January 2013 - Vol. 65

On Youth Culture by Michael Shaughnessy 


Google-search YOLO and you will get 26 million hits. Ask a social savvy teen what it means and you might just get an eye-roll. YOLO is one of social media's hot phrases. It's an acronym for: “you only live once.”

The idea that you only go around once in life isn't new – and it is true – you do only live once.

"You only go around once in life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can get." – Schlitz Beer ad 1970

Teens use #YOLO to update friends on the latest buzz in their life. By using the YOLO hashtag on Twitter they contribute to making YOLO a "trending topic" so all Twitter users can access every tweet with the hashtagged word.

That you only live once should be a basis to take life seriously. In youth culture, however, #YOLO is used to justify a selfish, reckless risk taken without regard to longterm consequences.

"Getting super drunk at this party, mixed two drinks I shouldn't have!"     #YOLO

YOLO has become a basic moral principle for the choices of the modern teen. It can be used to justify anything: you only live once. As Sherman Ave, a blogger, states, “YOLO will always make sense as long as you don’t think about it.”

The post-modern mind speaks again.

[Michael Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.] 


FOMO is an acronym for “fear of missing out.” It is the ugly first cousin of envy and characterized by a strong desire to be in on everything! Missing out could put a dent in your career, status or happiness – and that would be tragic. FOMO is more prevalent in older teens as a smorgasbord of choices expands open before them.

However, it's not just the multitude of choices that produces FOMO; it is the pressure to choose the right one now!

Modern social media, especially Facebook, text messaging, Twitter and Instagram enable instant awareness of countless people’s current activities and everything one could be doing right now.

“I'm not really in the mood to go out, but I feel like I should” is the kind of statement made by those who fear leading a life that might be less than it could be – even though FOMO, fear, is in fact making their life worse.

Once again what was a good principle, fear of wasting the life God gives us, has been twisted into something utterly self-centered: fear of missing out on every pleasure, vain status or fleeting fame.


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