Some time has passed since Rob posted his observation of the “together alone” moment – a photo of a couple seated in a restaurant together but each on their smartphones likely checking email, replying to a text or just catching up on their Facebook feed. Feels like a scene most of us can relate to whether we do this ourselves or simply look up from our phones every now and then and notice the world around us. It seems as if everyone participates in the ‘nose down, screens bright, fingers madly swiping and clicking’ phenomenon. 

If you are a skeptic and are clinging to the belief that this is a rare occurrence or isolated event, I would ask you to take a few minutes the next time you are out, let’s say at a restaurant, movie, hotel lobby or airport gate, and look around. Mentally deduct those by themselves, eating or hanging out alone and count the rest who are presumably sitting with family, friends or colleagues. How many jump on their phone in a 10 or 15 minute period? Then come back to this post and let me know. I tried this experiment last night at a busy restaurant during the dinner-time rush. There were roughly 35 people in the place and at least one-third touched and looked at their phone in the short time I was watching. The others had their phones at the ready. One can only assume they were just one notification or ping away from grabbing said device and diving right into the expansive cavern that is the Interwebs. 

How many smart phones can you spot? Photo Credit: Rob Volpe in-transit for a project about kids, moms, and their beverage choices.

How many smart phones can you spot? Photo Credit: Rob Volpe in-transit for a project about kids, moms, and their beverage choices.

As a student of human and social behavior … I just can’t help myself … the big question looms: what is driving this “always on” behavior? A follow-up question is what impact is this having on us, on our ability to communicate and connect and the effect it has on our relationships with and toward one another? So, I’ve done some digging on the topic, read a good number of expert articles and here is what I’ve concluded. Turns out, it’s all about the FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. It’s for real. It’s that inner concern or sub-conscious anxiety that something might be happening ‘out there’ and I’m not a part of it or in the know. It’s that little tickle in the back of your brain that tells you, urges you, to check just one more time. The result – the insta-click obsession spurred on by the sweet, sweet electronic vibration of a new post or tweet. Some scientists remark this is not unlike an addiction to a chemical substance. And, just like eating that one chip from a fresh can of Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop. All of us on our phones are just seeking that next “fix.” 

Ok, so this is a problem, right? Experts are debating this as well. Many argue all of this time spent online is making us less sociable and more superficial. We spend more time maintaining our online relationships and online life and less time cultivating our IRL (in-real life) relationships. But, wait a second … you might say … I have hundreds of Facebook friends and yesterday my Instagram post of my dog on water skis got like 115 likes. Don’t tell me I’m not sociable! And, yes, there is a counter to the argument of social skill decay. This argument claims our widespread use of social media and technology has helped us widen our social sphere, stay in touch with friends we may not have otherwise and achieve greater access to news and information. Some experts maintain this does not hinder, but rather deepens our level of connection and engagement. 

A psychology profession, Dr. Larry Rosen, talks about this very thing in a Wall Street Journal article. He offers there is a difference between connecting and communicating, at least in a virtual sense. Connecting being very… wait for it…

Superficial

and communicating— in the sense of a real back and forth, engaging, seek to understand dialogue—being quite minimal in social media spheres. 

Sigh. 

Where does that leave us? 

Well, if we agree that there might be a negative outcome to our virtual “always on” lifestyle, how do we counter this behavior change and shift? How do we pull ourselves out of this shame spiral that is FOMO? A recent Time.com article sums it up in one simple notion. Practice gratitude. Stop the comparison of yourself to others and recognize what is happening in the here and now. Essentially, don’t seek happiness in the realm of social media, but instead remain present in the today and be thankful for that moment, that time and your company. I love this. I love it hard. Yeah, we should do more of this. We should be less phone obsessed and social media panicked. I totally agree. Hear! Hear!

What do you think? What has your experience been? What coping mechanisms and tips can you offer to combat the FOMO problem? Please share here and follow Ignite 360 on Facebook, LinkedInInstagram and Twitter for your next FOMO fix. 

Now, please excuse me while I go check my Instagram and then click back and forth like a maniac while I check and wait for your comment.