Imagine that you come home on Sunday evening after a weekend trip. There is a message on your home telephone. You hear the voice of a good friend who lives in another state. The friend explains that he is unexpectedly in your town on business. He would like to buy you dinner at one of the best restaurants in town and spend some time with you before he leaves Sunday afternoon.
No matter how good the weekend may have been, the message leaves you feeling depressed. You missed a chance to see the friend and enjoy a great meal. You would gladly have foregone the weekend trip had you known that the friend was going to be in town.
The language of text messaging has an acronym for the emotions that you are feeling – FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
For many, this fear is perpetual fear. Social media can multiply social experiences like the one above. People today do not want to miss out on anything in the virtual world around them. They want to be present everywhere at the same time. Thus, they seek to know and experience instantly what everyone is doing. They broadcast their own experiences to everyone to which they expect instant replies. People will frantically check their devices to find out about the latest party or social event. The anxiety caused by the possibility of missing something causes lingering frustration and regret.
Social media creates that you can experience everything in real time. And when you can’t, you end up more depressed and lonely than those who use it moderately, if at all.
The Link Between Social Media and Anxiety
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania entitled, “No More FOMO” concluded that “limiting social media usage on a mobile phone to 10 minutes per platform per day had a significant effect on well-being…. Subjects who started with moderately severe depressive symptoms saw declines to the mild range by the simple expedient of limiting social media use for three weeks.” In other words, getting off of social media made people feel better.
Even more to the point, “subjects…also showed a significant decline in both fear of missing out and anxiety.” It is the same reaction that a poor little boy who cannot tear himself away from the toy store window feels. It is too attractive to look away, yet the very attraction causes pain.
Like so many things in this fallen world, social media promises more than it can provide. Proponents stress connections to others as the panacea for all the world’s ills or a window to the world. All too often it proves to be a waste of time and energy.
The world of social media has only a limited connection to reality. At times, it distorts reality. For instance, photo enhancing software creates attractive, albeit false, pictures. Another recent study showed posting and viewing “selfies” harms the images that young people – especially young women – have of themselves. This is especially true when the photos are enhanced. When insecure adolescents compare themselves to enhanced pictures of others, they come to see themselves as ugly. Conversely, those posting enhanced pictures know they are deceiving others. Both sides lose.
However, the most destructive aspect of social media is that it invites people to see situations that they are powerless to join. When a “friend” posts the photographs from the European vacation, the receiver is depressed by not being able to participate. For a mature person, this is not a problem. In insecure people that see themselves “missing out.” They are trapped in mundane lives. These images create longings that cannot be satisfied and lead to depression. The images need not be something grand. They can show a good meal, a social gathering, an athletic competition, or even a forest of changing leaves on an autumn day.
Deliverance from the Snares of Social Media
Social media creates the Fear of Missing Out – or even the despair of always missing out. This can easily give way to envy. Seeing others enjoy themselves can easily create the idea that, “I deserve to be happy, too.” This attitude can lead to one (or more) of the other six deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, and pride – all the while carrying a sense of entitlement to sinful experiences viewed.
Today’s the frenetically intemperate world intensifies the constant search for pleasure and multiplies the opportunities. If pleasures prove to be unreachable, as they often are, the result can be a self-destructive drive to escape the disappointment through drink, drugs, or thrill-seeking.
It is one of the oldest snares in Satan’s arsenal. Those who use social media need to be careful to notice the signs of this frenetic envy when they arise and pray to be delivered from it.