The Fear of Missing Out

Social media and internet usage are driven, in part, by the fear of missing out. In my case, despite knowing better, I check news sites, Twitter and Facebook far too often. I want to be sure I don’t miss something important. Unfortunately, the internet does a poor job of separating the important from the trivial, which means I spend too much time and focus on the unimportant.

The problem is, all of this is time consuming and distracting. It interferes with other things, namely, things that have the potential of being far more meaningful and valuable to myself and others.

The other aspect of the problem is the lack of discipline being exhibited. A well-disciplined person would not succumb to the temptations of immediacy that the internet provides. The person would be in control.

Finally, there are the detriments of information overload. Simply put, I know too much. And a lot of what I know is utterly useless — sheer clutter and noise. It doesn’t make me a better person or better informed, and it certainly isn’t useful in making better decisions. It’s just information overload, plain and simple.

That’s the problem as I see it. So what’s the fix? Here’s the plan I’ve been implementing.

The first step is to be clear about what I need to know. I have a national newspaper delivered daily so there’s no danger of missing something of national or international importance. Hence, I’ve been reducing dramatically my checks of internet news sites.

But it’s not that simple. There is some news that is critical to what I do, namely, investing and trading financial assets (stocks and bonds primarily). So I do need to keep in touch with developments that could impact significantly the value of those assets and the markets generally.

Which brings me to Twitter. It’s a great resource; however, like other sites, it can get out of control. So I’ve been culling the list of people and organizations I follow to focus on those who are more regularly adding new insights or material information that is more likely to have a bearing on investment decisions.

I’ve also stopped reading most of the president’s tweets. At first, they were entertaining and insightful, providing a window to a deranged mind. But, frankly, by this point he’s become a bore. A potentially dangerous one, but a bore nonetheless. I don’t need daily reminders of just how crazy it is that an individual like him occupies the White House.

Finally, on the email front, I’ve been unsubscribing from all but what are essential sites for purposes of investment decisions. And have been converting daily Google Alerts to weekly ones and dropping ones that have only marginal value.

I often say that fear is the most insidious and injurious force in the universe. I believe that. But fear takes many forms. It’s taken me far too long to appreciate the grip that the fear of missing out has on my life. Finally, I’ve reached the point where denial is no longer an option. It’s time to take control.

Stupidity Recorded for Eternity

Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald recently tweeted:

Now that every stupid, offensive, transgressive comment of young people are recorded on the internet, need standards for how long they count.

He added:

Most who are 36 would be horrified by things they said at 19. This is the 1st generation where youthful stupidity is recorded for eternity.

This is the world in which you’re entering, Vera.

Mine was a gentler, more forgiving world. About the only thing that seemed to live for eternity was some inane comment we may have scribbled in a classmate’s yearbook. And let’s face it, unless you were to become rich and famous, it’s unlikely those comments would see the light of day. And even if they did, they were unlikely to be as toxic as many of the things youth post today on the Internet.

The standards for dialogue have dropped and dragged our youth with them. I can’t believe some of the things people will write about their professors, coaches, fellow classmates and others. All sense of decorum seems to have flown out the window.

But you don’t have to participate. You don’t have to share things with the public that may end up haunting you for the rest of your life. You can be more discriminating. You have a choice.

I get the problem, of course: a teenager or someone in their early 20s may lack the experience and judgment to make sound decisions when it comes to matters such as this. That’s true, which is why one should err on the side of discretion. And not sharing.

Let someone else embarrass themselves. Let someone else establish a reputation as a fool or idiot. Just don’t let it be you.

This may seem like odd advice from someone who shares with the public his writings to you. Note, however, I’m in the late stages of my life, not the early ones. There is less at risk. Moreover, despite the degree to which I do share, there is an awful lot I don’t.

The litmus tests for me are:

  • Would it unnecessarily hurt someone?
  • Would the information cause a loved one to feel responsible in a way that I don’t think is helpful to anyone?
  • Would it be gratuitous and serve no useful purpose?
  • Is my opinion well grounded, or is it something I’m basically pulling out of my ass?

Certain things are appropriate for my journal, not my blog. And still other things may be appropriate only for my inner thoughts, never to be shared with anyone.

One very practical thing to remember is that prospective employers and colleges routinely check applicants’ “digital footprints” — that is, what the applicants reveal about themselves to the world on the Internet.

Some of us leave a very large footprint. And that footprint frequently ends up being the reason for a rejection by a prospective employer, client or institution.

Some may say they don’t care. That’s fine. But, at a young age, are you really in position to make such a decision? Is it that essential to share things that are likely to limit your future options?

In some cases, it might be. But it is obvious to me that in quite a few cases it’s merely a product of bad decision-making. Or of thinking your opinion matters more to the world than it actually does. Most of the time, no one else really cares, and our opinions are pretty irrelevant.

In any case, remember that all of us will say or do something stupid in our lives. More than once. If we’re lucky, and smart, evidence of that stupidity will not live forever on the web.

It’s a New World (i.e., I’m a Dinosaur)

The internet has dramatically changed — and will continue to change — the world. At times, it makes me feel like a dinosaur. I’m not alone, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Two systems that are replete with dinosaurs are health care and education, although the former is well ahead of the latter in catching up to the 21st century (mainly because there is more money to be made in health care).

If you want to get a flavor for what I’m talking about, take a half hour and watch this presentation on internet trends by Mary Meeker.

Keeping up or, in my case, catching up, seems like an impossible task. My generation didn’t grow up with the internet. Yours will, Vera. Your parents’ generation was the trailblazing generation. I expect much more to come from that generation. I don’t have such high expectations from mine. I can’t begin to imagine what yours may deliver.

One disservice my generation and the Xers provide to younger folks is interpreting the world, and guiding kids, with a 20th-century mindset based on 20th-century experiences. In short, many of us fail to appreciate how the world has changed and is changing. Consequently, we’re preparing many of our children and grandchildren for a world that no longer exists. Fortunately, it’s hard to keep young people down. Many see what’s happening and are responding.

I came to believe that I’m not technologically savvy enough to do my students justice in the classroom. Few professors and teachers are. But that will change as the dinosaurs retire or expire. Until then, most of our schools and colleges will remain behind the curve. This is one of the most critical reasons no millennial should outsource his or her education to our formal education system.

Enough said! Watch Mary’s presentation and, if you’re really enticed, read her slides.

Don’t Waste Your Time Taking History Courses

Don’t waste your time taking history courses, Vera.

That’s not to suggest you should remain ignorant of history. You shouldn’t. As George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s just that there are a lot of better ways of learning the lessons of history than sitting in most high school or college lectures. Continue reading