“Be there in 5…”
“I’m almost ready — give me 5 more minutes…”
How many times have we heard someone say 5 minutes only to have them take triple that time? A very specific measurement (5 minutes) — in my experience — has lost a great deal of its validity. That is, our understanding of 5 minutes is not universal. Five minutes to you is not always 5 minutes to me — but you’re saying to me, “this makes no sense!” Indeed. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. “Five minutes” is empirical. It is something we can measure. It has a specific ending. Though, it is rarely used in its proper form.
Michio Kaku had a great series on time for the BBC a few years back and one of those episodes had to do with daytime. In it, Kaku explores the concept and experience of time (on a small scale). He also explores it from the perspective of “life” time, “Earth” time, and “cosmic” time. If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching it. Back to 5 minutes, though.
As I said earlier, part of the problem with using the term “5 minutes” is because we all have a different relationship to time. Some people come from countries that are more polychronic, while others come from countries that are more monochronic. Typically, those who come from cultures that are polychronic tend to have a more fluid understanding of (and relationship to) time. Conversely, those who come from cultures that are monochronic cultures tend to have a more rigid and precise understanding of (and relationship to) time.
As a result, it is my supposition that when folks who come from contrasting cultures (with regard to time), there is bound to be a misunderstanding when using “5 minutes” as a term of measurement.
As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds. Of course, if we all start using “seconds” as a more frequent term of measurement (in this way), the same problem is likely to occur. Although, until then, I just may have a unique advantage in communicating as it relates to time.