Fear of missing out interrupts our best plans

There’s yet another affliction endemic to our modern western culture of abundance — the Fear of Missing Out, often abbreviated as FoMO.

This is usually presented as a problem with technology, such as smartphones that enable us to be connected at all times, as well as the reliance on social media, which has changed the ways in which we relate to one another.

Specifically, we forget that we know the full picture of the ups and downs of our own life, but we only see of others a hand-picked selection of what they choose to share.

I think it also manifests itself in the prevalence of over-scheduling and feeling compelled to commit to everything. If “keeping up with the Joneses” has to do with material goods, then FoMO has to do with how we spend our time and what activities we pick.

We believe everyone else is out having a better time, so we think we need to try to do it all to not be left behind in the dust of their exciting lives.

Imagine the scene: You are curled up at home with a good book and a cup of tea. You decide to peek at Facebook before you really dive in to your novel. (I want to be the voice yelling “Don’t do it!” just like you’d shout at someone about to open the creaky door in a scary movie. FoMO is fed by checking these type of sites.)

You see the postings of your friends taking selfies during an evening on the town.

Wham! FoMO strikes. Your peace of mind is gone because you now feel inadequate. Your life just isn’t that exciting compared to others, or so you think (as an avid reader, I would argue that this depends on what books you’ve checked out from the library).

The point is that what you were looking forward to now suddenly seems shabby and not good enough. You worry that you made the wrong choice.

It also seems FoMO is the motivator behind the people who spring from one activity to another.

This month it’s rock-climbing, but previously it was tap-dancing and before that, it was origami.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying new things and consequently deciding that something isn’t for you, but I’m talking about people who bounce around like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

I can say these things and poke a little bit of fun because I’m one of them. I still think I’m inherently lazy, and when the going gets tough, I just switch to something else. But the more I’ve investigated this FoMO concept, I see myself in it.

Today is a perfect example. As I sat down to write this article, I found myself surfing from one wave to another on the Internet, looking for various types of fun classes I could take.

The theme for this past week has been that I need to simplify and not have so many obligations.

Yesterday, I had to eat a salad out of a measuring cup because all my bowls were dirty. I need to go to the grocery and do laundry, and I’m bummed out because I won’t be able to squeeze in a bike ride today. Yet somehow, I think I have all this time to sign up for an aerial yoga class?!

This plays out socially when we see how people would rather interrupt the interaction they are currently having in order to investigate the one they might be able to have. The notification on the phone just might bring a better opportunity; therefore, it must be checked immediately, so the current mentality goes.

In the worst scenario, it is extremely dangerous as it leads to texting while driving. And at best, it is beyond rude to the original person. I would love to invent a device that allows you to zap your companion when they do this while in your presence. Let’s hear it for good old-fashioned operant conditioning).

It also leads to competitiveness — who gets the most texts, followers or likes — none of which is an accurate assessment of the quality of relationships.

As with any game, you can refuse to play. Don’t pick up the gauntlet that has been thrown down in front of you. Figure out what you want to do or what is best for you at any given time.

Imagine you can hear the voice of your mother asking that classic question: “Why does it matter to you what everyone else is doing?!”

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.