September 1, 2017 – Where Were You when covfefe happened?
I was deep in middle-seat torpor on a red-eye to New York City. By the time I had touched down and wended my way through the outer boroughs to a desk in downtown Manhattan, the internet was awash in post–Trump-tweet meme-ania.
After the catch-up came the letdown—a mixture of regret (I missed it), shame (Why do I care that I missed it?), and anxiety (Wait, what else did I miss?)—and it all felt way too familiar. Since the election, every iota of news has somehow come to seem more urgent, with each newsbreak, tweet, press conference, and cable news countdown clock hurtling toward … impeachment? War? The end of net neutrality? Climate chaos? And while information overload is nothing new, the stakes of all this new information feel exponentially higher—feel being the operative word here—and processing it has therefore become that much more burdensome.
I explained my predicament to Ethan Kross, a psychologist who studies emotion and self-control at the University of Michigan, and he said what I was describing sounded similar to standard-issue FOMO, that now-common anxiety induced by an Instagram feed full of yacht parties and spiritualized sunsets. Countless studies have shown that social-driven FOMO stems from a person’s primitive desire to belong to a group, with each snap, tweet, or post a reminder of what separates you from them.