Why do you write?

I posted this photo on Instagram today. The original caption simply read: Kennedy Town, a.k.a. K Town, on the water. 

Minutes later, upon recalling anecdotes from a friend who has spent many years in Kennedy Town, I tapped on the “edit” button. This was the result:

Once upon a time, Kennedy Town was a low-key working class neighbourhood in the Western District. There were vegetable and poultry wholesale markets, slaughterhouses, a street lined with 大牌檔 dai pai dong hawkers and even a factory that produced fried lard!

Since a few years before the opening of the MTR station (Dec 2014), the area gradually became gentrified. Hipster coffee shops, European restaurants, wine bars and yakitori joints descended upon this once-sleepy corner of Hong Kong Island. Up rose shiny steel and glass towers, competing for the precious harbour views, edging out their older and humbler neighbours.

I had briefly deliberated whether I should spend a few minutes to write something beyond the initial one-liner. How many people will notice or even read the extended caption? Who would care?

The answer: I do.

Since I moved to Hong Kong in summer, I’ve been publishing photos and recording observations and useful information more frequently on Instagram than on my blog or Facebook. Instagram has become my visual diary, albeit a heavily curated one – I hardly ever post anything in the moment.

While a picture supposedly paints a thousand words, there’s so much more that I want to add to give context to most of my photos, hence the lengthy captions. Instagram accounts of media organisations such as Magnum PhotosRoads & Kingdoms, Burn Diary and China File have inspired me on this front.

It was only a month ago that I was musing about writing long descriptions to accompany images posted on Instagram. Today’s post was triggered by a TED talk on time management that I recently watched.

Excerpt: “Everything I do, every minute I spend, is my choice”. Rather than say, “I don’t have time to do x, y or z,” she’d say, “I don’t do x, y or z because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t have time,” often means “It’s not a priority.”


I often question why I’m frittering precious minutes every day scrolling through an endless stream of images and commenting on strangers’ photos. I still don’t know. I suspect that it is part procrastination (I’ve a list of blog ideas waiting to be put into writing) and part instant gratification (when a heart or new follower pops up).

How we choose to use our time applies to everything in our lives, not just social media or blogging. One minute spent doing something means one minute not spent on something else.

If you’ve got any time management tips, please do share them with me!

9 replies on “The long and short of it

  1. I used to add a long captain in my Instagram, but now I don’t and no longer spend so much time on its feed. I used to try my best to keep updating my blog every half a week, but now I just want to ‘purely’ share what I want to share.

    The ultimate goals, or important parts of our lives, are usually not the social media and so-called cyberspace, but the reality, the surroundings we are facing and enjoying. And also the moment. Let say some people aim to build an architecture to improve people’s living conditions but not to be popular on social media, although they can share how they think about design.

    News feed feature on social media sometimes makes people crazy. Yes, it’s convenient for us to keep tracking how others and the world are going on, but as its always-updating feature can make us obsessed into it by slotting our smartphone every hour or less.

    That’s why I quit Feedly, logged out Facebook and Twitter. Visit people’s website instead in order to understand them more.

    1. Hi Alvin, I was recently travelling with my family for more than a week. During this period, I hardly looked at social media – it was like an unintentional detox and it felt great to step away from the endless scrolling. Now that regular life, including work, has resumed, I’m sure I’ll be back browsing and posting on Facebook and Instagram. What I would like to do differently is to be more disciplined about how much time (and how often) I spend on it and to be more purposeful in what I choose to read (instead of clicking on one hashtag after another). I also want to write more frequently and read more books and blogs that I enjoy, so will have to make time for these.

      You made a good point about how the news feed feature can encourage people to constantly look at their phones for updates. Truth is, not much has changed – not significantly – in our immediate world and that of our friends in an hour, or two, or even a day or a week 😉

  2. Things are happening here and there in our life as well as the city. I have two books which I bought first half of this year (only read 10 pages of 1 book), then I borrowed 10 copies of an interesting Taiwanese food lifestyle magazine from a friend (read 0 page), also a photo book recently arrived (2 months ago)(flipped open once on the hardcover).

    At the same time I got time browsing new music on iTunes, scanning photos, and sparingly read on other magazines. I figured when there isn’t a deadline, we incline to do some other things on top of our head. Social media is playing such a huge role on people’s life these days. It’s helping people to not necessarily connect but rather seeking a balance in life, resetting yourself back to the norm. I read a few chapters on a book about the city planning. It mentioned on the effects to the people before/during/after city development or urbanization. Everything makes sense when there’s close quarter village community, residents would meet face to face on any occasion, when a city is as developed as it is; people were made to be isolated even when they seem live closer to each other. The face to face communication in the neigborhood would be cut off. I guess social media is there filling up all the gaps between us all.

    1. Happy new year Alan! I managed to read a fair bit in the last six months as I made it a point to read a book (instead of reading the news on my phone or looking at Instagram) when I’m riding the MTR to/from work. However because the rides are less than 30 minutes, I read mostly essays and short stories. I hope that I’ll get started on some longer reads – but think I’ll have to make time for these after work and on the weekends.

      I think sometimes we get distracted by something, and in turn procrastinate other matters, because the former seems easier and involves less effort. I was in Taiwan with my family last week and barely looked at social media – it was so refreshing. I decided that I would just enjoy my surroundings and spending time with my family, and that social media can wait. I ended up writing travel notes on paper and I want to eventually share them here and on social media after I’ve edited the photos.

      To your point about social media filling up the gaps in people’s social lives – what I appreciate about it is how it connects us with both people with know and strangers, thus expanding our world while at the same time making it smaller 🙂

  3. While I’m not someone who would spend time analysing something like this (cos it’s not a priority as the lady in the video would put it), I’d say that as long as it gives you pleasure, call it procrastination or whatever you want, it’s time well spent. Plus, those of us who live far away can benefit from the extra info accompanying your photos on whichever platform you choose to share them 🙂

    Having said that, whenever I fall into the time-crisis pit I keep reminding myself that, time as we know it, is a man-made invention. And since it wouldn’t exist without us, we can bloody well do with it whatever we please!

    1. Happy New Year Lia! Hope both of you had a fabulous festive break in NY. I was exploring Taiwan with my family over Christmas and NY, hence the belated reply. I barely looked at social media during those 10 days which was refreshing. I’m going to try to be more disciplined with my use of social media and be more purposeful in how I use the different channels – just need to work out a good balance so that I’ll have more time to write and read 🙂 Have a great start to the year and hugs & kisses to both of you!

      1. Happy New Year to you too Angelina! Sounds like you had a great time in Taiwan! I confess I haven’t managed to stay away from social media ever since I joined (rather late, around 4-5 years ago). Maybe it’s because I’m a late starter, that’s why I’m not too concerned about time spent – yet. I’m just adjusting time spent on-line according to the current conditions, f.ex. writing on the new blog is kept to a minimum with posting more photos instead. NY fast pace doesn’t allow for much else 🙂 I’m sure you’ll find the right balance – but don’t think too much about this! Having said all that, let me switch to Insta now, check out what I’ve been missing there hehehe…

        1. Have fun with catching up ground on social media 😉 I think I’m going to try and write shorter posts with more pictures. I’ve always found it harder to write a short article versus a long one! xoxox

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