“Time flies like an arrow”, Arthur Eddington.
“Fruit flies like a banana”, Groucho Marx.
If it’s true that time flies like an arrow, which direction is it headed? Well, it depends on your culture. We’re all aware that different cultures have different attitudes toward time. In Sweden, people show up for a 7:00 dinner date at 7:00 precisely. In Mexico, people might show up half an hour to an hour later. You shouldn’t show up “on time” because your host might not be ready and that would be embarrassing.
But which way does time flow? Where, precisely, is the future? Somewhat surprisingly, it depends on how you read. People who read from left to right — as we do in English — see the future as being to the right. Indeed, good marketing charts always show trends up and to the right. (I think I could make up most marketing charts without knowing the data).
People who read from right to left — think of Arabic and Hebrew – tend to see the future as being to the left. This has important implications for public speaking. I’ve given speeches to Arabic audiences and I’m sure that I pointed to the right as I indicated activities in the future. In other words, my body language conflicted with my verbal language and probably confused the audience.
The same holds true in graphic treatments that are used across cultures. My favorite example is the FedEx logo. (I discovered this in a Scientific American Mind article). Look closely at the English FedEx logo below. In the “negative space” between the E and the X, you’ll see an arrow in white. Which way is it pointed? Well … to the future, of course.
Now look at the Arabic FedEx logo. Again, you’ll find an arrow in the negative space between letters. Which way is it pointed? Well … to the future, of course. It’s a good example of how different cultures see things differently. It’s also a fairly rare example of a corporation showing cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity in its advertising. FedEx should be commended.
(For an example of how the Aymara Indians of Bolivia see the future differently than the rest of us, click here).