maybe I catch you sitting in front of your I Pad, I Mac, or I Phone right now reading this – just like me when I was writing this post. And I assume many of you do read this on some sort of electronic device (because this is not a handwritten letter that was delivered to you by the postman) 🙂 But without any further small talk let’s get right into today’s topic: the rise of the egocentric era – “Generation I” or “iGen”. Born between 1995 and 2012, this generation is characterized to socialize differently, using their phones instead of getting together in person.
I wanted to write about this topic ever since I recognised that I was spending way too much time on social media connecting to virtual friends – and thus too little time in the real world, surrounded by real people. But I know that I am not the only victim of the smartphone era.
According to the latest report from IDC Research, which examined habits of smartphone users, 79% of adult smartphone users have their phones with them for 22 hours a day. (Don’t ask me where your phone is out of sight during the remaining 2 hours of the day – maybe when it is charging in the kitchen and we are “busy” watching “I TV“.) The convenience of being able to interact with anyone, anytime, anywhere, makes the phone a more critical tool than ever before. But, as you may have guessed correctly by the title, there are some harmful consequences attached to it!
Always ONline – But OFFline in the real world
Let me first tell you something about myself and my unhealthy relationship with my smartphone and everything attached to it. My morning usually looked like this: Wake up call by my phone – grab phone to press the “smooth-botton” – oh, there is a new friendship request waiting for me – go to Facebook to kindly reply to it – when was the last time I posted something? Too long ago, oh no, not good for the algorithm, I better do it now – but don’t forget to upload a sleepy selfie in my story highlights so that my “community” knows that I have just woken up.
The result: I started feeling more and more attached to my phone and less connected to the people around me and the things that actually fullfill me and make me happy. Constantly checking my Instagram feed. Watching other people live their lives, I actually felt more and more alone and less myself. This was when I luckily stumbled across the book “There is no App for Happiness” by Max Strom. As I have recently made it a habit to write down one thing that I have learned on that day (after the 30-day challenge was a huge success), I now enjoy reading between 3 and 4 inspirational books per month – instead of looking at a screen.
As I have just finished reading “There is no App for Happiness“, I wanted to share my own experience and my love-hate relationship with my “smart” phone.
What I have learned from my own experience is that when you check your phone as your first activity in the morning, you willingly start your day on someone else’s terms. You start your day based on the framework of someone liking a photo or commenting on something you shared the day before.
Instead of the endless possibilities your day could have, you limit your starting point with a screen.
You limit your day’s worth based on a like, an email, or an update.
The sad result: We use bullet proof smartphone cases with fancy portable ribbons to easily carry them around. But at the same time we refuse to protect our heads with helmets when riding our bicycles – because it “just isn’t cool.” Did you know that nearly all bicyclists who die (98%) were not wearing a helmet? (Thank you Daria for raising awareness about this often overseen, but life threatening issue!)
What is more, did you know that the number 1 cause of car accidents in Germany is the use of smartphones while driving? Not alcohol or any other drugs, but your smartphone!
Yet the worst is that, believe it or not, we get more and more self-centered and less involved in social activities away from the screen at the same time.
Self-care is an important part of mental health, and sometimes that means taking a break from social media, our phones, and technology.
Think about it: when was the last time you went a day without checking your phone? Taking time to decompress, step outside, and give your mind a break from our screens is important for everyone’s health.
With all of the evidence stated above, I propose that smartphone companies start to put warning signs like the ones you see on cigarettes, on their products!
There is no WE in the I Phone
Most of us have been using it for years. The I Pod, I Phone, I Mac, or I Pad. According to Steve Jobs, Apple’s prefix “I” stands for individual, instruct, inform and inspire. But I believe the “I” also tells us another story. That these electronic devices are – apart from being a status symbol – ALL ABOUT ME, ME, ME. And make me more self-centered than any other activity I do.
Did you know that since the first IPhone was released in 2007, teen suicide and depression rates have increased dramatically?
Of course the IPhone is not the only evil. But what really hit me was when I realized that the use of social applications is the highest during events when we are out socially. This is related to the desire to share experiences, especially when we are with those we care most about. This is why you see so many (live) videos on your devise feauturing seemingly happy gatherings right “in the moment”. But what is the point of sharing a precious moment of YOUR happiness with a group of strangers? Why don’t we immerse into the beautiful experience first, before spreading the world around us with all the positive energy that we have received?
Social applications are designed with calls to action, like posting status updates and check-ins, for a reason. Everyone should know what we are currently up to, who we hang out with and where we go. This, in turn, drives even more sharing – especially when we are out socializing. The more we share, the more attention we get. The dark side is that we seperate ourselves more and more from those who are physically around us.
Look at Me, Me, Me
While we aim to connect to “like-minded” others, all we do instead is use social media to tell the world something about ourselves. We desperately pretend to be the person the world wants us to be and see. We post pretty pictures on Instagram and communicate emotions via Emoticons – even when we are actually sobbing behind the screen.
Patricia Greenfield, a psychological scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, used a tool called the Google Ngram Viewer to scan more than 1 million books. Her findings, which were published in Psychological Science, show that there has been a distinct rise in more individualistic words such as “choose,” “get,” “feel,” “unique,” “individual” and “self” and a decrease in community-focused words such as “obliged,” “give,” “act,” “obedience,” “authority,” “pray” and “belong.” This shows that the “problem” reaches far beyond our phones.
At the same time as we get more self-centered, we also become more and more afraid of missing out of something that is happening beyond the screen.
FoMO or YoMO – You have a choice
Given the very personal nature of our mobile phones, how we use them elicits various feelings.
In general, humans have a universal need to connect with others, especially those they care deeply about. This coupled with mass market adoption of smartphones means that social engagement via phones has become mainstream. We want to engage. With everyone. Everywhere. Anywhere.
But this comes at a cost.
The fear of missing out (FoMO)
The fear of Missing out has been descibed as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social anxiety is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.
At its core, FoMO is all about survival. From a cultural-evolutionary perspective, we thrive when we’re participating in what our tribe is doing. There is a reason we say “following the crowd or herd”. This could have saved our lives when a preditor approached or we were at war. But at those times, we didn’t have a smartphone to call for help and the hazard was REAL.
I remember a recent incident when I was sitting in a coffee shop scrolling through my phone – just like everybody else around me. After a couple of food and travel pictures, I saw that one of my friends got engaged. My immediate reaction: I felt so pathetic to be “doing nothing with my life” while “everyone else” was living a more fulfilling life. Travellling to the most amazing destinations. Spending their time on beautiful beaches. Drinking ice-cold coconuts in the sun with their loved ones. Everyone seemed to live their lives to their fullest. Everyone but me.
The tragedy is that in exactly these moments when we feel bored or alone or tired, we crave to know what other people are doing. This might sound counterintuitive, but in a subconscious way, we’re trying to justify our own current situation.
What a lie we continue to tell ourselves when we compare a present moment of our timeline to a highlight in someone else’s!
We begin to create tension and anxiety within ourselves by assuming that the experiences other people are having are more joyous and complete than our own current situation.
The psychological research on FoMO shows us that habitually focusing on what others are doing as a patch to cure our own loneliness only pushes us further into anxiety and depression.
Social media is detrimental as it takes away our attention in the present moment, which is all we will ever have and what we will always be in charge of. We must constantly remind ourselves that social media is a glowing view of someone’s life. It’s not reality. Your timeline is an composition of highlight reels constantly seeking your approval.
How to get from FoMO to YoMO?
As outlined above, smartphones have revolutionized how we communicate, socialize, share and connect. The immediacy and intimacy we have with our phones enable much more fluid and near-constant social interactions, which is a true blessing. But the curse is that we seperate ourselves not only from those poeple who are usually close to us, but also from ourselves.
Recognizing the issue is the first step to reclaiming your time and energy. In fact, FoMO is the perfect launching platform for recovery, growth and finally the actual Joy of Missing Out (YoMO).
Sometimes, you might find a still, delicate joy that only you choose to revel in. Like a baby discovering a new body part for the first time. A delight that needs no comparison or external validation. What I have learned is that your movement and mental health is worth far more than your social profile.
Instead of spending your time worried and consumed by what relationships you’re missing out on, start to spend your time creating them.
If you feel lonely, plan something. If you feel like you’re on the outside, then invite someone in. Speak up and don’t let your feelings drag you down!
Believe me, when you shift from being an invitee to being a host, you’ll be amazed at the fulfillment you’ll bring to others and yourself in return.
Learning to become present is the simplest, yet most difficult, way to calm your fear of missing out. Presence is simply about finding wonder and awe in everything. From the extraordinary to the mundane. In the big as well as the little things that make our lives worth living.
How often do you pass through your day without even recognizing the giftedness and joys of your life.
Ram Dass says “Often we only know we’ve been in a certain place when we pass beyond it, because when we’re in it, we don’t have the perspective to know, because we’re only being.”
Gratitude practices help.
Believe me. But they won’t work unless you really start to believe what you are saying. Think it, feel it and believe that it’s true.
Every morning when I wake up, I use the first few minutes of the new day to say THANK YOU. Thank you, for another beautiful (rainy, sunny, challenging, fullfilling, you name it) day on this planet. For many wonderful days to come. Thank you body for being alive to experience and create that is all around us.
The moment of writing this, I’m grateful for having close friends who regularly ask me about how I’m doing emotionally and physically and guide me through things I struggle with. I am so grateful for my support team in the real world – many of them not even following me on social media. Those people I can simply turn to when I feel lonely or weak and who can read between the lines without me adding any Emojis.
But, the vicious circle of smartphone abuse is not going to stop on its own. Reading my words and then doing nothing will not change anything. So get off your (I)Phone and into reality RIGHT NOW (after finishing reading this). 🙂
Remember that this life is not all about ME or YOU or anyone else. It is About the Good Life that each and every single one of us deserves.
So turn OFF to TUNE IN (so that you don’t end up like the woman down here)!
See you soon!
- There is no App for Happiness (Max Strom)