I hadn’t heard about ‘FOMO’ until I read about it in an article. Apparently, it’s really a thing! Through social media, people can tailor their online presence to appear to have a certain kind of life, and others who view this presentation then fret about why they don’t have that, too (Fear Of Missing Out).
That’s not news. That’s always happened. It’s always been the case that it’s easy to look at someone else’s life and believe that they have it better. We’ve always imagined that movie stars are all tremendously rich and confident and popular, when the reality is that they’re just people, and while they might have more money at their disposal which means they can afford more ‘stuff’, it doesn’t follow that they’re any more content than your average person.
Their internet persona just makes it seem as if they do.
And the internet also shows us that ‘normal people’ can be beautiful, popular and thin, or can be amazingly talented at singing, or can cook delicious food, or have any number of friends and relatives, who are all gorgeous too. The internet picks up where reality TV left off, by promising that everyone can become a star. Which means we think we all should be too, even though we know, deep down, that it’s produced, polished, and fake.
What I’ve found with my own interactions with the internet, is probably what many others find: the more time I invest online—generally with individuals whom I don’t even really know—the less time I spend doing things In Real Life. That’s my life we’re talking about! That’s all the parenting, gardening, writing, running, and reading I could be doing. After all, the only person who can live my life is me. And as imperfect as it is, I’m generally content with it—and even if I weren’t, it’s never been the case that spending more time comparing it with those of others has been a recipe for improvement. If anything, it’s the opposite.
It’s easy to admire others for the parts of their lives we see online, or for their apparent popularity. Having thousands or even millions of followers and some version of internet fame is an attractive proposal, except when you realise that all of that lacks any substance, and those people who spend so many hours online must, by necessity, be either ignoring the loved ones in their lives, or perhaps they don’t have many people who really care about them. They’re searching for validation and connection, but that which comes from followers online is so shallow and fleeting, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll get it. I’m not discounting the very real connections people can make via the internet, but they are few, and even then, it’s not the same as face-to-face, physical interaction. Popularity is fickle. It always has been, whether it’s virtual or not.
I was thinking about this recently, in terms of funerals, because the size of someone’s funeral was a topic of discussion with some of the other parents. It’s considered a great thing, if you have a big funeral. When I was 11, my grandmother died suddenly, and I, along with the rest of her family, was devastated. Her funeral was huge, with many more people than could fit in the country church where it was held. People talked about it afterwards, saying that it just illustrated how well loved and popular she had been. And she was! She was a wonderful woman, who really enjoyed being around people and getting involved in the communities where she lived. But that doesn’t mean that those people who have small family funerals are any less loved or important. So often we consider quantity to be a measure of greatness. Obviously I thought my grandmother was great, but that’s because she was my Nanna. She was special to me, whether she would have had a huge funeral or whether it would have just been me and my family. This seems like the ultimate false measure of worth. You can’t even be at your own funeral, and yet people judge your life based on how many people are there?!
The idea that others have better lives than us, that they are more popular, better looking, healthier… it’s so easy to imagine that we’re missing out on something, because we don’t know what it’s like to live that other life. We only know what it’s like to live our own. And if you’re spending all your time unfavourably comparing your life to someone else’s, then for sure, you’re missing out. You’re missing out on what’s here and now, on the potential to have solid, loving relationships, to do things you really want to do. There’s always the potential for jealousy or envy—it’s a human trait after all. And you may not ever climb Everest or go hang gliding or cook a ten-course meal or design some beautiful garden, but if you can devote time to that which you love, then that is a life well lived. And it’s also authentic, immersive and totally unfiltered. Like it’s supposed to be.