In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
237. “Do You Experience FOMO When You Unplug?”
I’ll admit that one of my inner aches is FOMO. Not from unplugging, but in general. Every once in a while, I find myself doing three things at once, the thought being that if I finish more things faster, I can do other things sooner. For example I’ll put a kettle over the stove, and let the water heat up while I brush my teeth, use the restroom, and think about what all I need to do after I drink tea. What ends up happening though is I’ll have a sporadic thought that reminds me I had forgotten to do something the day before, I get the toilet seat wet, shove the toothbrush up my nose, and over boil the water. This habit has seeped into other aspects of life too, not just my routines. Like writing sometimes, this game of back and forth typing-reading-editing a new page that won’t fill up calmly and smoothly. Basically, if FOMO is my handicap, multitasking is my crutch. I can guess where I got the tick from, but it’s fairly common anyway, and luckily I’m self-conscious enough to not attempt more than one thing at a time (most of the time). If I can help it, I’ll just brush my teeth, or just use the restroom, or just read a book, or just type an essay, or just talk on the phone, or just mediate. And if I’m heating water, then I’ll only stretch or only eat an apple until the water is just right, but under no circumstance do I allow myself to do more than one thing while I wait. Definitely no email.
Unplug. I’m the kind of person that goes on airplane mode for four hours in the afternoon. I leave my phone in my bedroom when I walk the dog. I don’t take work to the beach. I don’t open my laptop on Wednesdays — currently my laundry-errands day or my catch-up-on-reading day — until it’s time to cook dinner, and only then it’s just to play music off YouTube, usually a playlist or mix that doesn’t require my attention. The only time I charge my phone is before going to bed; otherwise I never run out of battery. I simply don’t use my phone so much. (Usage in the last 7 days: Facetime 52%, YouTube 10%, Safari 7%, Mail 7%, Messages 6%, Music 5%, Home and Lock Screen 3%, Instagram 3%, Phone [as in, it’s namesake] 2%; there must be some metaphor here.)
The only things that connect me to the internet are my cell phone, this laptop, and the computers at the 16th Street New School library. Otherwise I am completely offline, and unplugged. I use Snapchat like a beeper, only to receive messages. Facebook I check once a week (on Fridays, after I write these essays, as a treat to myself, and to catch up on FB messenger, which I do not have as an app). I forget I have Goodreads or LinkedIn, except when I get a friend request.
I have mentioned this to friends and family before, and they’ve said “Oh, you would” or “You’re trying to be different”; but not really. It’s that I much prefer to do fewer things at once. Less is more. If we’re out or having a conversation, you’ll see me paying attention. I’m not on my phone. And if we’re Facetiming, you’ll always see me on your screen. I don’t put people on pause. Now, back to apps, Instagram I do scroll often, but that’s because my friends’ photos are tight, and I like the interface and DMs. I will confess that sometimes after my daily 15-minute nap, the first thing I do after shutting the alarm off is unlock my phone and scroll through Insta. Every other nap I remember how insane that is, or rather, feel guilty, and skip the scrolling to instead get out of bed.
Maybe that guilt I feel, of automatically scrolling through pictures on my phone immediately after waking up, is what I am trying to avoid. There was a time when I couldn’t open up my web browser without clicking the Facebook button under the address bar. It was sick. I had to stop.
More guilt. Video games were my life for ten years — from Ocarina of Time to Modern Warfare 2. Worse still, from sixth grade to junior year of high school I was addicted to a series of MMORPG games. Among them, Ragnarok, Runescape, Counterstrike; even some lame ones like the Coca Cola computer game, Gaia Online, Maplestory, Everquest; I can’t even remember all of them (there was one with magical pets, what’s it called?); of course there were flash games that I obsessed over: on Albinoblacksheep, Newgrounds, even some dirty ones on Gamesofdesire; but the one that threaded them all was an off-browser client MMORPG called Tibia. Hot damn, how many hours of my life were spent on dungeon quests, and leveling up, and skill training, and getting ripped off? Little beats the irony of an internet nerd who is cruel — South Park nailed it in their WOW episode (note: I’ve never played WOW). Hours and hours…I would get home at 4ish, and play until dinner at 8ish on school days; while on weekends it was all day if possible. Going out to museums with my dad became a bore; going to rallies with my mom became a drag. Bonding time with my brother became questing through this made up internet game. If a family friend came over to hang, it was to play this game. At school my friends also played the game. We would hang out after school, online of course, and when we met up the next day at recess it was only to talk about the game, or invent stories about the game. And if we weren’t playing the game or talking about playing the game, we were reading literary fantasy about the monsters and the world on websites in our free time.
Swords and shield clashed. Two orcs and I were battling it out, in a secluded corner of a far away forest. We took turns letting one another bleed, as my weapon and armor skills went up. All the while, I chatted with my cousins about the Elf quest we were setting out for in a hour. My school friends had already completed it. We were the few ones left who hadn’t found the treasure yet. IRL: It was noon on a summer day; ASL: 14, m, Houston. Suddenly the phone rang. I remember my grandfather’s voice reminding me to water the new grass he and I had planted in the yard, and being pissed. His call had cut the internet (old DSL); so begrudgingly I stormed outside to water the plants. New grass needs a nice watering, especially in the summer. I figured I could leave the sprinkler on for a bit while I got back to training, chatting, and recovered lost ground. So I unscrewed the hose, plugged the sprinkler in, and ran back upstairs. Plugged myself in. Luckily my avatar hadn’t died to the monsters in that forest. The air-conditioned computer room was cool compared to the outside world. I got lost.
Hours later my grandfather called again and asked if I had watered the yard yet. The sun was setting. I put the phone down, looked out the window, and saw there was only a brown lake where the grass had once been. FOMO.
To count the number of days, hours, years wasted on video games would only serve to depress me. I could have picked up guitar at 12. I could have hiked more. Trekked. Biked. I could have picked up some cooler hobbies. Something I could bring into adulthood. Could have created more. Could have read more. And I don’t mean I didn’t read — EGM, Game Informer, and Edge (if I was going to splurge on a zine) copies are stacked inside more than a few boxes in my parent’s attic. What I mean is, my biggest grammar school regret is I didn’t read enough of the assigned books, only skimmed them enough to BS an essay. I could have been the enhanced Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon by now; instead my dreams of being a young adult know-it-all are as buried as the mouse. I am grateful for age 17, however. I might have wasted a bunch of time on video games growing up, been addicted even, un able to unplug, but then I got a girlfriend. And the games stopped. I haven’t played video games seriously since.
There is one positive takeaway from all that time on video games. If what I did for hours on end was explore the keyboard, and type spells, and chat with players from around the world, and read articles, reviews and letters to the editor in magazines, then wasn’t I improving something worthwhile? Guess what I’m good at now. (Living in a make believe world, and writing about it.)
Do I miss video games? No. Do I fear missing out on all the things I could be doing this very moment other than writing? No. Do I need to be constantly connected? No. Fear of missing out? Yuh. It’s the root of many anxieties. Any observable symptoms? Doing things too fast, or all at once. The cure? To remember all the times multitasking has helped me GSD (almost never), and to remember, “Slow is smooth; smooth is quick.”
: the cure to FOMO, after you’ve committed to doing one thing at a time.
(Note: It was Neopets………….)