Deconstructing Urgent vs. Important
A six-year-old who throws a tantrum and refuses to go to school is escalating into the urgent.
Going to school every day is important.
Mollifying an angry customer is urgent, building systems and promises that keep customers from getting angry is important.
Killing the bugs in the kitchen is urgent, putting in weatherstripping to keep them out for the long haul is important (as is avoiding carcinogens).
Fifteen years ago, Elian Gonzales was at the center of a perfect media storm. It was an urgent issue, one that involved heads of state. But it wasn’t nearly as important as eventually normalizing relations and the well-being of millions of people.
In fact, breaking news of any kind is rarely important.
Important means: long-term, foundational, coherent, in the interest of many, strategic, efficient, positive…
If you take care of important things, the urgent things don’t show up as often. The opposite is never true.
Let’s start with this: The purpose of CNN’s BREAKING NEWS posture (caps intentional) isn’t to create a better-informed citizenry. It’s to make money.
The reason that tech sites, stock sites, scandal rags and others attract attention is because it’s fun. It’s emotionally engaging to be involved in a story when we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. When the story is unfolding, when it’s breaking, we become emotionally connected to it.
And so the BBC devotes plenty of air time talking to someone at the location of a plane crash, even though he doesn’t have a clue about what just happened. Because he might. Because we are there.
Unless you’re a day trader, though, this drama of seeing the news unfold right now (italics intentional) is not going to help you make better decisions–in fact, it’s going to make your decisions worse. It’s also unlikely to make you happier. Or smarter. We’re more likely to be afraid of terrorism than long-term atmosphere change, even though it’s clear that the latter kills and injures far more people than the former.
The news we consume changes us. Not just the news manufactured by CNN, but the news manufactured by our boss, our investors, our customers.
Our choice, then, is to decide whether we want to engage in the hobby of living through other people’s breaking news instead of focusing on what’s actually important.