The FOMO on not being terminally online
"Have you seen this on Twitter?"
This week, the resurgence of a 2017 New Yorker short story made the rounds on Twitter, bubbling up discourse around fiction, auto-fiction and general debates that seem to hold Twitter in a choke-hold as per usual. “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker debut, was the first short story ever to go viral back in 2017. The plot revolved around a young woman and her relationship with an older man, the awkward and lukewarm affair fizzling out until it culminated with him texting her “whore” for ghosting him.
Published at the height of the #MeToo movement, the story shot across the internet in a bout of relatability, horror and – right on cue – angry men saying the antagonist did nothing wrong. But that was three years ago, why was it on Twitter now? Well, apparently, while the author declared adamantly many times it was pure fiction with some aspects drawn from her life, another writer somewhere read the story and had the uncanny feeling it was written about her actual relationship. Turns out, it was.
On Thursday, Alexis Nowicki published the searing essay for Slate on how she found out Roupenian drew the entire story from Nowicki’s life, since they had both dated the same guy. Crazy stuff. Nowicki’s piece takes us through the journey of her anger, confusion, and bewilderment on being the source material for a story that catapulted an MFA graduate to fame. “Cat Person” immediately started trending on Twitter as writers, journalists and others in the literary scene gave their opinions on who was wrong, right or whether what the author did was “gaslighting.”
I saw many different takes on the discourse, but one that kept popping up the most around this entire thing was many had no freaking clue what Twitter was freaking out about this time. Journalist Kelsey Weekman from IntheKnow tweeted that she wasn’t in on the original conversation because she got married that weekend in 2017. Followers replied, begging her to host another wedding to “free us from this.” Others shared similar opinions: that they were glad they didn’t know enough to care.
Alice Wilder @Alice_Wildermy best friend got married on the weekend that Cat Person went viral and so the whole thing passed over me!! blessings!!
However, there was the usual bunch that asked for a summary of what was going on, not aware that, as the memes put it, “the girls were fighting.” Either they had to get a crash-course on the fiction-writer drama, or were answered sarcastically and hung out to dry. At this, I kept thinking how the only reason I knew anything was because I, too, was one of the thousands of readers that day in 2017.
Shelby Lorman, the incredibly sharp author of the hilarious “Awards for Good Boys,” published a Substack piece last month on the term “Just Google it.” In it, she mentions the phrase that inspired this column’s headline:
“There’s a sort of lurking FOMO [fear of missing out] around internet jokes, which at times I think translates into people trying to ascertain how they are supposed to feel about everything at all times, lest they post something Wrong and seem Bad as a result, because posting = personhood, as we know.”
With the emergence of TikTok, and other attention-span-ruining content, it’s insanely easy to miss an internet joke that seems to have the vivacious shelf life of a couple days. Where before, memes were crudely-drawn faces or a Tumblr-derived punchline, it can now be a trending sound, a gesture, or a joke so full of layers of other internet jokes, it might as well be TikTok-laced lasagna. I am convinced this is the reason for the “terminally online” and “chronically online” terms that have now been circulating for a few weeks on socials. Those on TikTok seem to use it the most as an insult while Twitter users embrace it as a self-deprecation.
Overstimulated TikTokers are unable to put their phones down, Internet Culture writers are suffering carpal tunnel from scrolling too much for content, and drama YouTubers can’t afford to not be online lest they miss some tea they could be spilling for views.
All of this is to say, we’re all slaves to the little bit of everything the internet offers, as Bo Burnham so melodiously put it. As a social media manager, I, too, cannot afford to “take a detox” from social media because what if my scheduled post turns incredibly offensive overnight? What if a caption I wrote is suddenly now cheugy to Gen-Zers? Human beings hate being left out. It’s a side-effect of being consciously aware of our existence. With most of us being “terminally online,” we become these husks seeking gratification, attention, or just wanting to understand where the “wojak” mushroom meme came from (someone please enlighten me, I am confused and scared!)
Embedded, another newsletter I subscribe to, did a piece where the author interviewed a friend who had left ALL social media behind. The woman in question was asked how she gets informed on things that are trending, citing the Ever Given ship debacle as an example:
“The Suez Canal thing was such a good experience for me in that I was like, now I know about the boat being jammed and I'm very stressed about it and I cannot help the people on the boat. I went two whole weeks without having this information and it doesn't matter. Of course I want to be informed, but I also don't think we all need to know everything at all times.”
We don’t need to know everything at all times. This is the conclusion I came to when I saw that those who didn’t know what the heck was going on with a couple of fiction writers were - egad! - able to continue life normally. In fact, they perhaps had the added reward of not having to stress about the dubious morales of fiction writing. So my question is, is FOMO really all that bad when the topic is going to be dead in a week anyway? Do we truly need to be terminally online lest we are seen as uninformed? Or worse, uncool?
With this entire discourse, the enviable life of someone off social media, or after marinating in the songs of Bo Burnham’s Inside, the “Cat Person” drama definitely makes something clear: sometimes, ignorance truly is bliss.
Header image courtesy of: Jcomp : vector created at www.freepik.com