About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD is part of GOOD Worldwide Inc.
publishing family.
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fear of Missing Documentation: A Diagnosis for the Digital Age

If we want to keep up with all the epic-ness friends display on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. then we need proof we've done something epic, too.

If you went to a concert but didn’t snap a shot for Instagram, were you really there? It’s a modern-day philosophical conundrum.

Fear of Missing Documentation, or “FOMD,” is the latest social disease to plague our generation. It’s the ugly stepsister of FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out,” which started spreading rampantly somewhere around 2006. That’s when photo-sharing on Facebook suddenly made all our friends’ lives look more fabulous than ours.

You know you’ve had it: at home on a Friday night in your pajamas, probably watching reruns of Friends and eating mac and cheese. You were perfectly content with your low-key plans for the evening—until you opened Facebook or Instagram and scrolled through to see all the fun your friends were having without you. Suddenly your night seemed completely inadequate compared to Jenny’s art opening, made to look even more artistic in Lo-Fi, or Chris’s all-night rave, carefully curated with selfies and blurry photos on the dance floor.

That’s a classic case of FOMO. And you can see how such pressure to appear to live an awesome life might naturally evolve into FOMD. I first became aware of the term on the fashion blog Man Repeller and it instantly made sense. If we want to keep up with all the epic-ness our friends display on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, then we need proof that we saw the amazing sunset, ate the delicious burger, or took the adventurous trip to Peru. The result is a technological compulsion that can range from moderate to severe. Symptoms may include (but are not limited to): obsessive iPhone picture-taking, low-battery anxiety, and failure to live in the moment.

Frankly, I can tell you all about FOMD because I have it. I think I got it from my dad, who mastered the disease long before social media existed. On family vacations, he was too busy angling for the perfect picture of a landmark to learn about the history behind it. Or he would futz with the camera, trying to get the settings to work before the sun went down in order to capture this beautiful scene. I remember my mom saying, “Screw the camera. Just live in the moment.” But he never did. Most of those pictures inevitably wound up in an envelope in our attic, but it didn’t stop him from taking more shots the next time around.

These days, those memories of my dad don’t stop me from snapping a photo of my brunch before taking a bite. What is it about the human desire to document? Are we showing off to friends? Seeking affirmation in the form of “likes?” Or are we hoping the memory of a moment will prolong the happiness we felt at the time? There’s irony in that logic, because the act of documenting a moment often takes the joy right out of it.

Anyone who’s been to a concert lately would agree. Gone are the days of going to see your favorite band and actually seeing them. Your best bet now is to watch the performance through the two- by three-inch iPhone screen of the person standing in front of you.

Recently, I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding, and the Rabbi said something pretty profound about the effects of FOMD. “The bride and groom have asked that everyone turn off their cameras and phones for the entire ceremony,” said the Rabbi. “Professional photographers are here to capture how this moment looks. Your job is to capture how it feels.”

That wedding was a month ago, and while I don’t have a single picture to show for it, turns out the Rabbi was right. I remember the overwhelming joy of the moment with greater clarity than a Kelvin filter could ever provide.

Think you could use a break from technology? Try taking a "technology Shabbat." Click here to add this to your "To-Do" list.

Image of a photographer on a mountain via Shutterstock

More Stories on Good