I am one of the Older Persons in the room. We are surrounded by Youthful Twentysomethings for a panel discussion on their latest obsession -- FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.
FOMO is quite different from FONBATR, the Fear of Never Being Able to Retire, which is an affliction many of the 50-plus-year-olds attending this ideas festival/policy-wonk conference are experiencing. But I digress.
Technology has brought FOMO upon the under-25 generation, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues in her book Alone Together: "Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere." John Grohol, PsyD, puts it plainly it in his blog PsychCentral: FOMO is "the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we're currently doing."
I have joined these youngsters at this panel because I'm curious about how this generation lives, thinks and dreams. I also believe that one of the best ways to stay relevant as I grow older, which I want to do, is to build intergenerational bridges.
The twenty-something panelists describe a FOMO lifestyle to the audience. Party surfing versus hanging out with one crowd for an evening. College and high school students gorging on after-school activities. Career-hopping and hopping and hopping. The more choices available, the more FOMO.
As they share, my mind strays to my own personal version of FOMO, which drives me to distraction, or at least to not knowing what to do now, next or never. Should I write a blog post before I pin a picture on Pinterest? Submit an essay to a publication? Catch up on the latest marketing trend so I can teach it later? Follow the presidential campaign, search for agents or go to the gym?
Just as I'm ready to move mentally from FOMO to FOMU (Fear of Messing Up), a young female breaks into my consciousness:
"Do people your age suffer from FOMO?" she asks the older audience members.
My hand shoots up, pumping as if I were in a classroom of 5-year-olds: Me, me, call on me!
Before I can start talking, a booming male voice offers: "That would be FOHMO -- Fear of Having Missed Out."
"Wait a minute!" I respond. "I still have FOMO, the original kind. There's plenty left for me to experience. I haven't missed out on life. I've had FOMO all my life. I was the kid who never came in from playing outside because I didn't want to miss anything," I tell the group.
I don't tell them that my youthful FOMO often led to near-accidents outside my back door because I refused to leave the party, game of hide and seek or Foursquare match even if I really had to go to the bathroom. What if I missed a really great girlfriend secret, thrill-ride skating behind someone's bicycle or a sighting of my latest crush? Biology be damned, I'd always wait until it was almost too late.
"Perhaps," I suggest, "the FOMO in our youth has led to the creation of bucket lists in our middle age."
"I don't like bucket lists," another like-aged woman says. "They sound so negative." And I have to agree with her. Bucket. Dirty plastic. Dented and rusted metal. "Kicked the bucket" equals dead. "Bucket list" suggests decline. I may be on the declining side of life, but so far the ride down has been pretty exhilarating, and I plan on keeping that outlook.
Sure, there are things I want to do before I die, but if I don't get to them, it won't bother me. I'll be dead. On my deathbed (I hope I'll be in a castle in Europe or a treehouse in Tahiti ) I doubt I'll be worrying that I missed traveling to all seven continents because Antarctica was just too cold and slipping through penguin poop to get to the penguins discouraged me. Nor can I imagine that I'll bemoan the fact that I wasn't on TV à la Katie or Oprah, because I'm sure I'll be able to see that I had some influence on people around me, and isn't that the essence of being Oprah or Katie?
Crossing things off lists can be depressing, too. Done that, and now what? What happens when the bucket list gets down to one or two things to go? Am I over when the list is crumpled and thrown in the bucket? Bucket lists. Who needs them? Not me.
Goals, desires, passions -- that's what I need and have. Write. Build and maintain relationships. Share. Learn. Love. Each of these items can be expanded and detailed. With a bucket list, if I'm successful, I'm left with an empty list and a full bucket. But by stating broader goals I'm left with an expansive, never-ending opportunity to do, to experience, to live. Uh-oh, I think I've just described my life in terms of an ultimate FOMO. Oh well, better than FOMTB -- Fear of Missing the Bucket.
Writer, blogger, and humorist Julie Danis is a Chicago-based strategic marketing professional, and an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School. She's worked for Frito-Lay, Inc. and held senior level strategist positions at J. Walter Thompson/Chicago and Draft/Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agencies. Danis wrote a column called "It's a Living" featured in the Sunday Chicago Tribune, and has contributed workplace commentary to public radio's Marketplace. Visit her website, www.juliedanis.com, and follow her on Twitter @juliedanis.
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