It’s a relatively new acronym. We didn’t need an acronym before because this fear was so rare. You might experience it a couple or few times a year, whereas now you can experience it many times in an hour. Most social networking has inadvertently become primarily about activating that fear: the fear of missing out.
100 years ago you might have felt this if you had to leave for university knowing that your brother was coming back from the war, or that the horse and carriage that you were riding on couldn’t hope to make it home in time for your sister’s birth. But today you can experience this feeling minute by minute just by watching social media. You can be told about all of the amazing places you aren’t seeing, or the amazing meals you’ll never cook. You’ll see the exercise results you’ll never achieve, you’ll see the parties and events and concerts you didn’t go to, the clothes you can’t afford—you’ll see all the choices you didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t make.
The point is, you’ll be able to compare. It’s like internet dating: it’s easy to think of a relationship as disposable if you know there are websites with literal lists of other potential choices. But of course Barry Schwartz has studied choice (Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice) and what we learned was that more choice simply translates to more chances for you to be wrong and disappointed. So despite what retailers tell you, more choice does not make you happier it makes you sadder. And the same goes for choices regarding what to do with your most precious commodity, time. Too much choice can freeze us with confusion. Brains aren’t wired up to be able to track the myriad of choices and decisions that need to be made each and every day in today’s world.
So how does this translate to life? Here’s how a lot of 1st world people’s lives go today: starting around lunch or after work, people start watching the various emails and newsfeeds on their phones to help them decide what to choose to do that night or on the weekend. Of course, they might have already committed to an event two weeks ago via social networking, but the very nature of social networking means that even if something is scheduled, you’ll still compare it to what options have shown up since you made the “commitment.” The problem is that these choices just keep scrolling by much like our life will if we’re not careful. Because what a lot of people are telling me today is that they’ll get home and waffle between choices until it’s somewhere between 9:00 and 11:00pm and then they feel it’s too late to start anything and so they end up doing nothing. Ironically social networking has inadvertently made everyone far less social.
Of course what you’re seeing on social networking isn’t what’s actually going on. Because most people aren’t really telling you what’s really going on. There’s no more ego-based world that social networking. Most people are just struggling to post lives that look as impressive as their friends’ appear to be. And so all unflattering but honest photos are untagged and any remaining photos will all be from what you perceive as your good side so we essentially get to see the same photo over and over and over. Plus any unflattering remarks or statements are deleted or edited or blocked. All weakness is hidden unless we actually want people to feel sorry for us, in which case the feeds will be subconscious solicitations for sympathy masquerading as love. But that’s the last resort, so most of what we’re seeing are social lies that are attempting to position people for Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes of fame, albeit often only within our own social circle.
Social networking can be very useful and I’m happy to use it effectively to achieve positive ends. But if I didn’t have to be on it I wouldn’t. Not because I’m against it, but because I would have so much living to get done that I wouldn’t have the time. You see this with people that live in the mountains. They often can’t get cell phone access and so their kids grow up largely without phones being their primary source of information. The world is their source of information and entertainment and enjoyment. So when they are exposed to technology it all just seems like lame approximations of life rather than life itself. To a kid from the mountains most city kids look like the people in the pods in the movie The Matrix. They’re not really alive, they’ve just been convinced they are by what they’re seeing. The truly interesting people are actually out doing interesting, exciting and expansive things in the real world not the virtual one. They don’t share and forward videos of lions doing cool things. They get on a plane, fly to Africa and they go see some actual lions. And half the time they don’t take a camera with them to prove to you their ego’s winning. It’s quite a difference from a life spent scrolling on a phone.
Don’t sit at home watching your options/life scroll by in some news feed. Don’t sit in a coffee shop looking at your phone or you won’t see the attractive, appealing person who’s trying to get your attention. And remember that life was meant to be lived. It’s not a show. It’s not a performance. You’re not supposed to be lauded for your wardrobe or hair or cinematography—your life is not a production. You are simply supposed to live. But to do that, you have to stop spending so much time watching life looking for the best thing possible, and instead get out into the world and just simply do the best thing available in the moment you’re in. That leads to an awesome life. So just make life a verb and the rest will be fine.
Now of course all of this is deeply ironic because you are likely reading this via some news feed on your phone or computer. But again, nothing is good or bad, it’s merely how we use something and then what are the consequences? So make your use of technology more conscious. Actually ask yourself if you’re using it like an addict uses substances to avoid dealing with life, or if you’re really using it to improve yourself or to make active, conscious and life-affirming decisions about what to actually do with this incredibly brief experience we have with life itself. Because as anyone on their death bed will tell you, time is the most valuable thing you have and so how you spend it should always be at the forefront of your mind.
Don’t waffle over choice. Choose and make that choice a verb. Whatever else you might do in that same time is irrelevant as long as you enjoy or get some reward from what you did choose to do. And that is always possible and it’s entirely up to you.
Thank you for your time. Have yourself a wonderful day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.