Fear Of Missing Out

I was having dinner Friday night with some friends. As most people who know me, know that if we get along, then our discourse will often be broad, but will always have depth. 

The conversation started out as most typically do. We all exchanged recent updates in our lives and plans for the future. The refreshing part about good friends is also that we can share our struggles in a safe and empathetic manner. 

As we talked more about what was going on, I had mentioned that I was personally struggling with people being non-commital. I was explaining how I have tried to make plans with several people with one of a few things happening. 

  • Either they do not give a sincere commitment to participate. 
  • They say they will join and shortly before the event flake. 
  • A final possibility is that they are all too busy to find time to do any activity. 

I was reassured that I was not the only one experiencing this behavior. I had not suspected as such, but the notion was comforting to hear. 

I would like to dive into each one of these bullets and what is behind their cause. It might be helpful or comforting, as it was to me, to know that these aspects have little to nothing to do with us as individuals. 

Fear of Missing Out

One interesting concept that came up during this discussion was a term known as “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO. This concept was stunning to me. This notion suggests that people are non-commital out of fear of missing out on some better opportunity. Therefore, to reserve the possibility of finding something better to do, they do not commit to a specific activity, or they immediately flake when a better opportunity arises. 

This fear has been driven by the advent of social media. Through social media, we are always connected. People who have this social anxiety are continually searching for the next best thing. 

Additionally, on these platforms, people only post the “great” things that are happening in their lives. This focus, in turn, acts as a filtering mechanism on many levels. 

Technological Filter

The first level of filtering is that any negative, and utterly human part of life is all but lost. So we have these even smaller than usual windows into people’s lives that are remarkably rose-colored. They are so rose-tinted that we are blinded to the fact that these are real people who harbor real struggles. 

The next filtration aspect comes from the fact that these platforms are designed to help you “be more connected.” It is true that we have more connections than ever on these sites. However, by nature, they are some stripped away semblance of human interaction at best. Even the “most realistic” type of technological interaction, something like Skype or FaceTime, narrows your perceptual view down to a small window. That is to say; you can only see a small part of what the other person is seeing, along with the audio and video feed being digitized.

Now, this is not to say that this is not a significant advancement for those folks who live far from family. It is a vast improvement as compared to the telephone. The argument here is that we more and more are substituting these technologically augmented experiences for the real thing. These experiences are not giving us what we as humans need and that is quality, face-to-face human interaction. 

Too Busy For You

In my many years of social interaction, I have never gotten this answer to inquiries about getting to know someone more than I have recently. 

I keep getting told “I am swamped now, how about in three weeks” or “I am very busy with this new thing, I will contact you when things calm down.” 

I have had a similar situation where “I am swamped this week, what about the week after next?” Then several days pass, and I get a message, “are you free tomorrow night?”

One signal that is being sent is that I am not significant enough to prioritize. This notion hurts the ego but can be handled. There is also a potential flipside to the coin. Perhaps these people are too busy. If they are, then what could they be doing? 

Most of us live in a reality that is not of our creation. We think that we are independent agents and that we set our own goals under our own free will. I am here to tell you this is much less the case than you would like to believe. 

The point here is that we are taught to do’ers. We are taught that trying harder at work, or getting involved with more activities or buying more things will make us happy. In this case, more is more. More gaining requires more doing. This process is a vicious circle. 

The sad part about all of this is I believe most people keep doing more as a means of distraction. They do not want to experience who or what it is that they indeed are. They are fearful of their inner feelings. They are afraid of having to cope and handle them. 

I am here to tell you that I am a human as well and I know this because I have in times past done the same thing. I have spent years running from myself. I still fall into that old rut sometimes. That is when we need to take a step back and refocus on what is essential. 

It goes beyond my opinion that high quality face-to-face social interaction is one of the most important things for a human being. Forcing oneself to lead a life where we cannot take care of ourselves, and then enter the world de-energized to attempt to engage physically and socially with others is a tragedy. 

Another thing the quotes at the beginning of this section tell me, especially the last expression, is that right now I don’t have time for you. If something comes up and I think that you are worthy, then you can join. Or if no one else in my friend group can join, then I will invite you. 

Not getting invited does not bother me and after some time, I have gained a strong sense of being able to decode these somewhat cryptic messages. What does bother me is the lack of honesty and integrity. Under no circumstances should we lie. 

Perhaps these people are not lying outright, maybe they are busy, and this is the dialogue that they hold with themselves. But in reality, they are lying to themselves even if as said above it has been a taught behavior. We all have the same 24 hours in a day; we prioritize different activities and people. That is a fact. 

The loss of a relationship and human connection

The conversation the other evening evolved into discussing how people of this day and age are losing the ability to foster contact and relationships with others. We are taught for so much of our lives that we are isolated individuals that we come to believe it. This idea drives the sense of separation, like a wedge, into our lives. 

As human beings, we are not isolated individuals. The illusion that we are separate from this world in any way is absurd. To attempt to study, and understand the world modern science has boxed things up. That is the only way something can be considered is by separating it from its environment. However, if we look closely, all things are a result of their environment. 

A good conversationalist

After discussing the loss of human relationship and connection, the conversation naturally focused on being a good conversationalist. I would argue that most people do not know what the word means, let alone how to carry out such a thing. In the end, a quality conversation takes effort from both parties. If I am asking questions of someone all of the time without receiving anything back, the discussion becomes very energetically draining for me, or for anyone. 

I like to think of a good quality conversation as a ping-pong game. I ask you a question; the ball bounces onto your side of the table. You field the ball or question, and then return it to me. If I keep serving ping-pong balls to you, and you keep catching them and not hitting them back, then this game gets very dull, very quickly. 

Many people default to, “I don’t know what to ask.” This idea is a poor excuse. If the person asks you how your day went, you can say “Good and yours?” When they respond with something like “Alright,” then you can follow-up with “What made it alright?” or “What was the most exciting part of your day?” The key is to get interested, to get curious about them. Put on your detective hat and try to understand what is going on inside of their head. 

We should be careful here as vigorously probing someone else can also not be a lot of fun for them. There is a balance. We must be willing and eager to ask questions, just as much as we should be to listen and read their body language. The most significant part of being a good conversationalist is critical listening skills both verbal and non-verbal.

Conclusions

At this point you are probably thinking, okay, great, socially human beings are degrading, what does this mean for me and what can I do about it? 

One thing that I think we should all realize is that as humans, we are a result of our average daily surroundings. That is to say, who we hold as friends, who we have as a family, where we live, where we work, where we choose to frequent makes us who we are. There is some aspect to this which we can decide how to interpret situations, but much of it is unconscious to us. The thing that we can be conscious of is the caliber of people with whom we interact. 

Another critical aspect is that we should recognize technology and social media especially for what it is. It is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. As they say, when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Social media can augment our interactions, but we must keep the focus on that aspect, that it is artificial, and that it is not reality. 

The final thing to note is that relationships and conversations have specific skills attributed to them. We would never walk up to a professional soccer match and jump in expecting to be one of the best in the world. Excellent soccer players spend years sculpting, molding and perfecting their skills and craft. The same mindset should be placed on that of conversation and relationships.