digital life

Hey, Here’s a Thought: You Don’t Have to See and Read and Watch Everything

Man using phone
Photo: Brand New Images/Getty Images

In a piece this week at the Los Angeles Times, Note to Self podcast host Manoush Zomorodi describes a lesser-known form of FOMO, the fear of missing out. This one, though, keeps you reading, watching, and clicking, constantly on the hunt for more information. (About what, exactly? Doesn’t matter. Keep clicking.) 

Zomorodi details an email she gets from a listener describing the condition. “I want to read all these articles about everything from the latest scientifically engineered sugar substitute to an in-depth analysis of Donald Trump’s hair,” the listener wrote. “It’s like a different flavor of FOMO … It’s fear of missing out, but missing out on content — and on knowledge. With limited time and mental resources, there’s no way to get through it all.”

This thing has a name: infomania. Infomania was first pointed out as an issue in 1984 by the author Elizabeth Ferrarini. Email had just been invented, and Ferrarini foresaw the desire to constantly scroll through intraweb company messages and answer them now, other priorities be damned. This behavior inspired her book, aptly titled Confessions of an Infomaniac. But infomania remained an artifact of the 1980s until 2005, when Hewlett-Packard repopularized the term by sponsoring a widely criticized study describing infomania’s effects on the human psyche, claiming that it was “worse than marijuana” in its power to reduce IQ.

Again, that research was disputed and discredited; still, most of us can relate to the feeling Zomorodi and her listener describe of being trapped in an infomania loop. The thing is, we don’t quite know how to fight against infomania besides the impractical, drastic solution of tossing our phones into a toilet. Perhaps Zomorodi said it best, when she writes about reframing society’s scorn about not knowing what’s trending right now on whatever hip social-media feed is demanding our attention.

It has to be OK to say, ‘I didn’t see it/read it/watch it,’” she writes. “Otherwise, you’ll have spent life catching up on Netflix, reading a backlog of top-ten lists, or looking at GIFs from co-workers. If those activities fit your goals, go for it. But if they get you no closer to achieving what you really want to achieve tomorrow, next year, or in the next five years, downgrade their relevance in your life.”

You Don’t Have to Keep Up With Everything