The Age of Discourse & the Fear of Missing Out

June 30, 2014
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Above: Life before the Internet?

I’m part of the last generation that happened to experience a world without Internet. I’ve seen it grow from a helpful novelty to the lifestyle that it’s currently become. A lot of people around my generation have also witnessed this transformation, and while it’s hard to fathom our lives without it nowadays, it’s certainly a thing we remember, even if it feels ridiculously distant. I, for one, don’t think I’d ever want to forget that either, because it’s what grounds us to the concept of what “real” used to mean.

That whole meaning of reality changed, to the point we no longer think about it in those terms. Having unlimited access to the Internet is now the norm. We have smart phones and iPads and other gadgets to make sure we don’t have to be walking around without Internet access like some archaic 90s creature. When we have to, though, there’s a little emptiness we can’t quite let go; and that bothers me to no end.

The Age of Discourse & the Fear of Missing Out
This is how people used to find information pre-Internet

Sometimes I’m blown away about how quickly anyone obtains information. For years I grew up with the notion that saying anything with conviction will likely translate into people believing me. You could drop an obscure name or two, and a somewhat specific date and it sounded like a fact. You could also pretty much count on most people being too lazy to actually do the leg work to check if what you told them was true. Bullshitting people, as it turns out, is not as easy in the digital age as it used to be.

The Age of Discourse & the Fear of Missing Out
How people find their information today (image: 360b /

Or is it?

Because that’s where it all goes faulty. There are too many opinions. Wikipedia, probably the most sought after source for facts in the world, is widely known for having a lot of wrong information that pretty much any idiot can upload, yet most of us trust it blindly. We live in an era when opinions are being heard all over, but it feels like everyone is just shouting over each other. You basically only need an Internet connection and a little extra time, and you could probably engage with anyone you want; even famous people. You can tweet any celebrity now, push their buttons and start a war, if you so choose to. The social boundaries are too transparent these days. Anyone is within our reach, and with that comes a responsibility that I’m not sure if we’re ready to assume, either as individuals or as a society. It’s why we see all these Twitter wars, which lots of people love, mainly because they’re instant and without intermediaries. It gives people the sensation of being granted some sort of “insider pass,” allowing them to witness everything first hand. In the end, though, it’s a bit like watching a very boring fist fight that will go nowhere interesting, will draw no blood and will likely have a disappointing ending.

That doesn’t mean people won’t get hurt, of course. We’re just as sensitive as we’ve ever been, but now we know more, and information can be a horrifying and frustrating thing.

The Age of Discourse & the Fear of Missing Out

Even as I write this, it’s something I’m fully aware of, too, as there will always be at least someone who has a problem with something I say. Comments are usually encouraged and opinions are wanted, because we want to feel approved by everyone. Experiencing things on the Internet in 2014 is more interactive than it’s ever been, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Pleasing everyone is impossible, and giving a voice to everyone to express that dissatisfaction only creates more dissatisfaction. It’s a never-ending cycle. We want to be able to speak our minds and never miss out on things, but the fear of doing that might be making us neglect a lot more tangible stuff than we thought possible.

Anywhere we go, we need to have our distractions with us. We constantly check our emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine… Where does it stop? We could be on a beautiful beach, next to our loved ones, with a soft breeze brushing our face and a cold beer in our hands, and five minutes into it we’ll start to get anxious about the things we’re missing on our different social networks.

The Age of Discourse & the Fear of Missing Out
“Anywhere we go, we need to have our distractions with us.”

The problem…

The messed up part is that what we’re missing is usually not that important. A lot of us feel the need to narrate what we do in life. We tweet our funny observations, post pictures of our sandwiches, update our current status, bitch about our exes, comment on our friends’ entries, and wait impatiently for people to “like” what we post. It’s a never-ending need for validation. We tend to not think it’s extreme because we’re used to it, but when we sit down and really look back, the changes are overwhelming.

It’s even more helpless in plenty of cases – like mine – where work involves a lot of time on the Internet, and escaping is kind of a tall order, because it’s part of your job to know these things; people expect you – now more than ever – to know what’s going on around you; to know every viral video and meme by heart; to keep up with what everyone else is doing.

I remember being able to let go, relax, live and experience every random moment to the fullest. It’s not that we can’t enjoy those things anymore, but our attention span is a lot shorter, and our anxiety for the things we might be missing out on just keeps growing.

And sure, the Internet has given us many advantages. We wouldn’t use it as much if it wasn’t so practical and amazing. We wouldn’t feel we need it, if we weren’t so sure it helps us tremendously. But we seem to be paying for it by not being able to enjoy and disconnect like we used to before all this technology ruled so much of our behavior.

As it turns out, now our sense of adventure goes only as far as our cell phone reception does.

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