Our culture suffers from a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out)? So we’re tweeting, instagramming, or facebooking where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing, 24 hours a day. It’s hard to deny that we’re out of balance. So how can we have a healthy relationship with social media?
What the heck is FOMO?
One hot day in 2007, my colleagues and I packed into a van, leaving our demanding ecological research behind for a few days to embark on a safari trip into Kruger National Park. We were eager to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat: Kruger is roughly the size of Isreal, where animals roam free, and roads occupy less than 10 percent of the landscape.
As the animals popped into view, we instantly started snapping picture. Herds of elephants, packs of wild dogs, and even lions mating–each one seemingly more exciting and special than the next.
“Was that a good picture?” “Did I get a good angle?” “Can you move over, I need a better shot.” The documentation couldn’t happen fast enough as we imagined who would create the champion Facebook. I already knew what I would call i: perhaps “Hakuna Matata: Timon, Pumbaa, Simba and Me Enjoying Safari”? Or “African Safari of a Lifetime: No Gun, Just Fun”?
I’m still not sure if it was triggered by the screams of my professor when a wanna-be Nat Geo photographer got her hips stuck in the tiny sliding glass window of our van as a lazy pack of lions slowly began to approach, or the glimpse of uninterrupted grace from a group of giraffes roping their black tongues around a treetops in slow motion, but all of a sudden it hit me:
No one was really seeing any of the animals. We were too busy capturing them through our tiny lenses. And for the first time, I put down my camera and just watched. There was no name for it then, but today we define this crazed addiction as FOMO.
Do you have FOMO?
“It begins with a pang of envy. Next comes the anxiety, the self-doubt, the gnawing sense of inadequacy. Finally, those feelings fizzle, leaving you full of bilious irritation.” These are the symptoms of FOMO, or fear of missing out, as accurately described by Hephizbah Anderson. Not sure how bad you have it? There’s a FOMO quiz to diagnose your specific case.
FOMO is directly connected with our addiction to social media. A recent study revealed smart phone users check their Facebook 14 times a day on average, spending about 32 minutes per day scrolling news feeds, liking and commenting.
The most common reason to be on platforms like Facebook is to stay in touch with distant friends, but is that what’s really happening on social media? Or are we seeking to be tied in a new way to our need for belonging and human connection?
Like so many things in life, social media is about balance. If we live behind our screens–computer, phone, camera–we miss so much of the subtle details.
Louis CK, in a raw and comedic interview about why we cling to social media, said we are afraid to feel alone. We don’t know how to be with ourselves and with our thoughts, and we’ve lost much our ability for human connection because of it.
These social media networks, which are designed to make us more social, are being overused in a way that impedes on reality. When used improperly, however, we increase social anxiety and start to create a barrier between the real world and our online life.
When FOMO takes over we lose sight of what is in front of us right now. We as humans are searching for connectivity. That’s what we really want in life–to feel connected. When we’re too dependent on our screens, we miss the big picture.
There is a time for sharing your excitement and thoughts via social media. But there is a fine line of getting caught up in a world that is virtual. Connect with the people in front of you, see the animals with your own eyes, so as not to lose sight of the life that is happening right now.