By Morten Grønborg
Government leaders in western democracies work to give their citizens the greatest possible freedom of choice. The more choices we have, the more freedom we get, and the happier we become. This is the philosophy and idea on which our nations are founded.
Here at SCENARIO we are in favour of freedom of choice. However, we would like to quietly remind you of the paradox of choice, as described a few years ago by psychology professor Barry Schwartz. His point is that choices also make us unhappy. There is no proportionality between our range of choices and our degree of happiness. Actually, quite the contrary.
Only an adequate number of choices is good.
Perhaps this is why other psychologists now speak of the mental state of FoMO – the Fear of Missing Out. The point is that a growing number of people cannot feel satisfied about being in any particular place, because they could also have been elsewhere. They are afraid of missing out on something; of not being where things are really happening.
According to such psychologists, modern social media – in particular – are to blame for the advent of FoMO. We use them to tell our friends about everything we’re involved in: parties, travel, events, gallery openings, concerts, barbecue nights, restaurant visits, wine at the favourite café and good times with friends. In particular, we tell other people about what we intend to do in the near future.
We see the photos on Facebook after all the fun happens, and it is alleged that this can give rise to feelings of vexation about having missed out on something. This can generate a fear of making the wrong choices in the future. And, not least, it can leave us with a feeling that we really ought to do something more, something fun, and something spectacular.
Sociology professor Sherry Turkle, MIT, is one of those who have described FoMO, in her book Alone Together. She argues that our continual checking of status updates on Facebook and LinkedIn, Tweets, Foursquare updates, and other social media messages means we are harming the relationships we are in because we are too busy also being everywhere else. This is yet another aspect of FoMO.
All in all, we are facing a modern paradox. What we want to do is to relate. What we end up doing is exactly the opposite. At the same time, more and more people are running from place to place while they use their smartphones to check up on how much fun everyone else is having, and fretting about never really getting there themselves.
Fortunately, we can share our memories about the time that went by. On Facebook.