Is 'fashionably late' out of fashion? Has punctuality become mainstream during the pandemic?

“People are implicitly asking, ‘Why am I going back to the workplace? There better be a reason to spend all this money on gas or trains for commuting; it better be worth it to risk getting COVID-19 when I’ve proved I can work efficiently from home,’” she said. This could translate, she said, into a culture of “I’m here to get things done, not to chit-chat”.

The idea that remote work has left employees less in the mood to put up with the distractions and inefficiencies of office life is seconded by Marcia Villavicencio, an officer in the Navy stationed in San Diego, who runs a fitness and life-coaching business on the side. “People want to get the things they have to get done faster, so they can do what they want to do,” she said.

The new emphasis on punctuality in daily life has arrived when scientists are working to gain a more precise accounting of time itself. As The New York Times reported this year, physicists and metrologists at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures have been redefining the measurement of the unit of time known as the second.

Chad Orzel, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Union College and author of a recently published book, A Brief History Of Timekeeping, said an adherence to punctuality has been on an upward slope for millenniums.

People who tried to measure time in ancient Egypt turned water vessels into clocks, he said; and modern notions of punctuality developed thousands of years later, in the industrial age.

“With the rise of cities, you start to get public clocks displaying the time, and people get more and more strict about time,” said Assoc Prof Orzel.

“By the end of the 1800s, pocket watches get good enough and cheap enough, about US$1 for a pretty good watch, that most people owned one, and they could just go to the train station once a week to reset their watches to get them back on the time.”

He understands why punctuality is having a moment. “I think there is something to the aspect that there is less lolling-about in offices now,” he said, “with people saying, ‘I don’t enjoy wearing a mask, so I’m coming in, doing my work and getting out of here as soon as possible’.”

By Katherine Rosman © 2022 The New York Times

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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