Festivals, Mobile Event Applications and FOMO

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”Theodore Roosevelt

An increasingly art- and entertainment-obsessed culture is undoubtedly the catalyst for the growth of music and film festivals such as Lollapalooza, South by Southwest and Sundance. Even smaller-scale celebrations of talent—such as Columbia, Missouri’s True/False Film Fest—gain more and more traction each year.

Accompanying this evolution are software tools intended to help attendees feel more connected with the festival environment. Mobile event apps can help largescale—or even mid-size—events provide guests with a cohesive organization of various films, parties, presentations, artist performances, etc.

In theory, these apps are great resources to help attendees coordinate their events with others, such as checking out the same films and spending downtime at the same coffee shops. But when these choices, which could never possibly be attended by everyone in full, are placed in front of eager event-goers, do they become too much?

Both the paradox of choice and the popularization of the term FOMO (fear of missing out) would imply that, yes, a surplus of options decreases personal satisfaction with choices.

“It’s exciting to feel as though options are limitless. It’s destructive to feel as though no combination of entertainment could satisfy expectations.”

In his studies, psychologist Barry Schwartz has come to believe that the paradox of choice (full TED talk here, full PDF here) features the irony of feeling crippled by opportunity. The idea that when we have too many choices, anxiety wins out over genuine enjoyment. It is his belief that we are growing to evaluate experiences in a comparative way as opposed to viewing them for what they are.

“The circumstances of modern life seem to be conspiring to make experiences less satisfying than they could and perhaps should be, in part because of the richness against which we are comparing our own experiences,” Schwartz writes. “…an overload of choice contributes to this dissatisfaction.”

By this argument, the collection of events within one mobile application could be more stress-inducing than organizational. As opposed to seeing solely an itinerary of what they are able to do, users are also made keenly aware of what they’re missing out on. By holding a good spot in the crowd for Blink 182’s performance, a festival attendee might have to miss the last song by DJ Snake. By watching the Whose Streets documentary at True/False Film Fest, movie buffs might have to miss seeing The Force.  

This culture of wanting to do and see it all is both exciting and destructive. It’s exciting to feel as though options are limitless. It’s destructive to feel as though no combination of entertainment could satisfy expectations. Woodstock didn’t feature a mobile event app, but you’ll rarely hear attendees of the iconic 1969 music festival complain of not being able to digitally coordinate finding a good spot for Jimi Hendrix.

It’s doubtful the modern event will revert back to primitive planning, such as posters in public or set lists at the door. Our responsibility as attendees is to instead seek satisfaction in the opportunities given.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Although I’m sure old Teddy wasn’t referring to Coachella or Bonnaroo, the man makes a good point: we are individually responsible for our own happiness and not for how our lives look next to someone else’s. If knowing all of the aspects of life you can’t attend makes you feel less satisfied, wing it. It won’t be the first time it’s worked out.

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