It is finished. And I am relieved. I’ve completed two major milestones in the same week – RMIT and my book manuscript.
Praise God for how He sustained me through school, ministry, wedding preparations, and authoring in the last two years! I couldn’t have done it without His grace seeing me through. All glory to Him!
The following essay is my final piece of secular academic work. Thought this might help to fill the eerie silence on my blog…
Introduction: abstain to understand social media
From the first email sent in 1971, to the debut of the Internet in 1991, to the introduction of AOL Instant Messaging in 1997, to the launch of Facebook and Twitter in 2004 and 2006 respectively, the way we communicate has metamorphosed the way we socialise. Indeed, social media has become an extension of our personality. At times, it is uniform with real life, but in other instances, it can be altogether inconsistent.
An effective way to grasp the impact of social media in our personal and professional lives is through an abrupt and complete abstinence from it. For the purpose of this assignment (and its relatively personal nature), I embarked on and completed a radical 72-hour social media fast. My observations and recommendations are presented in this essay.
Examining the impact of social media
Cyberspace can elevate anyone to the position of an expert. Popularity instead of pedagogy has become the new credibility; with enough “likes” garnered, any opinion can be deemed believable and eventually accepted. This is the age of blogging and re-blogging, photo and video sharing, and social networking and bookmarking. Alarmingly, social media has overtaken pornography as the ascendant power of and predominant activity on the information superhighway (Qualman, 2009).
Suffice to say, social media has become the resident protagonist of new communication technologies. Jameson (2010, p. 4) aptly described social media “in the 21st century” as “the power of word of mouth… …kicked into hyperdrive by technology”. She echoed Bill Bernbach, founder of international advertising agency DDB Worldwide, who once said in 1989 that “word of mouth is the best medium of all”.
Social media is inescapable
According to Boyd (2011), social networks are “connected by information, time, and space… …[and] navigate life as a series of relationships”. Whether we realise it or not, people like watching others and being watched, and find ways to retain control in watching each other because everybody wants attention. Users adapt themselves and evolve with the improving technology that is available to them.
Social media abounds in multiple platforms. It is only when we disconnect ourselves from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, Instagram, WordPress (among many others) and all online chatting platforms that we realise its pervasive dominance in our lives. Besides its presence on the World Wide Web, social media is also proliferated through orthodox electronical communication means as well as applications on mobile devices; its convenient and seamless attachment to email notifications and mobile application badges means that one is required to effort before he can completely detach himself from social media.
According to McLuhan and Fiore (1967, p. 8-9), the media “is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life” and went on to suggest that youths “instinctively [understand] the present environment – the electric drama” and “the reason for the great alienation between generations” was “created by electronic information media”.
The widespread utilisation of social media is synonymous with Generation Y (or the Millennial Generation) and especially Generation Z (also known as the Internet Generation). Social media has evolved rapidly in a mere decade. And with mobile technology ameliorating at an even faster rate, it becomes inevitable that communication means between people have accelerated and eroded simultaneously through the rampant and seemingly irrepressible exploitation of social media.
Three benefits of refraining from social media
The first benefit felt from an absence of social media is increased work productivity. The Internet Generation is also known as the Multitasking Generation and this multitasking phenomenon is perpetuated by their employment of social media. By keeping oneself devoid of social media, greater concentration is afforded to the task at hand, and increases effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace.
The second benefit felt from abstaining from social media is increased physical rest. One of the key reasons for the prevalent nocturnal lifestyle of Generation Y and Z is the (self-induced) uncontrollable need to respond to social media activity straightaway; micro-blogging and instant messaging has instinctively encouraged users to reciprocate immediately. However, if the urge to reply is eliminated, users naturally wind down mentally, and allow their mind and eventually their bodies to rest.
Sagen (2005) labelled these users as the “microwave generation” and explained how almost everything is demanded instantly.
At what point does someone become so dependent on technology that in our world of instantaneous feedback we forget the virtues of patience and personal cultivation? We live in an era where cell phones, PDA’s and MP3 players are always within a finger’s reach and our dependency on these technological gadgets are such that we rely on them to communicate or entertain with one another.
In essence we’ve turned into a “Microwave Generation”, which can be explained in two parts; one, that our reliance on technology has become so “all consuming” and commonplace that without it we’d be in a state of shock and two, we as human beings want everything now (59 seconds or less it seems). Look around you, there’s a “fast, quick, instant, speedy” service to just about anything you can think of including espressos, fast food, medical checkups and oil changes.
The third benefit felt comes in the form of increased world awareness. Instead of filling our minds with tweets and status updates, we gain the opportunity to keep ourselves abreast of world and national news. Due to prolonged overuse (and possible abuse) of social media, there is a conditioned and institutionalised need to check on the activities of, as well as to share our thoughts and observations among our social circles. The desire to speak and be heard drives people to be active on social media. This might be driven by a basic human need for validation and acknowledgement.
Social media in social environments
One cannot deny that social media has infiltrated the workplace. Organisations have discovered that social media is an efficacious way of reaching their target audience. A dearth of social media is inconceivable in this highly sophisticated consumer climate, especially if it involves getting in touch with youths. Technology assembles “the flaneur and the voyeur” and brings both to prominence; people take turns to watch and be watched because networks are increasingly salient (Boyd, 2011).
Social media has also taken relationship building to a new paradigm. Significant moments (like childbirths, anniversaries, demises, etc.) in social relationships are now magnified and multiplied through social media because it makes the sharing of these moments convenient and accessible. For example, instead of meeting up vis-a-vis, users now keep in touch with each other through weblogs; moreover, user-generated content on social media platforms also provides conversational currency during actual meet-ups. As such, social media has proven itself to be an immensely useful networking tool.
However, social media will continue to alter the way we communicate with real people. And if one is serious about reaching Generation Y and Z for business or personal reasons, then he must consider the capitalisation of social media. It is however, possible to wean off social media so while organisations may rely on the heavy use of social media, it is not wise to depend on social media as the sole platform of communication.
New communication technologies like this might result in Generation Y and Z being handicapped from expressing themselves in real life. They can describe their emotions online but struggle to do it offline in person. As a result, real life communication has eroded into undesirable superficiality because people might resort to tweeting about instead of talking about it. What is more hazardous is that this mentality is set to continue.
Conclusion: social media is a social concern
72 hours provides only a preliminary insight into a world without social media; although a longer duration is necessary for substantiated findings, three days may be sufficient to determine the effects of social media in our lives. For the sake of social balance, social media should remain a social utility instead of a social necessity. One merely uses it (and does not need it) to increase the convenience and efficiency of daily chores and functions.
Social media is here to stay and has become an integral part of the way we communicate; it has become the preferred way of communication. And since voyeurism and flaneurism are inevitable, instead of preventing access, people manage the attention they receive and divert it away.
Hence, instead of denying its impact or shunning the use of it, we must learn to educate ourselves with it, manage and grow with its regular development, and subsume it into our daily routines. To prevent being consumed by it, we should learn to set healthy perimeters for ourselves when we use social media, otherwise it may distract us from and destroy our priorities.
Now, if “people are the most important media” (Jameson, 2010), and if people are defined and made significant by relationships and society, then social media must not become the culprit that takes the “social” away from people.
Boyd, D. (2011). Dear Voyeur, meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media. In Surveillance & Society 8(4): 505-507. Retrieved January 7, 2012, from http://www.surveillance-and-society.org.
Jameson, L. (2010). The Power of Six Degrees. In The Yellow Paper Series. Retrieved February 1, 2012, from http://www.ddb.com/what-we-think/DDB_YP__ThePowerofSixDegrees.pdf.
McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage: An inventory of effects. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Qualman, E. (2009). Statistics Show Social Media Is Bigger Than You Think. In Socialnomics. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from http://www.socialnomics.net/2009/08/11/statistics-show-social-media-is-bigger-than-you-think.
Sagen, E. (2005). Microwave Generation. In Kartooner. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from http://www.kartooner.com/archives/2005/11/29/microwave-generation/
Now, let’s return to real life for just one more entry.
I’d like to capture how I’ve been blessed over the past two days at the Eagles Leadership Conference 2011 (ELC), which took place at the Suntec City Convention Hall. It was my first ELC. It started when I brought Peter Chao out for his (very) belated birthday meal last month. I asked him if he needed help at ELC and he hooked me up to the various departments. I was ready for most assignments, so long as I could handle it.
I just wanted to be available to serve Eagles, for they have been exceptional with me. I guess it’s my way of returning their kindness and generosity with me. (And it turns out that my intention to bless them brought about a blessing too – I attended the conference free-of-charge as a volunteer.)
At first, they asked if I could serve as a videographer – I was frank with them and admitted my machinery incompetencies. I think I am more effective as an emcee, usher or with front desk duties. In the end, they assigned me to be a session coordinator (for Workshop 8)… And a narrator (i.e. voice-over) for the ELC 2013 promotion video. Or at least, that was what I thought I was going to do.
But when I came down to meet the producer on Wednesday, I found out that I wasn’t just the narrator… I got more than what I bargained for… I discovered that I would be filmed. Yes, f-i-l-m-i-n-g. Not voice-recording. It was a tremendous privilege, but I was a little stunned at their faith in me. So, I took up the challenge, returned home to memorise the script, rehearsed in front of a mirror, and recorded myself with my iPad 2.
The actual filming took place on Friday at the Grand Ballroom during lunch hour. It went more smoothly than I had anticipated and I only had a couple of bad takes. The producer was pleased with what he saw at playback and we called it a day.
At 9:20am, I received an SMS from Peter Chao. He asked if I was interested to join him at the Fuller Seminary alumni meeting at 10am. Of course I turned up… It was refreshing to meet a couple of the current students, as well as a few prospective students. Let’s just say… I can’t wait to graduate from RMIT. And what happens after that, I’ll let the Lord lead me… (:
Anyway, before the filming, I met Ps Edmund Chan outside the ballroom and told him that I would attend his afternoon workshop, which was titled, “Mentoring the Whole Person”. I told him that I was afraid I couldn’t get seats. To this he said, “Just tell the organisers that you have my personal invitation.”
I smiled at the generous favour I received from him.
Coincidentally, I was filming in the ballroom that he was going to be speaking at. So at the end of the filming, I saw him stroll in to prepare himself for the session. I asked him if I could serve him in any way possible. He said he was fine and proceeded with his own setup. It was already 1:40pm and I haven’t had lunch so I packed my belongings and got ready to leave the hall for a quick meal.
Just before I left, he stopped me.
“Joey, would you still like to help me?”
I was ready to skip lunch to perhaps help him with his slides, run an errand for him or just be his PowerPoint clicker.
“Later, I would like you to spend about five minutes to talk about how we met, and share a couple of your perspectives on mentoring. Edward is here too so I thought it would be a nice polarity to have my oldest and youngest mentoree share something with everyone.”
My jaw dropped as I stared at Ps Edmund.
I was in the company of giants. Ps Edmund is the Reverend Edmund Chan. And Edward is the Datuk Edward Ong (do yourself a favour and google him). Joey Asher Tan is the smallest guy on the totem pole.
“You want me to what?” I tried to communicate that to him with my eyes. He smiled at me.
I had the most stressful lunch, ever, in my entire life. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say later.
Thank God I blogged about our divine appointment – so that really helped to jog my memory. And by God’s grace, within that 15 minutes, I somehow came up with 4 R’s of mentoring (which I chose not to share in the end because I felt it wasn’t necessary).
As Datuk Edward was bringing his sharing to an end, my heart was beating faster and faster to no end! I had never been so nervous before! Ps Edmund introduced me (!) and my hands began to tremble uncontrollably after I took the microphone. I uncharacteristically stammered and stuttered at some parts, and none of the eloquence in my arsenal showed itself. It was a humbling, humbling, humbling experience, but I was happy, happy, happy.
What an honour. What a privilege. What a moment!
It’s never about ability, isn’t it? It’s always about availability. All I wanted to do, was to be available to serve Eagles. And God took care of the rest.
You want me to what?
“I want you to be available.” — God
I shall take a risk to post this entry and put myself on the altar of transparency because I want to give God glory.
This afternoon, during project discussion with my RMIT course mates, I saw my former course mate from my Mass Communication days in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It has been a decade since we were both in the same education institution.
I didn’t dare to say hello to him.
No, it wasn’t because there was bad blood between us or that I disliked him. I avoided him because I felt inferior. Yes, you read it right – INFERIOR. And I don’t normally feel that way. It was a foreign feeling I was certainly not used to. And I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
I think, by any yardstick, I consider myself a man with considerable accomplishments. My professional achievements would look good in any curriculum vitae. After all, I’ve authored and edited books, set up a marketing department from scratch, negotiated significant business deals, organised countless marketplace and ministry events, held leadership positions no matter where I was, and have had overseas working experience.
But I couldn’t hold a candle to this classmate.
He’s a world-class musician who has travelled the globe, wrote a few books himself (and his text is now used in conservatories as part of its curriculum), featured in many media publications, and has studied enough to change his salutation from ‘Mr’ to ‘Dr’.
So while I was discussing project work with my course mates, he was returning to a lecture – because he was the lecturer.
Reality hit me harshly; it became inevitable that I benchmarked myself against him.
My confidence plummeted to an all-day low. It was then I felt the Spirit quietly searching for the location of my security. It was a sobering reminder (and yet a reassurance) that I must hang on to John 15:5, my life verse, with my life.
I texted my soul mate Huiyi and while her reassurances helped to make a difference in the way I felt at that moment, I knew that I was being tested for something far deeper than external comparisons. Am I contented with who I am today and who God has made me to be and do? Honestly, I struggled to say yes; it was a long journey from the head to the heart.
Well, God has a sense of humour. Yes, I’m not a lecturer and I do not teach students in school. But I’m a preacher who has the privilege of shepherding youths in church. I may not have the professional competence of a ‘Dr’, but I have a private calling to be a pastor. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Well, while thinking like that does make me feel better about who I am and what I do (at least temporarily), it’s more important that I remember whose I am and what I’ve been commissioned to do.
Lord, reign in me and rein me in again. I love You, Lord. Not for man’s applause, but for Your approval. Thank You for the encounter today. It tested my resolve and I’m glad You helped me to resolve it. Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ.