December 19, 2015

FOMO: An Addiction To Kick

The fear of missing out. It’s become a universal emotion among digital natives and digital immigrants. The more we grow attached to our devices, the more immersive this anxiety becomes. We’ve glued ourselves to our phones, our iPads, our Xboxes, our laptops. The very things we’ve created to make convenience are killing our ability to live easy.

In a short speaking exercise, I asked my students what they do in their spare time.

“Play video games,” said most of the boys.

“Take pictures for Instagram,” said a few of the girls.

One young (and very intelligent) girl said, “I help my mom sell makeup online.”

A handful said they play sports. Some said they read. Others talked about music and their instruments.

But when I followed that question and asked them if they wished they were doing something else while participating in those things, the collective answer was no (after staring at me like I had seven heads). Then they went back to pecking at their Chromebooks.

Somewhere along the lines of growing up (I currently teach in a middle school), people are developing a sense of nomophobia, the fear of not having your mobile phone; with or without noticing it.

My students have barely enough to focus on what I’m saying over the course of 45 minutes.

Diana Crandall (via ATTN:) puts it elegantly in this article, “The Quiet Reason Your FOMO is Worse Than Ever.

FOMO is eating our mentalities. Our ability to be functioning, literate adults is becoming short-changed by the anxiety of missing out on up-to-date information; even though 75% of the content out there might as well be recycled reposts.

Attention spans are dwindling and the level of literacy is falling fast. The first thing Allison does when she comes home after work is check her social media. Regrettably, I do the same before bed. I receive most of my Snapchats after 5pm, when my friends and family get off of work. Some of my friends (who are in their late 20’s, early 30’s and have no excuse) still confuse there, their, and they’re! And, like most of these friends, I feel the urgency to check my email throughout the day for fresh inbox content. I believe the two are correlated. (My M.Ed thesis delved into that concept.)

Even as I write out this article, I’m checking my Twitter feed to see if there’s anything good to read or watch.

Crandall points out “that 40 percent of American 18-30 year olds check their smart phone at least once every 10 minutes,” (a 2012 Cisco study).

please like me

So what is the problem? What can we do to fix this? How can we ease our mobile phone separation anxiety? While I am certainly no psychologist, I can give some advice that worked for me.

The first tip I found is to become aware of your obsession. I think that is a feat all in itself. It took me some time but the research is there. Recognizing your signs takes practice. Here’s a “Smartphone Abuse Test” that I found in my travels.

Then you might want to consider weaning yourself off from certain apps and media sites. I deleted my Facebook and Twitter apps and only access the accounts when I’m sitting at a desk (which is probably another problem in itself, but I’m taking it slow.) It got rid of all the annoying taskbar notifications and urgency to tap them. Sometimes I forget I even have a Reddit account.

The other thing I try to do more often is leave my phone home when running out of the house for a bit. If I’m going up to the beach for an hour or so, I’ll leave it behind. Or I won't bring it if I’m running to get groceries. That's been good practice, causing me to utilize my focus and attention skills more often. It accompanied my methods of being more mindful and aware quite well, too.

For some further information, check out this article ("What Happens When You Kick Your Cellphone Addiction" also at ATTN:). It considers the many benefits to cutting back on your screen-time and provides some additional advice.

I don’t think it’s an issue with the actual technology. We love our electronics, but I think much of that love has to do with the relationship to information. Whether it's sharing or downloading, we’re constantly looking to interact. Part of this could parallel our humanistic thirst for knowledge. Part of it could be our consumeristic culture. Albeit, whatever disposition, we need to perceive the affliction. It’s a sickness, changing our very own skeletal evolution. Put the phone down and go for a walk. If you don't do something about it now, it is only going to get worse.

(art by @notnotcamscott)