The word procrastinate is derived from a Latin word meaning “to put off until tomorrow” and throughout most of my life I’ve been a chronic procrastinator. In high school, college and even during the early part of my career, I was burning the midnight oil because I had put things off.
A review of The Thief of Time (Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White, Oxford Press) in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki (October 11, 2010) brought the topic to my attention and it got me thinking about whether or not something like procrastination can be cured. I know, the word “cure” is a little strong, but bear with me.
In Mr. Surowiecki’s review, he quotes economist George Ainslie who said procrastination is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.” So maybe “cure” isn’t too strong. There are many addictions reported in the media and on reality television that are “impulses;” not basic, but “impulses” where theoretically, the people that are addicted can go to therapy and theoretically be cured.
So, I began thinking – was there potentially a medication I could take or some sort of therapist I could see in order to rid myself of this impulse? And then I found it right in front of my face, or should I say computer screen…social media.
I’m fairly active on Twitter primarily for work. For me, Twitter helps me keep up on what the media are covering, what trends are popping up and who is influencing my followers and me. As we know, engagement on Twitter happens in minutes, not hours. There is no waiting for an hour or until tomorrow because things are happening now. If I miss an opportunity to comment on a tweet or retweet important news at 9 a.m., my opportunity to stay recent is all but gone by 9:15.
In my mind, a tool like Twitter takes procrastination out of the equation. Take the recent revolution in Egypt where there was a heavy amount of social media activity, primarily Twitter and Facebook, leading up to and throughout the uprising. Many pundits were speculating whether or not the uprising would have happened without social media.
An article on CNET by Caroline McCarthy noted that “we shouldn’t go so far to call this a social media revolution, but it nevertheless is arguably the first time in history that we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter, a crucial part of the way we now communicate, speedily and successfully conveying the ideas and beliefs that do lead to a revolution.”
Ms. McCarthy’s article goes on to quote Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a producer for news network Al-Jazeera English who said “social media didn’t cause this revolution; it amplified it; it accelerated it.”
I agree with Mr. Shihab-Eldin and firmly believe, like many, that the revolution would have happened eventually without social media. I would argue, however, that social media allowed the Egyptian people to not procrastinate.
To my earlier comment about engagement happening in minutes, not hours; note the use of “speedily” and “accelerated” by Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Shihab-Eldin. Sounds like I may be on to something with this “cure.”
Finally, in his review, Mr. Surowiecki’s review, he describes a two-stage experiment from The Thief of Time. Here is the excerpt:
In the first stage, people are offered the choice between a hundred dollars today or a hundred and ten dollars tomorrow; in the second stage, they choose between a hundred dollars a month from now or a hundred and ten dollars a month and a day from now. In substance, the two choices are identical: wait an extra day, get an extra ten bucks. Yet, in the first stage many people choose to take the smaller sum immediately, whereas in the second they prefer to wait one more day and get the extra ten bucks.
There is obviously a deeper discussion here about the rationale of why people choose the way they do when confronted with these choices (short-term vs. long-term planning, etc.), but think about the first stage of the experiment and it is very reflective of the world we live in today. Think about the first stage of the experiment in Twitter terms – 140 characters today or 140 characters tomorrow. You have to choose the 140 characters today. If you choose the 140 tomorrow, you are already light years behind.
Maybe the word “cure” wasn’t too strong.