Something amazing happened to me recently week when I attended a beautiful concert by the talented Claire Bowditch.
As I sat mouth wide open and totally engaged in the performance. I realised that my son and I were totally engrossed in the moment and there was no sign of either of us reaching for our phones.
Apart for the woman in front of us who was recording Betsy the very funny interpretative dancer on the stage. Everyone else had their phones tucked away and to my amazement the whole audience were totally in the moment.
I can’t tell you how long it had been that I was totally engrossed in something for more than 10 minutes, all I knew was that it was far too long.
Oh f@#%&,what I’m realising of late is that I might have been under a serious cloud of FOMO. Now for those over 30 years of age FOMO means the fear of missing out. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is:
“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
The acronym itself apparently came from marketing gurus in the early 1990’s when used to explain how new media commerce was undermining traditional brand loyalties. Or it might have come from some young person’s Facebook page and went viral to the delight of the young person who invented it, who knows? What I do know is that FOMO is pushing its way into our distracted lives, like it or not, despite our generational difference.
So that might not be a bad thing says the young person on the smart phone next to me, after all, YOLO! Now for you old folk again YOLO means “you only live once”. So the theory is you only live once so you should grab all opportunities that come your way. Fortunately or unfortunately with social media and hand held devices there are now so many opportunities every second of the day, that I’m anxious just thinking about which option carpe diem em!
What could possibly be wrong with that you ask? Well from a long standing FOMO sufferer, let me answer that.
There are a couple of things that happen when FOMO rides in on a massive wave and swamps our little brains.
Firstly we can become anxious. Worried about missing out, anxious about not responding in time, seriously concerned that no one has responded to us and just plain anxious about being anxious. There have been numerous studies done over the last 5 years about what happens when we can’t have access to our phones (mainly with teenagers, because adults don’t suffer from phone addiction!). Sadly the withdrawal process is not unlike that of being addicted to drug and alcohol. This “on call” status means we are available anytime, anyplace anywhere, how stressful for us as human beings. Our obligation to respond is overwhelming and even addictive.
Secondly if we are obsessed with FOMO then we are clearly missing out on other stuff in our lives that might have more meaning or could be more important in the long term. Sleep for example is one area which is being sidelined because we want more time online; think of how many nights a week we go to bed with our phones in our hand and let’s be clear it’s not just teenagers, adults are doing this too, and myself included. Insomnia has become the new black and is on the rise and it’s not going away any time soon.
Are we simply in a habit of over connecting and FOMO has weaved its way into our lives as an incessant rash that just won’t go away? Others will say but isn’t happiness about connecting with people? Well yes it is, but are we over connecting to the point where meaningful connection is now about obligation? I feel obliged to attend that online Facebook event to save the ancient slug of Yemen, I’m obliged to say yes to event invitations, and if I can’t say yes there is a maybe button. I’m obliged to say the obligatory sorry to a friend who has lost their wallet and posted it on Facebook. Meaningful connection is about conversations not in 140 characters or less, it is about looking into someone’s eyes and them knowing you are really listening.
Ok rant almost over. I realise I risk sounding old here, but I’m not quite finished yet observing and questioning whether this on call FOMO status is good for us.
One of the things I talked to a friend about the other day was the worry about what the world holds for our 9 year olds. More than ever before because of technology we are part of a global culture.
Before you shoot me down yes I’m aware that there are many good things to come from this. There are also some things that worry me greatly. We have started to see the world as a smaller place and our global community news can sometimes be suffocating and claustrophobic don’t have to look any further then our news feed to see in graphic detail the brutal beheadings, the poverty stricken children and the unsolved murders that hit us right between the eyes in high resolution colour. One might argue that we need to be aware of these things as responsible global citizens, but should children be aware of them, should we be de-concertized to violence like never before. Should we be aware 24/7, especially when our power to change massive problems is far beyond our ability to make change? We can feel overwhelmed, depressed and helpless. I suppose it does have the effect of making some of us feel better about our own lives.
I remember when the ‘Todd Carney incident’ hit headlines around Australia (in case you erased it from your mind, the footballer who peed in his mouth and then someone uploaded a photo of it on social media). I even found myself reading article upon article about it until I realised that I didn’t need to too, it wasn’t that important, but all I could think was thank goodness I’m not Todd Carney. This had become my diet of reading every Monday morning how the f$%&* did I get here?
In the same week I read about the now infamous Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study, whereby a bunch of academics decided “ethically” it might be a good idea to manipulate the emotional content of our Facebook news feeds to see how that would affect us? Not sure how this one got through Ethics, but what it did for me was again remind me that I am being manipulated and I need to question my online use and behaviour.
The bad news just this week has been so overwhelming with children being abducted from front yards to the war (sorry “air combat”) in Syria and Iraq. But still there is a macabre side of me that feels I should click and find out the details despite how horrible they are. That fear that I might miss out on information is growing by the minute. The sad thing is there are no details kept from publication to protect the audience. When Robin Williams died of suicide recently we were not spared any details of his death, the how, the when, the where and people even tried the why. What kept me wanting to click on more and more information, was it FOMO?
The one thing that FOMO does interfere with is my ability to stick with a task and finish it. My concentration levels have deteriorated and the procrastination opportunities have exploded.
The choice of what to do, see, hear and find is now beyond comprehension sometimes. The Paradox of Choice written by Barry Schwartz tells us that more choice does not make life easier. In fact too many choices drain our mental energy and impede our decision making abilities. This is clearly why I have trouble in supermarket isles and online shopping.
So the costs of FOMO overtaking us mere humans are pretty huge. I can’t continue to ignore this in my life; I need to take some action against it, straight after I check out this link to 50 of the best Tacos that is.
After listening to Chris Sauve’s TedX talk on the habits of boring people I think I might have a starting point.
He talked about the three things boring people do that help them stay on task, stay focused and which eventually leads to more creatively simple lives. I clearly remember as a child being bored a lot. My parents would say go outside and play. Through our boredom we would find new adventures, creative outlets and discover new people and places.
So I will leave you with the three things I am going to try and do more of. The three habits that highly boring people do are:
- They write stuff down – Our memories are not good at handling more than 5 to 9 short term memory items.
- They reduce the essentials – put simply means don’t have more stuff and choices then we need.
- They stop and question – they do not jump in without looking at the facts and fine print, taking only calculated risks.
I will leave you to ponder this question. Will the next Click and Go generation be able to have a meaningful conversation with another human for more than 5 minutes or will they be checking their phones for a better offer?
All I can think of now is at least Todd Carney can concentrate on the skill of peeing in his mouth without checking his phone, effort Todd effort.