Bailey Bromm spends nearly five hours every day on her smartphone, browsing social media and consuming online content. After a long day of classes, Bromm gets her fix by coming home and retreating to her room for hours of internet surfing. Neglecting homework assignments, deadlines, and even those around her, Bromm falls deeper into the rabbit hole of addiction, one click at a time.
“It’s just become an everyday thing for me,” Bromm, a senior from Indiana University said. “I know this habit is probably bad for me, but I can’t seem to stop.”
The number of millennials using smartphones today has almost reached saturation at 86 percent, according to a study by Pew Research Center. Compared to the mere 35 percent of smartphone users in 2011, millennials are now more connected to the digital world than ever. A similar study shows that 46 percent of these users say their phone is something they simply can’t live without.
“The connection aspect is also appealing,” Bromm said. “The fact that we can stay in touch constantly with whoever we want makes it so addicting.”
With the world at our fingertips, this constant use can quickly turn into a dangerous condition experts are calling “the fear of living offline”.
With a 51 percent increase in smartphone use in 7 years, “FOLO” is now on the rise. Although you may not expect it, living your entire life online can hurt you both socially and physically.
What is FOLO?
FOLO sounds more like a fun texting exclamatory, but this condition is nothing short of a dangerous diagnosis. The fear of living offline is a new trend among millennials including constant media consumption, internet surfing and overall obsession with online image. This habitual use creates a sense of dependency, making millennial users fearful to step outside of their online comfort zone.
“It really is an addictive sort of thing, almost like an adrenaline high,” said John Suler, a cyberpsychologist and author in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Suler explains that constant activity online can increase the effects of FOLO.
“Part of it is that you’re afraid of missing out,” Suler said. “If you’re not online then you’re not able to present yourself and stay updated with what’s happening, which makes you feel boring.”
Katherine Karabon, a senior at University of Wisconsin- Madison, finds a spark of excitement through her social networking habits.
“It’s a way that we all feel connected. It’s also a way for people to show off their life, which gives some people a large sense of satisfaction.” Karabon said.
Though constant involvement in this online social sphere can feel great, it may actually be hurting you in more ways than one.
Losing Friendships IRL
For Bromm, constantly staying connected with others through her smartphone is a natural part of her everyday routine.
“My daily technology use probably consists of texting mostly my mom and boyfriend, going on Instagram, checking Facebook, and I’m constantly checking my email throughout the day.” said Bromm.
With over 500 friends on Facebook and nearly 900 on Instagram, Bailey’s social circle is almost endless. But with her constant social media use, her online connections may be taking away from those she has in real life.
“We might have 1000 connections online but only one or two friends in real life,” said Stoney Brooks, assistant professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University. “It’s the lack of human contact that millennials are missing out on.”
Millennials with FOLO are fueling a false sense of reality that their social sphere is bigger than what it really is. Brooks explains how life online has turned into more of a popularity contest and is taking away from important skills millennials should be developing.
“Many people are not gaining the professional interaction skills they need to land a job after graduation,” Brooks said “People are so used to interacting through a screen they don’t know how to develop social skills in real life.”
The Painful Truth
With your eyes locked on the same screen for hours, forcing yourself to read uncomfortably small text, your body is bound to feel the strain. But the fear of stepping out of the online comfort zone makes it hard to turn away.
“Sometimes I get caught up in watching videos on Facebook or Instagram that I lose track of time when I should be studying or doing homework,” said Bromm. “Its so easy to keep scrolling through videos since they load automatically after you’ve finished one.”
Click bait, popular pages and auto-playing videos are all vices that can keep internet users locked in for hours, unaware of the potential physical effects.
“By failing to put it down, a lot of people are physically distracted,” Brooks said. “People have less quality of sleep, increased stress, depression, addiction and even withdrawal.”
Before you go on your next binge watch of YouTube videos or scroll-fest on Facebook, consider if your satisfaction online is worth missing a good night’s sleep.
Although dependency on online communication may seem like the norm, the fear of living offline is a growing trend that is negatively affecting the lives of millennials.
Nonstop posting and scrolling while obsessing over likes, shares and views is costing millennials their time, social skills and even their health.
If you think you may be a click away from virtual overload, consider the ways living your life online is keeping you from living up to your potential.
“We need to reestablish that connection we used to have face to face,” Suler said. “Put down your phones and get out in the real world.”
There is even support to get help from all over the world. Judy Quach, a blogger in Leeds, United Kingdom, co-founded the FaceT0Face campaign, which encourages internet users to surf the web safely and responsibly.
“Sometimes we end up on social media because we feel like we have nothing better to do,” Quach said. “Setting goals and time aside for hobbies and interests would effectively mean shifting away from social media.”
Numerous internet communities and support groups are taking steps to combat this issue and help those who fear living offline. To learn more about ways you can maintain your real life and your life online, visit www.facebook.com/FACET0FACEPROJECT