I’ve been watching Twitter and Ditto feeds of people at SxSW, and, from a distance, I get a distinct sense of the social anxiety and FOMO that’s going on there. “FOMO” stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and it’s what happens everywhere on a typical Saturday night, when you’re trying to decide if you should stay in, or muster the energy to go to the party.
FOMO is all too often why we go online. Not that what we read isn’t of value. I try to read a decent variety of current affairs, news, and blogs; I try to look at quality photo and video; I try to follow technology, and instructional technology and higher ed issues, with some integrity; and I hope to maintain some currency with recent internet memes. We have many many other and better things to do online and off, but for many of us FOMO keeps us clicking on links to see what what we’re missing. But it’s not the only reason we spend too much time online. The other big reason is to distract from responsibility, from the stress and anxiety of obligations to ourselves and others. The promise to that we’ll only surf for a couple of minutes predictably goes beyond that. Distraction from anxiety can end up consuming so much time that we have little left to do what we need to, and then it’s usually not done well and almost as often it’s done past deadline. Thus we fulfill our fears that what we do won’t be good enough, and that circle justifies going back online to distract ourselves again.
We often attempt restarts like this. “This time will be different.” “It’s never too late to have a good day.” Merlin Mann’s take on resolutions, Stop Blaming the Pancake” is apt here:
[B]e clear about the sanity of the motivations underlying your expectations—step back to observe what’s truly broken, derive a picture of incremental success that seems do-able, and really resolve to do whatever you can realistically do to actually get better.
Trying to change things, he says, is like making pancakes. The first one always sucks, and it’s easy to get discouraged about it. We may not know yet what’s realistic. I do know I want to put more of my stuff out there, which means making at least a few more pancakes than I’ve made in the past. Some of them will suck. Got to get past that. Here goes.