The New Psychology of Time

The Time Paradox, a new book by Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd, puts forth an intriguing argument -- our attitudes toward time, often unconscious ones, can strongly shape our personalities and the kind of lives we lead. They can contribute to our happiness and success, or our unhappiness and depression.

The argument goes something like this: Not entirely knowingly, we all focus on the past, present or future. And, in moderation, each focus can have some net good. Future-oriented people tend to be ambitious and successful; present-oriented people tend to have friends and fun; and past-oriented people often have close family relationships. But when we associate too strongly with one of these "time zones" (again often without realizing it), we run into problems. When we're too strongly focused on the future, we sacrifice friends, family and fun. When we're too present-oriented, we leave ourselves open to hedonism and addictions. And when we cling to the past, we simply get stuck in the past, and depression usually follows. The upshot then is that we need to find a "temporal balance," and this applies not just to individuals, but to nations, religious groups and social classes as well. According to Zimbardo and Boyd, larger social groups can tend toward distorted senses of time. The American financial crisis boils down to an extreme focus on the present, or a lack of concern for future consequences. That's essentially what the big credit giveaway was all about.

You may recognize Philip Zimbardo's name. He's a widely recognized psychology professor who was behind the famous Stanford Prison Experiment (1971). He has served as the president of the American Psychological Association. And, last year, he published The Lucifer Effect, a New York Times bestseller.

To delve a bit more deeply into The Time Paradox, you should watch (below) the engrossing presentation that Zimbardo gave at Google's HQ last month. Or you can listen to this radio interview that aired recently in New York City (iTunes Feed MP3). Lastly, you can take a survey on The Time Paradox web site and learn more about your temporal balance.

 

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We Didn’t Start the Fire, or The World From 1949 to 1989

If you could sync up a photo with every name and event mentioned in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," you'd have a montage that offers a pretty good glimpse into the second half of the twentieth century. That's what a University of Chicago grad student figured out when he put this viral video together. We've added it to our YouTube playlist. Thanks Bob for the tip!

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Mozart’s Complete Works

Just a quick heads up: Amazon.com is running a pretty good looking deal on a box set of Mozart's complete works. The package includes 170 CDs of music. And it also comes with a cd-rom containing essays on his works, artist bio's, text and libretti's. User reviews suggest that the recording quality is quite high. The box set is being sold for $74.99, or 50% off the normal list price. I'm not sure how long this sale will go on.

In the meantime, if you're more in the mood for some free Mozart, then spend some time with the classical music podcasts that we have indexed here.

Books Authors Want (and Plan to Give) for the Holidays

Penguin asked its stable of writers what books they plan to give friends during the holidays, and what books they'd hope to receive. Here's a quick sampling. And if you want to list your own gift ideas, feel free to add them to the comments below.

Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, is giving The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. And so, too, is Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma). It won the Pulitzer after all.

Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker) not so secretly hopes to wind up with a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers: The Story of Success. He's not the only one, to be sure.

Friends of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) will be getting The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman. And, in turn, they may be giving her biographies of great adventurers like Captain Cook and Ernest Shackleton. (Personally, I'd recommend Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. Great read.)

Lastly, Nick Horby (High Fidelity) is offering up Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution.

For more book ideas, visit the full list and also see our reader-created list: Life-Changing Books.

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The Birth Of A Tornado

It's almost eerie to watch how a tornado takes shape. As you'll see below, it starts with a wisp of nothing much and, within minutes, morphs into a terrible force. For more precise details on how tornadoes form, you can check out this dynamic presentation over at USA Today.

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Top 10 Amazing Biology Videos

This week, Wired has posted a piece -- Top 10 Amazing Biology Videos -- that has started swirling around the web. Here you'll find some serious videos (for example, a clip below showing high speed gene sequencing in action) alongside some lighter videos that feature, um, shrimp running on a treadmill. This piece is the logical follow up to Wired's earlier post: 10 Amazing Physics Videos.

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Next in Line for a Bailout? A Major Art Museum

Almost exactly a year ago, I caught up with Jori Finkel, a journalist who covers the Los Angeles arts scene, and we talked about an art-world controversy that she first wrote about in The New York Times. The controversy focused on museums seeking funding from art galleries, which can be a direct conflict of interests, and her lead example was L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Well, it turns out now that MOCA is in serious financial trouble, with its annual operating costs running up to $20 million and its endowment plunging below $10 million. It also turns out that last year’s scandal should have sent up some red flags. So we decided to do a follow-up interview with Jori and get her take on MOCA’s fiscal crisis and bailout plans.

DC: We’ve seen a lot of banks and financial institutions looking for bailouts, and the more we investigate them, the more we realize these institutions were simply acting recklessly. When the history of this crisis gets written, I imagine that we’ll realize that it wasn’t just the banks that mismanaged their funds and got caught on a limb. Is that what we’re seeing here with MOCA?

JF: I’m not aware of any crazy executive bonuses or expensive company retreats if that’s what you mean. No, what we’re looking at here are two rather classic nonprofit management problems: under-funding and overspending. L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight took MOCA trustees to task for not coughing up enough cash, and I’ve also written a lot about the crisis in cultural philanthropy in L.A. The biggest problem is that Hollywood types would rather give money to a cause, environmental or political, than to the arts.

But it’s naïve just to say the museum is under-funded. They were clearly overspending. Their staff ballooned to 200 while their endowment was shrinking, and museum ambitions clearly outstripped their actual, legitimate sources of funding. In most businesses, that would be reason to rethink, retrench, downsize. That apparently hasn’t happened on a large enough scale here. They seem to have put artistic ideals ahead of financial realities--putting what the museum should exhibit ahead of what it can afford to exhibit.

DC: During our interview last year, you raised some doubts about how MOCA was funding its major Murakami show. In retrospect, was that an early sign that things were going wrong at the museum? Were there other red flags?

JF: Yes, I think the fact that MOCA was hustling money for its Murakami show from commercial dealers who represent the artist was a sign of financial trouble and maybe even desperation. It looks in retrospect like a bright red flag. You raised the perfect question last year: Why was MOCA engaging in this practice when so many other museum leaders spoke out against it as unethical?

Another early warning sign came when the museum started closing down the Geffen Contemporary for a few months at a time. Some reporters are treating this fact like it’s new. It’s not. There was even a time three or four years ago when the MOCA web site carried a notice to film scouts—essentially saying the Geffen is yours for the right price. Can you imagine the Museum of Modern Art in New York doing this?

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