Technology is reshaping the world in many ways. Within the broad reach of “tech development,” numerous revolutions are taking place, affecting our lives in different ways. If we compare our lives with the life we were leading a decade back, it’s clear to see that most major aspects have become easier, more comfortable, and more secure. Various gadgets, connected to the Internet, are changing the way we work, communicate, study, exercise, play, and behave. Technology is making a huge impact on our education, health, working environment, medicine, lifestyle, entertainment and travelling. In these unambiguous ways, the world is becoming a friendlier place. But is technology making us happier and more joyful in this digital age? There is no easy answer. It is yes and no at the same time. Potentially, we can become more happy and joyful if we learn to use technology rightly and judiciously, which is to say, for the greater good of all. If not, there is no end to the problems it can cause.
The greatest impact it is having on our lives comes from the virtually unlimited information we are suddenly privy to. Information from the Internet used for entertainment, education, and greater understanding in all areas is transforming our lives. According to one report,“Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day, and it’s only going to grow from there. By 2020, it’s estimated that for every person on earth, 1.7 MB of data will be created every second.” It’s a mind-boggling statistic, difficult to grasp. Of the world’s 7.7 billion population, there are 3.48 billion users of social media in 2019, with the worldwide total growing by 288 million (9 percent) since this time last year. Imagine, WhatsApp users share more than 1 billion videos daily! What a temptation and range of choices we have for those videos and texts on these platforms ! Many of us feel overburdened and conflicted when bombarded by material that is so very difficult to resist. Whatever spare time we earlier had is now going to social media, watching and sharing information in various forms.
When we are busy on digital media, we are intentionally or unintentionally under the spell of FOMO (fear of missing out). We don’t want to miss anything, especially the news and presumed fun that our friends are having. There is an obsessive desire to check and see text messages and videos, whenever there is a notification sound. Even when notification is off, a powerful urge still compels many to check their mobile at short intervals. The younger generation, particularly in Western society, is especially vulnerable to this addiction. There is a neurological basis behind this urge. We get addicted to social media by way of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by neurons, the nerve cells that send signals to other nerve cells. Dopamine causes us to desire, seek out, search, find, and then seek some more. The neural circuitry driving this process is no different from that which holds slot machine users in their seats, and keeps cocaine users in thrall to their habit. Whenever we post a message on, say, Facebook or Twitter, we seek the reward of “likes,” or responses of any kind.
In nutshell, FOMO is real and has become an epidemic because of social media. Unchecked, the dangers of FOMO become apparent. Hours spent on social media can even affect one’s mental health. Attention span is reduced from the continuous temptations and rapid-fire pace of digital distractions. We are becoming attention deficient. Because of this obsession with social media, people of all age brackets are suffering from mental disorders like depression and anxiety. The younger generation, especially high school and college students, are the most affected. Researchers are even recommending that social media addiction should be treated as a disease.
Is there an antidote to this digital addiction? Social media is fine, even nurturing, when used in a balanced way. Obviously, it’s a rich source of all kinds of valuable information. It can encourage and facilitate meaningful relationships between close friends. We can inform, amuse, motivate and inspire others via our videos or text messages. We can share our moments of adventure, joy and sorrow with close friends. Likewise, we can use social media for the greater good of society by way of fundraisers and service opportunities. However, far too many, on the prowl for “likes,” use it mostly to seek attention and instant gratification.
As more and more time is spent on social media, we miss out on real-life interaction and the authentic joy that only it can offer. Caught in a neural feedback loop of reward-seeking, the bright awareness of the present moment is lost. We have Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann to thank for the term JOMO — Joy of Missing Out. Brinkmann wrote a book of the same title, The Joy of Missing Out: The Art of Self-Restraint in an Age of Excess. Brinkmann argues that the biggest barrier to JOMO is the personal and cultural problem of FOMO. If we want to live a life that is sustainable for both ourselves and the planet, all of us need to learn the art of self-restraint, and limit our desires to “have it all.”
The fundamental point that we all need to understand is that true meaning and happiness are to be found in real-time interactions, against which cyber connection is a pale imitation. Suppose a person had a long-held desire to watch a world cup. One fine morning his close friend somehow manages to acquire a few tickets, and then there he is, now watching a real-time game with real flesh-and-blood buddies. The person finds himself experiencing intense elation and happiness throughout the match. He did not plan or text or connives or works for his joy. It was the natural and spontaneous present-moment outcome of his friendships and love of sports.
Our ultimate aim is to enjoy life to the fullest. Quite simply, we enjoy life through experiencing happy and joyful moments. Such feelings can be enjoyed only when we are fully present in those moments.. We need to be intentional with our time. Instead of anxiously responding to FOMO on social media, we must learn to be receptive to experiences that give us, as well as others, the feeling of joy and happiness.