It starts off with an e-mail. One of 95 unread e-mails in my inbox. 95! I really must unsubscribe from all of these mailing lists. Travel deals, one day only sales, library reminders… delete, delete, delete.
I hover over the next one. A past pupil newsletter from my high school. It blinks at me on the screen – seemingly innocent – unaware of the anguish it is about to cause me.
You see, people from my high school don’t appear to be normal people. Oh no, they never sit at home in their track pants lazing away an afternoon watching back-to-back episodes of The Wire. They’re off in India spreading joy to the homeless, or managing hospitals in South Africa, or travelling the world offering advice to foreign governments as part of the United Nations, or posting Instagram pics of their immaculate waterfront apartments paid for with the money they earned on the stock exchange.
I click on the e-mail. Sure enough, the past pupils’ news section soon has my stomach gripped in the familiar anxious knots… Sarah* currently lives in Cape Town where she works as an art buyer for a leading advertising firm. She is an adrenaline junkie and in her spare time she runs marathons. Carl is playing professional club cricket in England and has broken a 24 year old record for runs scored this season. Sherry is a model in Shanghai. Brett is a trainer/model and has just featured on the cover of Men’s Health (wow, he looks ripped!). Seriously, who are these people???
It’s lucky I live 12,000km from the small town of White River where I went to school. If they held a reunion how could I face turning up to such company? So, what do you do? they say. Erm…. Uhhh… the lingering ugly question rears its head. What am I doing with my life?
It’s the same uncomfortable feeling I get when I’m looking at my friends’ travel photos on Facebook. I’m sitting on my couch and you’re volcano boarding in Nicaragua.
A few years ago, they developed a word for this phenomenon fuelled by the rise of social media – FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out’. Yeah, I know – you’re familiar with the expression. Such is the commonness of this feeling that in 2013, FOMO was added to the Oxford Dictionary. Yikes.
So, apparently a lot of other people suffer from these same niggling fears and thoughts. Does that make me feel better? Well… actually, yes.
It’s timely that I come across an article about a Dutch girl who faked a trip to Asia on Facebook, posting numerous exotic images of her ‘travels’ while all along she was sitting in the comfort of her Amsterdam flat. Her method was a little extreme but her point is interesting.
“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media,” she said. “Thereby we create an online ideal world which reality can no longer meet. My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality.”
This is not news to most of us. If we’re honest, we know that the snippets of people’s lives we see on social media are a highly skewed version of reality. Unfortunately, at the time we’re flipping through our Facebook news feed, it doesn’t occur to us to analyse things that deeply.
Phew! Perhaps I’m not such an underachiever after all. It strikes me – FOMO, like everything else in life, is a choice. You have the power to decide whether to spend your time agonising over what other people are doing… or whether to just be present in the moment and enjoy what you’re able to get out and do yourself.
I look up from my laptop and watch an energetic dog catching a Frisbee out in the park, which is green and starting to come alive in the springtime, idly considering Snapchatting the moment to my friends.
Wait a minute… my back yard is quite literally a park and I’m sipping on some wine while I look out at it and savour the first long evening of daylight savings… for some people, that might even be FOMO worthy.
*Names have been changed for obvious reasons.