The opposite of being interested is trying hard to be interesting, which is what most do on social media and YouTube. We’re in a non-stop contest of Hey, look at me!!! on Social. We desire to be seen and acknowledged. Some of us are completely starved of attention, unable to find outlets for our creativity except to be as whacky as possible. While whacky is OK sometimes, it is not a permanent, sustainable strategy.
An unfortunate byproduct of social media is its implied contest to be interesting in order to be popular. As Bernadette Jiwa of The Story of Telling says, “As a result of our obsession with being interesting, our capacity to be interested is diminishing.” The more we try to be interesting to others, the less interested we are in others. We’re too busy focusing on ourselves to worry much about other people.
What people don’t think about is why they’re on social media. Sure, you can join this social network. Why? What’s it for? If it is to seriously see how you can help others, then God Bless you. But if it is another vanity play, do we need that? Do you need that?
Why write for Medium? Because it is cool. Because its audience is different and dedicated and daring. Because the app is easy and simple to use. And because you can easily find material on Medium that you cannot find elsewhere. Plus, it appears to be a far less noisy platform for most everyone.
We seek to be interesting when something deeper is missing and we don’t know what it is. Our search for this missing property makes us try hard to interest others in our quest. The search for interesting usually goes away with age and experience, but not for all of us. Some find interesting in another person or partner, and thus cease to constantly exhibit interesting to others (i.e. settling down / calming one’s life down). Some discover interesting in a cause or mission they can throw themselves into. Their FB posts and tweets become about the mission they’re now on and far less about themselves. Some start companies to add value and to solve problems, and their social posts become about those things. We eventually mature or settle into something and leave being interesting or outlandish for its own sake behind.
Despite our finding new life charters, most of us still fear FOMO. We do not want to miss out. We don’t want to miss the party. We don’t want to miss college. We don’t want to miss the vacation trip with friends. We don’t want to miss the big family event. We don’t want to miss Spring Break in PCB.
The irony with FOMO is we don’t know what we’re missing.
What most of us are truly missing is presence. Being present for friends. Being present for co-workers. Being present for loved ones and those closest to us. Being present for service industry people and those dedicated to serve. When we think FOMO, we think about what other people are doing that we could be doing. While we may be missing out on what others are doing, we’re missing what’s right in front of our faces: real, live people who we can help, acknowledge and be present for right now.
Let’s look at a common scenario inside a restaurant. Four friends are at a four top table. They haven’t seen each other in awhile, but they’re happy to be together. They chat for a bit, catching up, stare at the menu, then place an order. Then, a few minutes later, All four people have their faces buried in mobile devices, essentially ignoring the others. This has become so acceptable that if one person is done with their mobile device for the moment and sees the others staring into theirs, that person feels Left Out.
No one’s necessarily making them feel left out, but it is implicit within the small group. If you’re not doing what the group is doing, then you’re the outcast. Right? The rebel? Most people are not comfortable in this spot. So, they bury their face back into the mobile device like the others. Bernadette Jiwa is right: we’re becoming less interested in others, even long-time friends two feet away from us.
The social news is not all bad. FOMO, in fact, isn’t all bad. Even social media isn’t all that bad. It is when these things are taken to excess they become problematic. You can argue the same thing for any negative social habit or vice. All are best performed in moderation. Only FOMO doesn’t have exclusivity on irony.
What about in-person social skills?
The irony of social media is it diminishes our in-person social skills. What’s less personable and sociable than ignoring the person three feet in front of you with your head down, staring into a screen? What’s less sociable than not asking the people around you questions about them, taking an active interest in their lives? What’s less personal than not relating the stories they tell to your own life, matching emotional cues and gestures, and laughing about the life struggles you share? This is how we build community. This is how we build camaraderie. This is how we build friendships.