Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

We’re “missing” out enough already

<lass="page layoutArea" title="Page 1">

Let me paint the scenario. There are many people who introduced themselves on those class groups on Facebook, especially in those months leading up to New Students Week. Chances are that one of these posts mentioned that the author read, say, Ulysses, or A Confederacy of Dunces, or something as recent as The Fault in Our Stars. The latter two were brought up in in my class group of 2017. Guilty as charged, I posted about reading the John Green novel, which I had read recently. As for the other book by Toole, I never heard of it until I saw folks post about it. To be honest, I haven’t read many books, whether it’s because I’ve never heard of them, or haven’t gotten to them, or may not want to get to them. I experienced reading and my books my own way. From the unheard-of or unread books, it was clear that there was a difference in experience.

At that time, all I could say was that it felt strange noticing the difference. It felt stranger reading the comments and noting how these experiences were still shared by others, even when I didn’t share them. This worked the same way when everyone posted about their other passions and hobbies. Skiing? Never could have dreamed of it. Played “Settlers of Catan”? I’d ask, “That’s a thing?” While posting or commenting, I realized I was afraid of appearing to lack shared interests with which to “converse” about online. If I could post about playing “Cards Against Humanity,” then I’d post. Crudely, I could describe my fear as that of not seeming “in” with the multitudes of experiences on display.

Now, let’s now look at physical interactions. Here’s the scenario, which I consider
a classic. Imagine you’re in your floor lounge with your friends (not) doing schoolwork, and then you get to the conversation on Disney animated films. How can we avoid that conversation? It’s certain that since so many of us grew up with them as kids, we’re bound to talk about it. Yet it’s also certain many others did not, for whatever reason, from parents’ idiosyncrasies, growing up in a less “American” or “Western” culture, or even pure apathy. If you happen to admit that you haven’t seen them, you’ll be met with a range of surprised responses, maybe including, “You’re missing out!” It’s as though the experience was assumed. Eventually you zone out of the conversation, feeling little or nothing to latch onto throughout the conversation. You weren’t “in” on it.

I’ve heard that phrase “you’re missing out!” too when it comes to foods I haven’t eaten, places I haven’t visited, things I haven’t tried. Of course there are things I haven’t experienced. We all live different lives, shaped by different experiences. Am I really missing out, though? The relative differences of experiences among our friends and social groups shouldn’t have any bearing on us and each other. And yet they still unintentionally suggest feelings of missing out, for whatever factors that shape our emotional expectations.

All this stems from the assumptions we make of each others’ experiences. We greatly assume shared experiences, which we do often, if only to simplify our thought process and our conversation possibilities. Given how widespread our common American (or Western) culture and lifestyle is, generalizing is somewhat fair. Be that as it may, our assumptions make us forget that none of us grew up and experienced life the same way. This is the continuity between the online and physical worlds, from Facebook to conversations in Sayles and dining halls: we see these assumptions, real and perceived, and some of us feel left out because of them.

Our culture has coined “FOMO,” the “fear of missing out.” We’ve used it in many contexts, humorously if not painfully true, summing up, in new-fangled terms, age-long desires of belonging in the social sense. Sometimes, we struggle with this desire, “missing out” with each little moment we couldn’t relate to in a conversation, cutting away at us slowly. As long as we live pluralistically as we do today, we have to live with this asymmetry of experience. How we choose to live in spite of it will depend on how willing we are to be aware of assumed experiences, and not missing opportunities to reach and understand across all experiences.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *