The 21st Century has created an epidemic known as FOMO which is an acronym for a syndrome loosely defined as ‘fear of missing out’.
FOMO is often used as a descriptor of the angst that is experienced over the deluge of data and information available through social media. FOMO grabs people and makes them constantly worried that they are missing something that is important or entertaining or better than the experience they are currently having. FOMO may be more prevalent among young people but as more and more seniors rely on social media and the internet to stay in touch and informed, FOMO is something to manage.
Symptoms of FOMO
You know that you have FOMO if you are constantly checking emails, texts, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media. You may break up a conversation with your spouse/partner to check your iPhone or to take an in-coming call from some unknown caller. You become obsessed with the stream of information coming from that small hand-held screen. You may text while driving or while attending a meeting or a party. You may let tweets from friends interrupt a dinner or a concert. You may be frantic if you don’t post daily on Facebook. You may wake up during the night to check email.
These behaviours have a cumulative effect on your life and you start to believe that 24/7 connection is required. As a point of fact, some social apps are deliberately constructed to keep people coming back for more information. It’s a form of addiction.
Consuming a steady stream of social media can leave you feeling so afraid of what you are missing that you forget to enjoy what is really happening in the here and now.
How does FOMO affect you?
As you become more addicted to social media you begin to experience the effects of FOMO. You may feel some level of self-doubt. You may worry that you may have missed something important or that you are ‘out of the loop’. You may feel inadequate because you have not responded quickly enough with an entertaining, or even some mundane update about your own life.
Constant involvement with social media tantalizes us with glimpses into the worlds of our ‘friends’ (virtual and real) and into many aspects of their lives. We forget that people usually post updates showing themselves having fun, living the good life, and experiencing success rather describing disappointments in their lives. The social media promotes aggrandizement and bragging. People describe their accomplishments, upload their best photos and often present an idealized, and not a real self-picture in the virtual world.
Good News for the Postworksavvy
As I was discussing FOMO with one of my friends, she correctly observed that FOMO may be age-related. She noted that the 60+ crowd — while connected and using many forms of social media to stay involved with the world — may be less likely to suffer FOMO as they have a stronger sense of who they are and they already know that few things in life are so important that they can’t wait.
Shirley Turkle, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in her book Alone Together states that there is an immaturity in the relationship with technology. We ascribe undue power to technology and allow it to influence our lives including life decisions, moods, and emotions.
The postworksavvy technology and social media user knows other strategies for living without FOMO.
You know what’s important in your life and you don’t need to live in the reality of someone else’s life. It may be entertaining — in the short-term — to know that one of your friends just left on vacation or that someone is attending the opera this afternoon. If it causes you to feel left out, then you might want to examine other aspects of your life. You may also be interested in who is babysitting grandkids today or going to the mall. But this is not part of your daily reality and hardly worth much of your time.
Some things are personal and should not be broadcast to your friends — nor to the virtual world. The boundaries between our private lives and what is broadly known about us are already compromised in so many ways. Privacy issues regularly arise in use of credit cards, GPS devices, banking, and in required disclosures to government agencies. Why would anyone further jeopardize personal privacy by posting sensitive information on Facebook or sending a tweet? Does everyone really need to know where you are going for the weekend? Do you really care where all of your friends are this evening? The wisdom that comes with growing older does help in self-censoring information before posting it and also in filtering information that is available through social media.
You also know that what is happening in your own life — right now — is more important than what may be happening to someone else. FOMO can make you so afraid of what you are missing that you actually miss the joy of the moment. Living too much in the virtual world can cause you to lose your connection to real life. Our individual perspective, our wisdom, our values and beliefs guide us. We don’t need external validation for every thought or action.
Growing older helps us to understand and differentiate what is important for happiness. We know that it’s peaceful to pay attention to one thing at a time and to enjoy each day to its fullest. The postworksavvy person knows that time to reflect, time to think and time to rest the brain are important for achieving balance in life.
The postworksavvy person also understands that accessing information in the 21st Century changes constantly and stays abreast with these changes.
Nobody can remain isolated from social media. Staying involved with the world around us means that we use social media and other technology to enhance our lives. But we don’t need to create suffering by getting involved to the point where FOMO governs thinking.
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