A couple of months ago, I deleted Facebook from my cellphone.
I didn’t delete my account. Facebook is useful and can be a lot of fun. But I’d hit a point where I seemed to be constantly checking the site on my phone and I realized it wasn’t helping me feel any more connected to people.
In fact, it was the opposite. All those minutes spent scrolling through people’s photos and interesting articles or pithy status updates was beginning to feel isolating somehow, and I was tired of it.
It turns out there’s a phrase for that phenomenon – when time on social media makes you wonder whether everyone is having more fun than you. It’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. Some researchers have described it as an acute form of social anxiety that’s in fact what leads many of us down the path of social media addiction. We’re so afraid of missing something we never want to disconnect.
I first heard of FOMO while on maternity leave. A friend used the expression as we were talking about the isolation, something that isn’t helped, when you see other new moms posting pictures of their outings on social media or realize they’re getting together for play dates and you’re not invited. Or, you’re just too afraid to leave the house with your baby to accept an invitation.
The sense of FOMO gets a bit worse when it’s connections with other Jewish families you feel you’re missing, especially when that sense of connection is important to you to begin with.
My friend and I reassured each other often that we weren’t really missing anything, but we both knew a bigger step was coming: What was going to happen if and when our kids weren’t in the same daycare as all the other Jewish families we knew?
We were worried that, if our kids weren’t with them, we’d be excluded from the relationships all those families were building.
It’s not necessarily deliberate – that exclusion – it’s just what happens. The day-to-day interaction with other families builds connections that are stronger than the less regular ones you get at PJ Library events or at synagogue.
I realized this pretty keenly during Mitzvah Day, the one-day do-good-a-thon the community hosted in February.
At one of the events for young families, you could immediately tell whose kids were in school together and which kids – and their parents – didn’t know anyone at all.
It’s natural, of course, for children to flock to others they know. And, in the joyful chaos that is Mitzvah Day, it’s easier to follow your own kids and, in turn, be with the parents you see all the time.
But it did strike me that, on a day where we were supposed to be coming together as a single community, there was a definite sense in that room of division among young families linked almost explicitly to where the kids are in school.
We need to do better. Ottawa is not big and – let’s be honest – the religious spectrum in the Jewish community is already a pretty divisive force.
There’s merit, to be sure, in supporting all the various options that are out there for Jewish education in Ottawa. But the downside, to me, seems that it has become another point of division. It clearly is at the preschool level, and I can only imagine that it continues as the options open up between full day school and supplementary choices.
If Facebook makes me feel isolated, I can delete it. I don’t fear missing out on cat videos so much that I’m not able to walk away. #Iwillsurvive
But the sense of isolation that comes when you feel you’re not part of an actual real life group – that’s not a social media construct.
That’s what causes people to disconnect from community altogether.
And that’s something to real to fear.