Are You Monochronic or Polychronic?

The search for our own identities often begs for us to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes, it even comes down to the simplest of things. Like, are we the type of people who take showers in the morning or at night? And what does that mean when we understand this habit in the context of the life that we are forced to lead or choose to lead?

I recently read Umberto Eco’s How to Read a Thesis, as I ponder on whether I should finally return to completing my Master’s course in Film Theory and Practice. But reading it has been even more valuable, as it encouraged me to consider my own life in surprising ways.

For some reason, this passage spoke to me. Eco proposes:

“There are monochronic people and polychronic people. The monochronic succeed only if they work on one endeavor at a time. They cannot read while listening to music; they cannot interrupt a novel to begin another without losing the thread; at their worst, they are unable to have a conversation while they shave or put on their makeup. The polychronic are the exact opposite. They succeed only if they cultivate many interests simultaneously; if they dedicate themselves to only one venture, they fall prey to boredom. The monochronic are more methodical but often have little imagination. The polychronic seem more creative, but they are often messy and fickle. In the end, if you explore the biographies of great thinkers and writers, you will find that there were both polychronic and monochronic among them.”

This past Monday, around the time I read this passage, I also watched Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise. In one of its scenes, a boy and a girl sit at a table and they read as music is playing from a record player on the table. The guy tells the girl that he doesn’t understand how he can do two things at once: study and listen to music.

Just then, she turns off the record player, looks at him and tells him that she is breaking up with him. She proceeds to tell him why. After exchanging a few words, he admits: “I’m very sad but I understand.” After which, the girl points out: “You see, you can do two things at once.”

Godard’s scene is an awakening. It really is true that we often do more than one thing at once without even knowing it. Yet, it is still possible to support Eco’s theories on there being two types of people – monochronic and polychronic. The difference between the two’s behaviors is their awareness of what they do and, also, who they are.

People who openly identify with either category, I believe, also take great comfort and strength in their awareness of the conditions they need to carry out tasks. Achieving that awareness, however, is the difficult part. And to return to the point at the start of this piece, I do wonder: is that awareness somehow connected to the difficulty in being honest with ourselves, on our path to self-discovery?

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