The Joy of Missing Out

I freaking love technology, even though I'm a bit slow to learn most of it. I love how technology enables me to shop for stuff I need at any time of the day or night, with hat hair and a rosacea breakout, no makeup and wearing my favorite pair of baggy sweatpants. Companies that have free shipping both ways, in addition to my favorite goods and services, will have my business indefinitely, or at least until someone even better comes along. Technology has enabled me to meet, communicate with and connect with clients, potential clients, online friends, and biz besties, new and old, all over the world.

It's also made the fact that I've relocated to Portland, while my entire family still lives in California, just a little bit easier on all of us. Social media alone provides an endless stream of entertainment, inspiration, education, commerce, religion and politics, news, weather, and sports, with far less effort than it takes to pick up a pen and write my name. It's almost too good to be true. And like everything else I have ever had that thought about, technology isn't actually perfect. In fact, it has a dark side that is more like an evil twin than the other side of a coin.

The dark side of technology is that nearly all of it is engineered to be highly addictive. For years, concerned parents, school teachers and pediatricians have been worried about the effect of video games on developing brains. Now, the vast majority of humans on this planet carry a smartphone in their pocket, a device that offers an intoxicating array of apps on-demand, 24/7. Even those of us who are aware of their addictive nature can't pull ourselves away. The reason why is FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

We are glued to our email inbox, our Facebook feed, and our text message app, ever vigilant lest we overlook some seemingly crucial tidbit of information or amusement. It's never cool to be the last to know, so we remain watchful and alert, even to the point of keeping the phone under our pillow at night. Not surprisingly, the incidence of anxiety and insomnia among otherwise healthy adults is at a record high.

Fast forward to the present, halfway through 2021 and hopefully more than halfway through this awful pandemic. Not only does the average home have several, big-screen TVs, but we also have YouTube, podcasts, video games, virtual reality headsets, and numerous social media platforms to entice us into engaging with them. Books, magazines, and newspapers are being rapidly replaced by digital versions. Dating, mating and relating takes place on your tablet or smartphone, and swiping has almost completely replaced flirting and the fine art of conversation. Soft skills such as empathy, compromise, self-awareness, and insight are rapidly becoming irrelevant and ultimately obsolete.

Given the chance to conduct transactions of various types - making travel arrangements for a vacation, securing treatment for a minor medical condition, allocating investment funds for a retirement account or ordering a pizza, the vast majority of us would prefer doing so online. Even this baby boomer, who has degrees in communications and social work, would prefer to bypass human interaction for most transactions.

What I love most about technology can be summed up in two words - options and efficiency. Amazon offers me countless choices, while the local mall, but a few thousand. I can run most areas of my life from my laptop with more ease and less frustration than I ever could in the "real world' and for the record, technology has become the real world. I wouldn't describe my relationship with technology as a complete love-fest, though. It's actually somewhat complicated.

I value convenience and efficiency, but I have zero desire to become an addict to my device to gain them. One of my core values is freedom, but being tethered to Instagram or Facebook around the clock, enslaved by FOMO, feels like the opposite. The solution to this dilemma is simple, but not easy. The formula I created for myself and my clients is based on the acronym ABC. Awareness, Boundaries, Commitment.

I could pretend that I don't know how addictive technology is ( for me, podcasts and social media are tech drugs of choice) but the fact is that I do know. If I choose to ignore what I know, I am using denial as a defense mechanism, just like any other addict. Denial is like choosing to be unconscious, instead of awake. I use the word AWARENESS to remind me. A simple way to stay aware is to monitor and track my usage. Last year, I updated to the iPhone 11 Pro, which has built-in statistics for how the user spends his/her time. The categories aren't perfect, but there's no way I can lie to myself about spending time listening to podcasts or scrolling my social feeds. I just need to make myself look at the stats.

Boundaries are the second step of the plan. My use of the word 'boundaries' basically means setting myself up for success by preventing or minimizing distractions, interruptions and time spent unaware of what I'm doing. I use a combination of scheduled reminders on my phone, the Pomodoro technique ( 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off) plus the old school technique of the hourglass, except mine, which has only 30 minutes worth of sand. I schedule the time I spend on social media and podcasts and use one of these techniques to limit myself to that amount time.  I have learned the hard way that some apps are so addictive for me that I have to abstain from them completely. One such app is named after the sound an old-fashioned analog wall clock makes.  I literally get triggered by saying or tying the name of it.  

Do I feel actually joy, happiness or elation from opting out?  Well, not really, not in the moment anyway.  But, I absolutely feel joy, as well as pride and a deep sense of satisfaction when I realize I am in control of how I am using my life and have a lot fewer moment of regret than I used to, which makes room for more joyful experiences.    

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