This article is part of our Teacher Series with Hilliard City District in Ohio. Leading educators take to the Flipd Blog to share why digital wellness matters.
FOMO — fear of missing out. Even my 3 year old suffers from this to an extent. His is not rooted in technology like so many people these days, but he won’t even take a nap if he thinks something more exciting is going on. So maybe his desire to feel included is not exactly FOMO as we define it today, but there is something to be said about his need to be connected to others.
What is FOMO?
In his 2016 paper, Dr. Amir Tarsha of the University of Miami defined FOMO as, “The fears, worries, and anxieties people may have in relation to being in (or out of) touch with the events, experiences, and conversations happening across their extended social circles.”
The term was first coined by business consultant Dr. Dan Herman in the mid-90’s while he was researching consumerism and opportunity. It was then made popular in the early 2000’s by author and entrepreneur, Patrick J. McGinnis, who was able to adapt the theory to how co-eds socialize in a collegiate atmosphere. When McGinnis’s article was published in 2004, social media was not nearly as important to our sense of identity and well-being as it has become.
Today, many people suffer from FOMO in one way or another. But what's the greatest cause for concern is that it's directly related to an increase in anxiety and depression caused by the rising use of mobile devices and social media.
Nomophobia and Social Media Dysphoria
In addition to FOMO, there's nomophobia: when separated from their mobile devices, it's been found that students experience distinct symptoms of disconnection anxiety. Adolescents and young adults also suffer from Social Media Dysphoria: the development of identity based on social media interactions.
Although FOMO, Nomophobia, and Social Media Dysphoria are not official diagnoses yet, a great number of studies show how all three forms of anxiety can predict future potentially serious psychopathology.
A Rise In Symptoms
I have only been teaching for 13 years and a parent for 5 years — and the drastic increase in teen attempted and completed suicides gives me pause. It went from an occasional tragedy to the forefront of so much of our instruction. I worry about my 5 year old daughter who feels she needs to be included in everything her neighborhood friends do, and who will throw a tantrum if she cannot participate.
My children, and most other toddlers, are demonstrating an aspect of Self-Determination Theory. The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation defines human psychological needs stemming from the desire to be competent, autonomous, and connected to other individuals. When my son throws a tantrum because he doesn’t want to take a nap, it’s because he wants to feel connected to others.
Most teens satisfy their need for connection through their mobile devices. Checking text message notifications, snaps, Instagram, and more — all are compulsive actions driven by a culture perpetuating them. When teens do not get the notification they are expecting, or no notifications at all, their sense of self-worth diminishes.
A Teacher's Perspective
Remember the days when you constantly told your students to be quiet? That’s almost never the case anymore. When I look around, I see students, staring at their devices, not interacting. Or if they are talking, it’s to show something from a device to another person.
They don’t look up.
About two years ago, I looked up. It actually coincided with a job change — after 11 years of being a high school English teacher, the position of technology teacher became available. This position meant that I did not have to grade any more essays, plan for hours after school, and I no longer had a classroom. Instead, I would be in an office, helping our students and staff navigate the new 1:1 journey we had just embarked upon.
Simultaneously, my district began to subscribe to the Focus 3 culture building program. This program, called R-Factor, promotes the idea that one’s Response to any Event or situation should be guided by the Outcomes a person wants to obtain (E+R=O). R-Factor has 6 specific traits in order to build a successful culture, one of which is “Get your mind right.”
This trait hit home for me.
Changing positions and changing the routine I had been used to for over a decade meant I needed to change my mindset. The fact that I used devices all day long was mentally exhausting for me and really weakened my desire to be on my phone. So, I changed how I thought about technology — to use it as a tool and not for entertainment.
Replacing Technology With a Hobby
My new job meant that I had to use my hands all day long. Sending emails, teaching learning management systems, navigating apps, restoring devices, and researching professional development became my life. My hands were so used to moving, that I needed to keep them strong.
So, I learned how to crochet. Yes, I am a 35 year old multiracial woman, wife, and mother who listens to hip hop music, coaches swimming, has become an emerging educational technology nerd, is obsessed with William Shakespeare, and now crochets.
My best friend had picked up crocheting about 3 years prior, but I just didn’t understand why. Then I started. And I’ll tell you what, I looked up. I saw my children learning to walk, but my camera missed every moment. Instead, my videos are me narrating the fact that my son took his first steps, but did not get back up again when I had pulled out my phone to record it. I laugh at that memory because I remember him walking and my delayed reaction to record it. It makes me smile because I didn’t watch it through a lens, I simply watched it.
Looking up is quite calming. I've noticed my anxiety dissipating. My apprehension in social situations has also decreased. I’ve rediscovered how to communicate with my peers. I understand my husband, my children, and my world much more clearly. My dopamine comes from interaction instead of isolation. And I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything because my everything is in front of me.
And I’ve made a whole lot of blankets.
Maria Stead has been a teacher in the Hilliard City District for 13 years. The first 11 years of her career, she taught a gamut of English courses ranging from Literacy Explorations to AP Language and Composition. At the end of her 11th year in the classroom, she transitioned to Technology Teacher, a position in which she is able to work in any classroom, help teachers plan blended and personalize learning, develop resources, and provide professional development for her staff. She is a wife, mother of two, swim coach, dog mom, and sports enthusiast.