On a recent Saturday night, I decided I just wanted to stay in. I didn’t have work piling up, I wasn’t too stressed out about anything and I wasn’t even all that tired, but I just didn’t have the urge to go out. So, I sat in my room, put on the next episode of “New Girl” and cuddled up with my body pillow. I figured I could use a night with myself.
Except it wasn’t really a night with myself. Within a few seconds of lying down in bed, I felt an instant urge to check my phone, as I probably had 50 times throughout that day. It had almost become an unconscious routine, especially before I went to bed and after I woke up every day. First, I would check my texts, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Pulse and finally, SnapChat.
I know I’m not alone in this self-justified madness, but why do we spend so much time checking up on what everyone else is doing? Maybe we are just social beings, maybe we just want to make sure no one needs us, but more likely, we are just fueling our FOMO.
FOMO—for those of you well beyond your college years—is the constant fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what you’re currently doing. While the term is relatively new, the concept is closely tied to the nature of mankind. It has recently become fueled by the influx of technologies used to further “connect” us.
Ironically, the fear of missing out often causes us to miss out on the things we are already doing and the people we are already with. We check our phones so often when we are with friends because something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening. We settle for the awkward moments when an entire table of people are on their phones, wrongly justifying that someone on the other line is more important than we are. We text while driving because the possibility of a social connection is more important than our own lives.
We interrupt real interaction for superficial connection, to make sure whatever is going on somewhere else isn’t more important, to make sure we aren’t missing out on something more fun. Then we justify it and say it’s not “interruption,” it’s “connection.” Except it’s not a “connection,” but rather something less real. It may be better, it may be worse—we just don’t know until we check. According to Edison Research, half of mobile phone users always have their device within arm’s length.
Our fast-paced lives are built upon layers of multi-tasking, social networking and a constant desire to know what’s going on. Sometimes, we just need to rest. However, we struggle with rest and we struggle with spending uninterrupted quality time with ourselves. Why are we so afraid to be alone, to be actually alone?
I have a clock in my room that clearly displays the time, yet I still feel the need to check my phone each time I wake up in the middle of the night. I take a 10-minute study break after every hour of studying and during this so-called “break” I spend nine minutes on Facebook and the other minute refilling my water bottle. I’m pretty sure besides the moments before I fall asleep, I spend less than an hour per day actually doing nothing, actually alone with my thoughts, undistracted by music, or television or watching what other people are doing. According to Prosper Mobile Insights, eight in ten smart phone owners use them “all the time,” even on vacation. Maybe this is why so many of us are so stressed all the time. Even when we are trying to rest, we simply fuel our FOMO and end up feeling even more anxious.
In the end, there is really no way to escape the fear of missing out. There will always be something else going on and somewhere else we could be. When we succumb to FOMO, however, we are settling. We are settling for the instant gratification of a night out over building a stronger relationship with the people we are already with. We are settling for quick hookups over long-term relationships. We are settling for the little moments and sacrificing the potential for bigger ones.
Risk-taking isn’t getting out of bed and mustering the courage to make it to Shooters when it’s 40 degrees and raining. Risk taking is saying no to meaningless connections and actually engaging with the people we are with, as well as showing ourselves the respect for our own undivided attention.
In other news, I’ve checked my phone about 20 times in the making of this column.
Dillon Patel is a Trinity sophomore. This is his final column of the semester. Send Dillon a message on Twitter @thecasualdevil.