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"Too Important" or "Too Needy" to Unplug from Technology?

Does the "fear of missing out" keep you wired 24/7?

Do you have workdays that are constantly interrupted by your Smartphone? Quick – check your phone – did you just get a new email? Did you get a text from a colleague with a question or comment that just couldn’t wait until you got back from lunch? Whether it lights up, vibrates, or pings when an incoming message arrives, people who carry cellphones are as well trained to respond to its signal as Pavlov’s dog was to the bell.

When we have days off of work, some of us spend as much time obsessively checking your phone for texts and emails as we do when we’re looking for distractions at work or waiting in lines. Is it more satisfying to read work emails when you’re not even at work than it would be to let them go until Monday morning, assuming that you’re not on-call and the email isn’t marked “Urgent”?

Life’s daily pace has quickened considerably over the past decade or so, regardless of our profession or our vocation. Apps are available and able to arrange virtually everything we need to meet our daily needs. From sex to childcare and grocery delivery to transportation. Most of us would be hard pressed to try and name a need that does not yet have an app designed to help us meet it. Not only does Burger King let you have it your way, they also let you order early so that you can “have it your way – how you want it and when you want it.” Drive-through windows are not nearly quick enough anymore at the coffee bars – we order online so that we can hop in and hop out – elbowing out others who are wasting time waiting for the barista to prep the drink they waited to order inside the shop at the cash registers.

Artificial Intelligence will Outplay Us if Given the Chance

If we were rushing through business to make more time for “leisure time,” it might be easier to understand the need to expedite mundane tasks. However, if we’re making more space in our lives to work longer, text more, or capture more selfie photo ops, it seems like we really are moving further away from being “in the moment” or “grabbing all the gusto” we’ve been long encouraged to grab. Recently, Facebook had to abandon an experiment conducted with artificial intelligence bots – it seems the AI bots were getting too smart for our own good. They had developed their own unique language and were beginning to give a little more weight to Stephen Hawking’s pronouncement that AI could potentially overrun the human race if circumstances permitted their unbounded development.

It’s the Power, not the Throne, which is Craved

A few years ago, researchers coined the term nomophobia, the fear of being without your cellphone. The root cause of that fear is a fear of being out of touch and unable to communicate or – for some, today, -- function responsibly and keep up with daily lives. For some of us, our phone is a seemingly sentient companion – Siri or Google answer our questions as best they are able – and offer suggestions when they are stumped. “Alexa” gives us the power to inexpensively employ a personal assistant/housekeeper/night watchman/friend. It seems that it’s the personal power we are given by technology that is at the heart of the addiction – not the technology equipment in itself.

Technology Usurps Personal Transportation as a Means of Agency

A generation or two ago, one of the common rites of passage in adolescence was the acquision of a driver’s license. The hand that held the car keys ruled the world! The desire, though, to acquire a driver’s license has waned in the last 10-15 years according to statistics. In 1996, around 89% of teens got their driver’s license, nine years later, only 72.5% of teenagers took that step towards transportation independence. Threatening to ground a teenager only has teeth if grounding includes surrender of the cellphone and any other technology that provides communication power. Once upon a time, the desire was to “be there or be square,” wherever “there” might have been. Today, “showing up” in a relationship may be more about being actively involved via communication technology rather than physically present. Informal social gatherings happen online – not in person.

What Does “Not Showing Up” Feel Like?

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is a deft treatment of the seemingly existential fear of “missing out” on something but realizing that one must trust herself to choose the right pursuit at the right moment – and the maturity to recognize that regret might accompany any choice that has effectively precluded other choices.

The Fear of Missing Out is about envy of what others might be experiencing that you can’t taste. From Myspace to Facebook to Snap Chat to Instagram to imgr, we have set about creating a life built around images and moments caught in pixels. Once upon a time, scrapbooks were kept as a place to log the exciting and transforming events in our lives. We didn’t necessarily plan to “share” our scrapbooks with a multitude of strangers – the hobby of scrapbooking was more about personal satisfaction and “proof” of a life well lived.

Today, we build virtual photo albums and scrapbooks to share unashamedly with friends, colleagues, friends-of-friends, and whoever else happens upon our Facebook pages. The “likes” and “comments” become external evidence that your choices have been good ones. Unfortunately, sometimes others’ images of success and happiness may cause others to feel that they are somehow missing out on the good things in life. Conversely, when technology is down and communication is thwarted, there is another flavor of “missing out” that might be tasted. Being unable to connect with your social network – whether you’re in the air flying to your own exciting holiday destination or simply high in the mountains or deep in the woods where cell towers are non-existent – can leave you feeling that your own dream vacation has caused you to miss out on some other something that is happening back on home turf. Some psychologists have likened the stress that arises from being unable to use your phone – whether because it’s misplaced or not working – to separation anxiety. While the addictive aspect of cellphone dependence is still being debated, many of us feel bereft when we go to reach for our phones and the power they provide and our desire for instant gratification is not met.


How "Wired" are your Relationships? If you would like to share a little bit about how you "do relationships" -- with technology or face-to-face meet-ups, please participate in this study on Social Connections: Click Here