

2 comments

  1. Your discussion here also hints at the divide that Hall notes between economic and sociological lenses (or maybe frames is a better word?) for examining hierarchies between (as you position it here) developed and developing nations. Should we look to a cultural explanation for our present (and foreseeable future) or to the underlying discourse of where you began: economic and technological access? My sense is that you are locating the former as at the root of the (lack of) the latter, but I’m not convinced that we can draw such a clear causal line.

  2. This connection to time is very foundational to understandings of these readings. Past VS Future in particular can help us look at how the digital climate has changed, so I find this post incredibly useful. You’ve done a fantastic job of deconstructing what these terms mean in the Caribbean that I found helpful in writing my own post. I appreciate your discussion on “West Indian Mentality” as a lifestyle and pace that resists rapid change. Comparing it to our own society (which I find to be a major theme in these readings), we accept and even embrace change, specifically technological ones. However it’s important to note, this pace works for them, and in many ways defines the rhythm of Caribbean life that is very different from our own New York minute.

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