The Fear Of Missing Out

Published on , 1033 words, 4 minutes to read

Humans have evolved over thousands of years with communities that are small, tight-knit and where it is easy to feel like you know everyone in them. The Internet changes this completely. With the Internet, it's easy to send messages, write articles and even publish books that untold thousands of people can read and interact with. This has lead to an instinctive fear in humanity I'm going to call the Fear of Missing Out [1].

[1]: The Fear of Missing Out

The Internet in its current form capitalizes and makes billions off of this. Infinite scrolling and live updating pages that make it feel like there's always something new to read. Uncountable hours of engineering and psychological testing spent making sure people click and scroll and click and consume all day until that little hit of dopamine becomes its own addiction. We have taken a system for displaying documents and accidentally turned it into a hulking abomination that consumes the souls of all who get trapped in it, crystallizing them in an endless cycle of checking notifications, looking for new posts on your newsfeed, scrolling down to find just that something you think you're looking for.

When I was in high school, I bagged groceries for a store. I also had the opportunity to help customers out to their cars and was able to talk with them. Obviously, I was minimum wage and had a whole bunch of other things to do; however there were a few times that I could really get to talk with regular customers and feel like I got to know them. What comes to mind however is a story where that is not the case. One day I was helping this older woman to her car, and she eventually said something like "All of these people just keep going, going, going nonstop. It drives me mad. How can't they see where they are is good enough already?" I thought for a moment and I wasn't able to come up with a decent reply.

The infinite scrollbars and newsfeeds of the web just keep going, going, going, going, going, going, going and going until the user gives up to do something elses. There's no consideration of how the content is discovered, and why the content is discovered, it's just an endless feed of noise. One subtle change in your worldview after another, just from the headlines alone. Not to mention the endless torrent of advertising.

However, I think there may be a way out, a kind of detox from the infinite scrolling, newsfeeds, notifications and the like for the internet, and I think a good step towards that is the Gemini [2] protocol.

[2]: Gemini Protocol

Gemini is a protocol that is somewhere between HTTP and Gopher. A user sends a request to a Gemini server and the user gets a response back. This response could be anything, but a little header tells the client what kind of data it is. There's also a little markup format that's a very lightweight take on markdown [3], but overall the entire goal of the project is to be minimal and just serve documents.

[3]: Gemtext markup

I've noticed something as I browse through the known constellation of Gemini capsules though. I keep refreshing the CAPCOM feed of posts. I keep refreshing the mailing list archives. I keep refreshing my email client, looking for new content and feel frustrated when it doesn't show up like I expect it to. I'm addicted to the newsfeeds. I'm caught in the trap that autoplay put me in. I'm a victim to infinite scrolling and that constant little hit of dopamine that modern social media has put on us all. Realizing this feels like I am realizing an addiction to a drug (but I'd argue that it somewhat is a drug, by design, what better way to get people to be exposed to ads than to make the service that serves the ads addictive!).

I'm not sure how to best combat this. It feels kind of scary. I'm starting to attempt to detox though. I'm writing a lot more on my Gemini capsule [4] [5]. I'm starting to really consider the Fear of Missing Out when I design and implement things in the future. So many things update instantly on the modern internet, it may be a good idea to attempt to make something that updates weekly or even monthly.

[4]: My Gemini capsule
[5]: [experimental] My Gemini capsule over HTTP

I'm still going to attempt a few ideas that I have regarding long term archival of the Gemini constellation, but I'm definitely going to make sure that I take the time to actually consider the consequences of my actions and what kind of world it creates. I want to create the kind of world that enables people to better themselves.

Let's work together to detox from the harmful effects of what we all have created. I'm considering opening up a Gemini server that other people can have accounts on and write about things that interest them.

If you want to get started with Gemini, I suggest taking a look at the main site through the Gemini to HTTP proxy [6]. There are some clients listed in the pages there, including a very good iOS client that is currently in TestFlight. Please do keep in mind that Gemini is very much a back-button navigation kind of experience. The web has made people expect navigation links to be everywhere, which can make it a weird/jarring experience at first, but you get used to it. You can see evidence of this in my site with all the "Go back" links on each page. I'll remove those at some point, but for now I'm going to keep them.

[6]: Project Gemini

Don't be afraid of missing out. It's inevitable. Things happen. It's okay for them to happen without you having to see them. They will still be there when you look again.

Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Tags: culture, web