Greetings from the Ridge.
Back in the day when I had even less sense than I now possess, I used to volunteer as a chaperone for overnight youth trips. I’m not a camper so I confined myself to trips that involved motels and soft beds. Nothing lets you peek into the psyche of a teenager like chaperoning an overnight as they delight in stretching the limits of their adventures in order to have a great story to tell their friends when they get home. You can usually take their story, divide by half, scrape off the frosting and come up with a reasonable account of what actually happened.
But the thing that most astounded me was their fear of not being where the action was. When a teenager stays home from school because of sickness, her main fear is not of dying or being seriously decapitated, but of missing what happened at this school they didn’t want to attend in the first place. I’d have my charges tucked into their motel room beds and someone would walk down the hallway. Immediately every door would open to see what was happening. Missing out would have been unthinkable. Just to be perverse I’d often throw a shoe into the hallway just to watch the doors open.
And now with the advent of instant access to the rest of the world through handheld devices, the disease has spread to the world of adults and they’ve given it a name: FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Teenagers and their parents text while they drive because that Facebook update is more important than the passengers in their rear seat. I’m often tempted to slam down the phone when chatting with a friend who interrupts our call to take another. They ignore the phone call from me when they don’t even know who’s on the other line. Fear of missing out . . . adults becoming the teenagers of yesterday.
I’ve been blessed with more friends than I deserve, but more and more I find that my buddies don’t have time for me unless I’m online. Given the choice of chatting with the flesh and blood person in front of them, they’ll check their IPhone to scan a digital representation of a friendship. I’ve heard the devices called Phosphorescent Pacifiers. Everything is okay, mommy loves me and God is in His heaven as long as I can keep up with the latest tweets.
United Airlines recently polled its passengers and found that most were willing to give up a reclining seat in favor of Internet access while flying. Nearly half the respondents said they’d willingly give up food as long as they could check their email in the air. I can envision an Arrivals area at United where a group of passengers deplane stoop-shouldered and hungry, but completely up to date on their Facebook postings.
I have sat through theatrical performances next to a glowing green screen as my seatmate texted during the show, the ring tones as common in church as the tolling of the bell, I’ve chatted on the phone while listening to the caller tap, tap, tap on her keyboard, and on one horrendous day I was sitting in a funeral when a lady got a call, answered it, then spoke out loud during the obituary. I considered whether it would be kosher to cause one death while commemorating another. FOMO was in danger of becoming Funeral Occupant Murdered Online.
But of the course the question that rears its ugly head is . . . Am I so addicted to Fear of Missing Out that I’m actually missing out? In her book “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle asks, “When is downtime, when is stillness? The text-driven world of rapid response does not make self-reflection impossible, but it does little to cultivate it.” Emily Dickenson wrote eloquently of the need to simply be alive and experience the world. “To live,” she said, “is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” And this came from a lady who hardly ever left the house.
An organization called the Heavensdale Retreat Center now offers a 45-day Internet Addiction Disorder. For a mere $14,500 you can be cured. If this is too steep, give me a call. For $1.50 I’ll tell you what cord to grab to unplug your computer.
I recently attended a multi-family function with both adults and teens present. I was startled to see that most of the device checking was in the hands of the parents. Perhaps the teens were thumbed-out with technology and simply enjoyed the presence of living human beings. On the other hand, their batteries may have been dead. There’s always reason to hope.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.