On the last day of 2015, I was sitting in the breakfast room of a resort in Mexico eating a plate of papaya thinking about what I would do for dinner when I got home that evening to celebrate New Years with my husband. I scrolled through Instagram and with each passing photo, I felt like New Year’s Eve was a bigger deal than it had ever been. Like the earth had sent an echo through its pockets, affecting all those who reckoned themselves participants of the planet to demand that this year, they go hard.
There were the extensive sunrises and sunsets, peppered by palm trees and white sand beaches. These came with captions that bid adieus on this day of finalities. Then there were the sparkles and the sequins — glitter and beads that came only to underline comments bursting with hope and anticipation to ignite the fire of unknown that lay ahead. And then, of course, there were the hollow calls to FOMO — inflated plans that seem unnatural, there only as if to say, “What I’m doing is better than what you’re doing.”
Of course, though, none of us are strangers to social media FOMO. Is not, after all, Instagram a mere popularity contest to prove that “my life is better than yours”? But as with everything else, you have the choice to opt in or out. Follow or unfollow. Like or dislike. And frankly speaking, that conversation is stale. What I’m more concerned with is a recent condition I’ve identified that has magnified the celebration of global events to a degree that is not just becoming unsustainable but I fear is actually affecting my ability to think for myself.
When I started out with the plate of papaya that morning, I planned to, at best, cook something vaguely festive while wearing a ton of sequins to inaugurate the new year. At worst, I’d watch a movie and fall asleep before the ball drop, but as I let myself fall down the rabbit hole that is a new kind of TMZ, I felt less and less like the plans I wanted to put in place were adequate enough. Like I needed to be making a bigger deal, one more in line with the preparations for the many hooplas that I was seeing. And I felt like I needed to be loud about it. To reflect on the previous year publicly, to renounce bad habits and to find a mystical sunset to post so that I could thank the fantastic citizens of Man Repeller’s account. (Seriously, though, thank you.)
But see, that’s not even it. Remember when cultural activities like Coachella, Art Basel, SXSW or Fashion Week were specifically catered to the interests of very particular groups (music, art, tech, clothing) of creatives? Don’t you find that they’ve each become their own massive, global experiences that are supposed to appeal to everyone within, essentially, a certain age bracket? I’ve been to Coachella four times and guess what? I don’t even like live music. It scares me to be among huge crowds and takes about three days to recover the ringing in my ears after the fact.
I know that realistically, there are those who are strong enough to plead the fifth. But what about those who, like me, aren’t? Who feel obligated to engage even when it’s not coming from the most authentic place? Keep it up and the dishonesty begins to affect you in a very real way. You run the risk of diluting your identity. Of convincing yourself that you want something you don’t — or you are someone who ultimately, you aren’t. And when you’ve done that, when you’ve lost your grounding, don’t you lose what makes you you? At that point, I gotta wonder: what are we left with if not a society of people who are miserable but can’t figure out why?
Collage by Emily Zirimis