YOLO: A Contemporary Carpe Diem

Topics: Existentialism, Social comparison theory, The Washington Post Pages: 5 (1843 words) Published: January 28, 2013
Are You Afraid of Missing Out?

You only live once, so make the most of it. #YOLO

It wasn’t until I was watching a reality tv show (whose name has been omitted for the purposes of saving face) that I came across someone using the term YOLO aloud. I’d been hearing it on and off for some time but wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning. As urbandictionary is a godsend for those of us teetering on the very edge of being hip (note: the author is fully aware that by using the term “hip” she is clearly indicating that she is likely not), I came to find it meant, “you only live once.” This week I came across another variant of the same notion abbreviated as FOMO, “fear of missing out.” Naturally, my free-associating mind wandered to a man whose very name is phonetically not unlike this YOLO business. Existential psychologist Irvin Yalom wrote about the four “givens” or “ultimate concerns” of the human condition: death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom. Interestingly, the premise of YOLO and FOMO is not entirely unrelated to Yalom’s writings. Bottom of Form

The idea of YOLO at its simplest is a contemporary version of “carpe diem,” to live life to its fullest. The Washington Post lifestyle section referenced the emergence of this lexical trend last Spring, with the New York Times covering the notion of FOMO over a year ago. Many explain that YOLO is an excuse for stupid stunts of the Jersey Shore variety. Others blame FOMO on social media like Facebook. As social psychologists will tell us, downward social comparisons will make us feel better about ourselves (“at least I’m better off than those losers”) and upward social comparisons can make us feel worse (“look at everyone out there living the life, and I’m here on the couch in my pajamas watching Full House reruns”). But what’s going on that such words have transcended teen lingo and started to seep into the mainstream? It is one thing to be living in a time when everything is abbreviated. I would have understood it back when we were paying for text messages by network rather than phone type and trying to communicate within the 160-character limit. Or even if we were used to doing it as a result of Twitter’s brevity requirements. However, it is entirely another matter to have whole phrases of the abbreviated variety, as they implicate heavy usage. After all, who would bother coming up with an abbreviation for “I need to refill my water bottle again” #hydration, anyone? In essence, the fear of missing out may be related to a fear of a missed opportunity for social connection. It may signify the meaningless of life without others to share it with, the loneliness and isolation we may be forced to suffer when human connection is removed from the equation. We’ve all been to parties we had high hopes for, only to find them in a word, "lame." We’ve cursed ourselves for being stuck with the creepy person yelling in our ear over the sound of music booming a few decibels above where we left our sanity. And yet we return time and time again searching for something intangible which we often can’t quite put into words. Is it conversation? The admiration of others? The affirmation that we exist and matter in this world? It is hard to say because in a world with infinite inventions for improving and speeding up social connection, we’ve left a void of ozone portions in prioritizing space for silence. In truth, it’s silence that gives us the answers. It's what tells us we needn’t worry about making the most out of every minute of this life we are given. The silence that assures us that nothing of “epic” proportions is going on without us. For the moments that have truly moved us were rarely the ones we expected, nor were they planned for, and most certainly did not occur in a room with over a hundred other bodies packed into a tiny space. Much as there is nothing like being at a concert where your favorite band is playing, there is also nothing like the moment when your favorite song...
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