I have over 50 thousand messages in my inbox. Most of them unread.
Cheryl makes fun of me for it because she manages to keep pretty close to “inbox zero.” But I think she’s more the exception than I am.
It’s all FOMO. For example, I just deleted hundreds of message from Glassdoor. But I’m hesitant to completely unsubscribe. What if I missed the perfect job or bit of career advice? It could be like leaving money, or my happiness, on the table.
Heck, I don’t want to unsubscribe to coupons I might get. I just got an e-mail from a certain business and was reminded to use a $20 promotional gift card before it expired. Score! If I delete promotional offers what I end up needing what they’re promoting? Unsubscribing from Constant Contact with its “SafeUnsubscribe” is especially fraught. It make is hard for a company to add you back to a list, even if you want them to, without an extra opt-in. I suppose the one time it happened (that I wanted to restart getting news from a certain company) it worked out but….
Of course, the thing about FOMO is that it’s not humanly possible to keep up with everything. By definition, you are missing out on 99.99% of what is going on in the world. If you’re a big media junkie, 99.98%. (Not exact numbers, but you get the point.)
The interesting thing is that we ever think we weren’t missing out on most of everything. There is this expectation that we are supposed to be keeping up with everything. For my parents’ generation, that was watching the nightly news. Which has turned into having CNN on, all the time.
The usual fiction goes like this: there is normally nothing going on and if there is, then we hear about it and do something about it. For example, if there’s a murder or an accident in our community, we expect to turn on the news or open the paper and hear about it. And there’s a response, and then things would recover and go back to normal. I don’t think I’m the only for whom that’s the expectation of normal, even though I know that not every disaster in someone’s life is actually in the news.
Presumably there is some weird mash-up of human brains evolved to participate in communities of hundreds or thousands of people, and technology that makes a small world out of millions or billions of us. I may lead a someone privileged life, but in a community of thousands—a college campus, my office building, the public schools on my side of town—this pattern holds. Emergencies happen once in a while, and we notice them, and respond, and recover.
It is so hard not to apply that principle to the whole world. Something terrible happened somewhere, we’ll see it on TV or the Internet, respond, and things will go back to normal.
It is so hard to really believe that the world as a whole is so big. That the one-in-a-million event in a small community is a daily event in the world, and the pattern of news, response, and recovery doesn’t apply.
The irony is that fear of missing out on everything doesn’t mean I’m not missing out on something. How do I not miss out on what I really don’t want to miss out on?