Books, TV shows, podcasts, news stories, the latest meme. There’s a constant stream of media to keep up with. How do we stay sane?
Here I was thinking I was all caught up just because I finished watching “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix.
But cultural currency is a fleeting thing.
Who has time for a deep dive on bullying and suicide when a new season of “Catastophe” just dropped on Amazon’s streaming service? When there’s a new season of “Master of None” on Netflix? When Sen. Al Franken’s new book, “Giant of the Senate,” just landed on my desk? When my colleague Moira Macdonald just published her summer reading recommendations?
And are people still talking about the “S-Town” podcast, or is that about as current as a Blockbuster card? (Editor’s note: “It’s about as current as a Blockbuster card.”)
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Surely I am not alone in my cultural FOMO — and if you’re keeping up with your acronyms (and millennial editors), you know that stands for “fear of missing out.” (If not, well, you’re welcome.)
I just can’t keep up with all the books, streaming services and podcasts that have turned our cultural landscape into our own personal Grey Gardens: Overgrown, overrun and edging toward insanity.
Add to that the daily head-shaker coming out of The White House and the resulting backlash — and hilarity — on social media.
You’ll get to it all someday, you tell yourself.
But how, when it keeps coming like that classic candy conveyor belt scene on “I Love Lucy”?
“I was just thinking about that,” University of Washington professor Sarah Quinn told me when I called for both an explanation and solace. She had recently watched a show called “Broad City” that devoted an entire episode to FOMO. (I hadn’t seen it. Of course.)
“It’s less about cultural overload and what’s known as ‘info glut,’” she told me, “and more about people not wanting to be left out of anything cool.
“We have so much technology, we’re constantly being reminded of what we’re missing,” she said. “People feel overwhelmed and suffer.”
Indeed, it used to be that the only thing I fell behind on was my New Yorker subscription. But I solved that problem. I let my subscription lapse.
That doesn’t cut it anymore. There’s a cultural urgency now. It’s not just the news, it’s the media’s reaction to the news, and social media’s reaction to all of it — a mix of commentary and satire.
Last week we were consumed with President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey — and the resulting Anderson Cooper eye-roll.
Just days later, we’re tangled up in whether Trump just blabbed straight to the Russians right there in the Oval Office.
In between, Melissa McCarthy as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer rammed a podium through midtown Manhattan on “Saturday Night Live.”
And did you see Jimmy Kimmel tear up telling the story of his son’s heart surgery, and going after Trump for cutting funding to the National Institute of Health? I just watched it. (Editor’s note: “Pfffft. That happened weeks ago.”)
This is why our Metro buses are jammed with people, but as quiet as a library reading room: Everyone is wearing earbuds, listening or reading or watching on their phones and tablets, trying to keep up.
Every moment is spoken for — and in someone else’s voice.
This is what happens when technology changes faster than we are able to develop ways to manage it, Quinn said — not only as individuals, but as a society.
She has heard the debates about technology destroying social relationships and interaction, how people don’t look into each other’s eyes anymore.
“But they said that about telephones,” Quinn said. “Once you get used to it, it’s hard to believe that anyone ever thought it was going to be a problem.”
The Industrial Revolution had some believing that machines were going to destroy society and cause social unrest.
“And there was social unrest,” Quinn said, “but eventually, we started to develop new institutions and ways of managing it. We got laws about work days and worker protections. We found new ways of living with it, especially when it put people in danger.”
She’s right; on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill banning the use of cell phones while driving.
As for regulating the “info glut” in our personal lives, well, Quinn — like the rest of us — is working on it.
As an academic, she gets pretty buried by her access to any kind of data at any time, as well as the “endless” amount of books related to her work.
“I have to be really careful,” she said. “I think we just try not to freak out about it all and be of the belief that we will generate systems for managing everything.”
For her part, Quinn makes lists and prioritizes. And last summer, she logged out of Facebook.
“It was uncomfortable for a couple of days and then I didn’t miss it,” she said. “It’s a portal to all sorts of procrastination. I was worried about missing out on things, but I realized that when I was on Facebook, I was worried about missing out on my life more.”
So let this be the summer of taking one thing at a time. One book, one show, one hour a day — or so — on social media. And many more hours looking people in the eye, and turning our faces to the sun. (Editor’s note: “Wear sunscreen.”)