Monday, May 09, 2005

Time warped / News / Boston Globe / Opinion / Editorials: "TIME IS power in a lot of quarters. That's why business people often insist on being the last to enter a meeting room, and might even surreptitiously kill time waiting in the hall so that they can make their entrance just as everyone else is sitting down.

Such a maneuver tells the assemblage that here is a person who marks every tick of the second hand on what is usually a flashy watch, and is way too important to be made to wait for somebody else's second hand.

The same goes for the lunch meeting, which, while more relaxed, can still have egos at war over who will be made to fidget at the table and who will sweep in ten or 15 minutes after the appointed hour, apologizing -- but not too much -- for having a really busy life.

The fidgety one, eyes glaring and smile frozen, wants to shout: ''You think I'm chopped liver here with an empty Palm Pilot?" But a pro on the time war battlefields simply motions the latecomer to sit, and then flips open a cellphone, while apologizing -- but just barely -- for having to make an extremely important call. He or she might be dialing the weather -- or, more appropriately, the time -- but can recoup lost points by nodding vigorously into the receiver and making reference to ''the senator," ''the president," or ''the committee."

The phone is often a weapon in the ''my time is more valuable than yours" game. The classic assault is having an underling place a call and announce to the person picking up: ''Please hold for Mr. Jones." But this can result in a draw if the person being asked to hold is also an underling, who has been directed to screen calls. ''Boss A" won't get on the line until ''Boss B" is ready to speak, and vice versa, creating the electronic version of the last-person-to-enter-the-room ploy.

Another ego booster is the speaker phone, which often makes communication difficult but sends exactly the right message about one's time. The executive who flips on the squawk box -- making his or her voice sound as though it is coming through an orange juice can -- is telling the person on the other end of the line that much more pressing matters demand attention right now. That executive must walk around, organize papers, check the computer, and -- oh yes, deal with that single-tasking supplicant clutching a receiver somewhere in loser land.

''Let me check my schedule and get back to you" -- or, better yet, ''Let me check with my schedulers" -- are words that create a magnificent aura of time superiority, particularly over someone who has just admitted to being free on Friday without checking anything.

But that freedom is probably an indicator of a healthier life -- and that clock dominating so many days just might be a cuckoo."

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