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April 12, 2013 at 1:07 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Like Clockwork: The Audacity of Punctuality

By Kyle McCarthy from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Big Hand, Little Hand

A friend of mine recently told me about a coworker of hers that was unable to tell time on an analog clock. Shockingly, this individual is a 26-year old college graduate currently working for the State of Michigan. When my friend asked if he was joking about his inability to read a clock, her coworker merely shrugged, chuckled, and replied that he always checks his phone if he ever needs to know the time of day. This is fine; in our digital age, it's commonplace for people to ditch the watch for their phone, myself included, but it left me wondering if:

  1. this individual is a simpleton.
  2. dyslexia can extend beyond words on a page in certain cases.
  3. learning to tell time is no longer part of the 3rd grade curriculum.
  4. the entire concept of time is becoming an inconsequential part of the human experience.

My immediate stunned reaction led me to believe "a." However, a little online research revealed the distinct possibility of "b.," given that dyslexia is a cognitive disorder that relates to decoding analytical data beyond letters and words on a page, but there's no appropriate or polite way for me to ascertain if this guy actually suffers from this condition (more on manners to come). Which led me to "c.," although,  given my experiences in the realm of public education in recent years, I know it not to be true. Therefore, I've come to the conclusion (perhaps haphazardly, perhaps recklessly) that time simply doesn't matter to anyone anymore. 

As with any argument, there are two sides at play here. The first is that time is merely a social construct designed to organize and compartmentalize our lives into finite sections of varying lengths. The deconstructionist sees time as one of the many oppressive elements of modern existence, and I must admit that I tend to agree with this general assessment. However, regardless of my personal feelings about how we've consciously and communally decided to stifle our own humanity (e.g. the forty-hour work week, the economics of paper currency, etc.) I also must admit that time is one of the principle uniting factors of our world. Time is important because we made it important, and we have no one else to blame but ourselves for doing so. It is one of the fundamental structures of the well-oiled machine we call society, and it is here to stay, whether we choose to recognize it or not. 

Hour Glass

Lately, however, it seems as though people want to disrupt or subvert this fundamental aspect of society - at least when it suits their own purposes.

Ground Zero

It's one thing to be fashionably late to a party. It's universally accepted that no one wants to stand around for half an hour waiting for everyone else to show, so we've come to a silent accord and agreed to show up somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour after the official start time of said siesta. This helps avoid awkward conversation in small groups and works as a kind of "soft opening" for the shindig. However, casually arriving to a firmly scheduled event late (especially one in a professional or academic setting) is an entirely different monster.

Not that I'm not occasionally late for work, but the world does not stop and start at our convenience, as much as we might like it to. Because we all have busy schedules, there are certain things that must be ascribed a time value, and if that time value is occasionally disregarded, the structure and harmony of the delicate balance we've created begins to shake. Furthermore, when punctuality is completely ignored, the social codes at the epicenter of our cultureverse begin to topple in a quake of self-importance. To that end, we need to do one of two things: Consent to ignore time as a needless human construction or abide by the rules that we all agreed upon in this first place. If we're not all playing by the same rules, inevitably, a schism will develop.

Fashionably Late... to Class

The perfect example of this occurred in an email exchange between an M.B.A. student at NYU and his professor three years ago; although the story actually begins the day prior to the email exchange. (Strangely, this story is gaining a ton of publicity three years after the fact, but I digress.) It was the first week of classes, and this student was apprehensive about which class to take to fill out his schedule. He'd narrowed down the list to three different courses, but he wanted to get a feel for the instructors and the content of the class before he made his decision. Seems like a logical, responsible course of action, but rather than visiting the professors during their office hours or requesting a syllabus from their TA's, this student decided to literally sample roughly 20 minutes of each class before coming to a decision. Bad idea.

When he walked into Professor Scott Galloway's lecture nearly an hour late, he was promptly dismissed. Apparently, not being allowed to waltz into whatever class at whatever time he chose irked this student. The next day, he wrote an email to Professor Galloway explaining the reason for his tardiness and his mild astonishment at his treatment as a result of said lateness. Even after being told by other students in the class that Professor Galloway had a strict policy of not permitting students into his class that are more than 15 minutes late (and admitting this in his email!), this guy had the nerve to press Galloway on the topic.


In his email, he claims that, having never been enrolled in a course taught by this professor before, he was unaware that being late was unacceptable. He also went on to say that, since it was the first day of class, Galloway should've assumed that the student was sampling classes - as if he were at a wine tasting rather than one of the most prestigious universities in America.

To me, the shocking thing isn't the fact that this individual was late because he wanted to sit-in on three different lectures occurring simultaneously (although I do believe this is rude, unfortunately, this is the entitlement culture in which we live), I'm much more shocked that he felt unfairly treated by Professor Galloway enough to attempt to put up an argument over the issue! This is the type of behavior that could potentially lead to the metaphorical quake mentioned above, if it becomes acceptable. For his part, Galloway is doing everything to prevent that, as evidenced by his genius (if not extremely arrogant and unnecessarily harsh) response.

Professor Galloway's email is an incendiary backhand of this student's false perception of the world. He exposes the student's email for the whiny foot-stamping that it is, and advises him to get his... um... act together. He states the glaringly obvious: That one should not presume that lateness is acceptable, or that interrupting a professor's lecture is acceptable. He goes on to say that "respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility" are the easy parts of life that we should all strive to get right. The irony here is that Galloway is exceptionally rude to this student, but that in no way excuses the blase attitude the student exhibited in the first place. 

Many people have read this exchange online and argued that students attend NYU's prestigious M.B.A. program to learn, not to be scolded like an infant. If you read the email (Warning: Explicit Language), however, I think it's hard to dispute the notion that this student learned the lesson of a lifetime.

Who Cares?

Well, I mean, I do, for one. People are late all the time, and it doesn't have to be a big deal. We wake up late; we lose track of time; we forget to turn the oven off; we never learn how to read a clock - these things happen (apparently).  What doesn't "just happen," and never should, is an individual actually choosing to interrupt the learning and teaching experience of others.

I get that this seems snobbish to say, and I apologize in advance, but interrupting a lecture hall is no different than bursting through the doors during a play or symphony. Lecturing is a form of performance art, and the instructor is the director, the conductor, if you will. If you doubt this, I'm sure nearly any professor worth their salt will gladly describe to you the hours of prep work that go into a lecture, along with the intense focus that they must maintain throughout their instruction. There's a reason the really good ones make boatloads of money to do so, and it has much less to do with the Rolodex of factoids in their brains than it does their humanity and accessibility, of which I'm sure Professor Galloway has in spades, despite his inflated ego.

Society will not literally collapse in a cataclysmic earthquake if I'm 3 minutes late for work on Monday, or if you are. However, once an entire generation has become so entitled that they feel somehow assaulted when they are taught a basic truth of decorum (and this will happen; it's happening right now), I'm running for the exits before the roof caves in.


Daulerio, A.J. "NYU Business School Professor Has Mastered the Art of Email Flaming." Deadspin. 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.

More from Kyle McCarthy from SLN Others Are Reading


  • “For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” - Douglas Adams

  • yeah about time - so yesterday I was giving a shower along with my sisters for my nephews fiance. The wedding shower was scheduled at 1pm. Well since I was helping put it on, my sister said we should get there by 11am to set things up (like decorate and so on). Well finally at 1:15pm we talked about having everyone sit down and "get this shower started". So we did. Well at about 1:30 - 1:40pm (the "late" thing) in walks three more people not at the same time I would say maybe 5 minutes apart or so. Well by know everyone else in the room (about 40 or so people) are sitting down enjoying there lunch.

    Really - If it was me I would have been so uncomfortable and embarrassed at this point. I mean we didn't try to make anyone feel this way but I'm just saying if it was me I would have felt embarrassed. However after about 10 minutes or so you would never even remember anyone was late.

    It kind of reminds me of church, I see people come in late and then get directed to the front pew to be seated. Again how embarrassing.

    I'm not so sure any of this had to do with people not being able to read their watch or digital car clock! Some people just move slower than others! ALL the time.

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