Social media and the tyranny of the urgent
MAY 1 — I had an interesting chat with some students and colleagues the other day. We were talking about how stressful MCO was two or three years ago, how we couldn’t leave our homes, etc.
Suddenly someone said, “Actually, given how much time people spend on social media, what’s the difference? We may as well be stuck at one place!”
Good question. What is the difference between being “locked down” and being stationary for hours every day scrolling through one’s phone?
Because for the past decade it has no longer been how often people are on social media — it’s how often they’re not. Our lives have become a never-ending stream of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp updates.
Thanks to Instagram, Malaysia’s lepak culture has been virtualised. Like a virus rendered air-borne by mutation, lepak-ing has morphed throughout the nation via social media.
In the past, lepak-ing was seen as a waste of time. But today if you don’t spend more than 17 waking hours on your phone looking at photos of artsy nasi lemak and beautiful people, you’re out of touch.
It used to be that Facebook was considered the greatest time-waster in the universe; at least people then still distinguished between being on and off FB.
Nowadays, Instagram (and, increasingly, TikTok) has taken the place of life itself.
Speaking from within an educational context I dare to declare that very few students “attend lectures” anymore; classes are now dreary spaces during which Insta chats and Mobile Legends gaming need to be unfortunately disrupted.
Our lives have become a never-ending stream of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp updates. ― AFP pic
Reaffirming the Important But Not Urgent
Point is, social media collapses the already fragile distinction between Urgent and Important. Right now there is nothing more urgent than the red number on our phone screens telling us that new messages or notifications are in.
That’s the first deception of the urgent. To echo a point that Stephen Covey made decades ago, the tyranny of the Urgentis that it cuts into our lives effortlessly.
It keeps us on our toes, making us obsessively deal with (or “fire-fighting”) the next immediate issue and the next and the next (and the next).
This causes us to always equate the urgent with the important ie. what’s important to us is simply what is urgent.
It’s the reason why spending time with family is as rare as a purple tiger. It’s why the only workouts we do is take the stairs. It’s why the task of personal reflection is limited to the mirror.
Ironically, but powerfully, what Stephen Covey urged everyone to do is to focus on the Important But Not Urgent things in life.
Like calling your elderly parents if you’re away from home.
Like heading to the gym or deciding to diet properly.
Like reading a book or playing an instrument.
Like doing your assignments even if the deadline is a month away, or studying an extra chapter or section of the topic.
Like praying or meditating or just thinking hard about where our lives are heading.
Like making new friends and calling up old ones.
Like nurturing our most precious relationships.
The best way to manage time, in other words, is to quit giving in to everything that’s so-called Urgent around us. The #1 way to make the best use of our time is to urgently do what’s important (yet ironically non-urgent) in our lives.
But first, we gotta log off. Let’s do that — urgently?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.