The FOMO Distraction

I was recently listening to a podcast (EntreLeadership: Simplify Your Life with Digital Minimalism) on which the presenter, Cal Newport, explained how Social Media apps are designed to promote greater and greater user interface. He used an example of a person who may spend up to six hours per day on their mobile device. Of course this six hours is spread out over a day’s time, built up over many check-ins, viewings and scrolling. But six hours, or even three hours, in one day devoted to one’s phone is a lot! To the point where such usage distracts us from other things in life. These distractions may include our work, our family, and even our faith.

There is a name for this kind of distraction: FOMO – fear of missing out. It’s the fear that keeps us checking FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat to see what our “friends” and “followers” may be doing. It’s the fear that they may be living a life that is much more interesting, or exciting than ours; and that they may be doing it without us!

Let me confess that I enjoy the aspect of Social Media that allows for connection across the miles and relationships. It’s fun to see pictures of family and friends and what they have been up to. Obviously I even make use of Social Media to post and point people toward my blog, and to share ministry news, opportunities and events. But I’ll also confess that I’ve been known to check post “likes” that I am tagged in too frequently, and to regret that something posted for the church received such little attention. As unattractive as FOMO can be, I know it’s real. Yet, as Newport says in his podcast interview: “Where we get in trouble is not because these (Social Media) services are bad. Where we get in trouble is in how we are using them.”

If we want to simplify our life when it comes to digital usage, we must take control of the devices and not allow them to control us. For example, I learned quite some time ago that it’s not a good idea for me to leave my email server open while I’m studying or working on a sermon. Every time the inbox “pinged” I was like Pavlov’s dog running to it’s food dish! I’ve read of families who collect all the phones in a basket and set them aside – preferably on silent or turned off – while they share a meal. Better yet, I admire author James Bryon Smith who writes about his family’s effort to take a Sabbath from technology once a week.

Bottom line: most of us are not nearly as important as we think we are! Sorry, but it’s true. We do not need to be reachable 365/24/7. And the world will turn just fine without our checking our socials all through the day.

In truth FOMO goes way back in human history, long before such a thing as Social Media was around, or anyone ever thought up ways to be digital. Wasn’t what happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden about FOMO? Isn’t the fear of missing out related to the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet”? Here is the irony: When we are distracted from our faith relationship with God by this fear, we are missing out. We are missing out on what God hopes for us in terms of living an abundant life in communion with God.

I’ve been considering, since listening to that podcast, how to minimalize my digital usage practices. It’s not what’s online that I fear missing out on, it’s what I miss by being online too much that drives this thinking.

What about you? Is FOMO real in your life? How may or may it not be serving as a distraction from other things?


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Filed under Christian Faith, Ministry, Uncategorized

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