Is your computer laughing at you? Is your smartphone taunting you? Do you feel worthless, inadequate or simply intimidated by the things you see when you read your friends’ online status updates?
Previously in Technocracy, I condemned the nation of mental weaklings we are becoming:
Do you become despondent when someone you barely know “unfriends” you on a social media site like Facebook? Do you weep when you realize you have fewer “followers” on Twitter than you did the day before? Do you experience feelings of social withdrawal, loneliness and even suicide when a complete stranger leaves a nasty comment on one of your YouTube videos? Are you a wilting, hind-wringing, self-absorbed pansy?
The New York Times’ Jenna Wortham has given a name to our collective, oversensitive, hyper-connected pain: Fear Of Missing Out, or “FOMO.” In a pair of recent commentaries on the subject, she wrote first of the “hazards” of social media and social network sites like Facebook and Twitter:
My problem is emblematic of the digital era. It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media. … When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret … [and so] we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.
Ms. Wortham describes being practically paralyzed with fear at the thought of her friends, whose social media posts indicate they’re enjoying some interesting activity, leaving her behind as she sits “restless” and wondering if she ought not rush out of the house to meet them – lest these friends experience enjoyment of which she is not part.
In a follow-up commentary, Ms. Wortham admitted that response to her article included the condemnation of her social media addiction as “pathetic.” Wondering if FOMO is “a real affliction of the digital age,” she writes, “I like having the window into the lives of my friends enough to swallow any feelings of inadequacy that might arise because of it.” Feelings of inadequacy? Honestly? Are you really that fragile? So delicate are your sensibilities that the thought of friends connected to your Facebook account, who happen to be enjoying themselves, makes you examine the course of your life to that point and wonder where you went wrong?
Whether we’re still trying to learn, as a people, “how to process the constant flow of information that is now being piped directly into our computers and smartphones,” the phenomenon she describes as “FOMO” isn’t a disorder. It isn’t an affliction. It isn’t a condition. It isn’t some new, modern stressor produced by our technologically saturated society.
Student Rosalie Cabison scoffed at the notion of “FOMO” and dependence on social media: “Is this really a problem though?” she asks. “I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t experienced a sudden onset of jealousy prompted by a Facebook status update, but it’s not this crippling feeling that forces me to hold up a mirror to my own social inadequacies. Not to mention that you wouldn’t have doubts about a Friday night in if you never saw your friend’s update in the first place.”
Alex Salta was even less indulgent of Ms. Wortham’s imagined social media disorder. “… Wortham’s piece,” he writes, “while breezily written and absolutely enjoyable, seems to be more of a[n] examination of good ol’ fashioned upper-middle class, quarter life crisis, white-bread navel gazing than anything particularly social media-connected. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. Rivers Cuomo and Augusten Burroughs built empires on that unique brand of neuroses. But unlike many other things in this world, it’s not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.”
A society whose citizens blame external factors for their own failures is doomed to fall. A people who cannot cope with even the slightest external emotional pressure are condemned to die. At what point did we transform from a nation of rugged individuals whose culture and economy were the motive power behind the Western world … to a herd of bleating weaklings lying awake at night fretting that their acquaintances might be enjoying, unshared, a passing moment’s pleasure or activity?
Our presidents once called our enemies an “evil empire” and demanded that the keepers of the gulags tear down the walls imprisoning their oppressed citizens. Today our presidents dissemble sibilantly while wondering vaguely whether NATO will caretake their latest half-hearted not-a-war. From the Oval Office to living rooms across North America, we are losing the ability to cope with even the most benign of negative influences. We, as Americans, are no longer capable of rising to meet even the least daunting of challenges – for fear we might feel badly about ourselves.
My God, but we are a bunch of wusses.
Helen Keller said the “keynote” of her life was “to regard as mere impertinences of fate the handicaps which were placed upon my life almost at the beginning. I resolved that they should not crush or dwarf my soul, but rather be made to blossom, like Aaron’s rod, with flowers.”
How different is that attitude from the hand-wringing, oversensitive melodrama of people who feel inadequate because they’re too connected to their smartphones! How shocking is the contrast. How disheartening are the implications. When coping is the exception rather than the norm, it is no wonder that a national malaise grips our country. It is no mystery that so many men and women are unemployed. It is no surprise that so many people are helpless and dependent on liberal largesse.
The loss of the ability to cope is the harbinger of society’s fall. We must choose. We may indulge in absurd, made-up maladies like “FOMO,” or we can be productive, adult members of society.
If we choose the former, we will all die, slowly, of the very inadequacies that so paralyze us with worry.