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Embrace the Joy of Missing Out

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay

FOMO, we all know, is a thing.

In the digital era the Fear of Missing Out is driving lots of behaviour. Social media allows us to keep looking at other people’s lives and activities, pretty much all the time if we wish to. This creates an insidious feeling: the thought we are missing out on things that everyone else seems to be doing; that we are not part of the cool crowd; that we are letting life pass us by.

This makes us insecure and frustrated. For teenagers and young adults in particular, it can be the key driver of behaviour. Even in the pre-digital era, we all felt the force of FOMO when we were young. Where was the ‘happening’ party? We had to be there, somehow. What were the popular people wearing and what were they praising? We didn’t want to miss out on any of that. At that age, it felt like our ability to attract the right mate, to be part of society, hinged on not missing out.

Social media took that sentiment and amplified it many times over. Now you don’t need to hear second-hand rumours about who’s doing what – you can see it for yourself, every day and in every way. It’s shown off to everyone. What is being eaten is on Instagram. Where holidays were spent is on Facebook. What’s being worn is on YouTube. The opinions of the in-crowd course through Twitter.

This is causing huge amounts of FOMO, not just in teenagers but in older adults. Our insecurities about our own status in society are writ large now. We can’t be left out, so we join the herd. Modern marketers know this, so they pay the new breed of influencers to sell their brands for them. The cool folks look like they are living the life, but they’re just promoting what they’re paid to praise. It works, because the majority of humans seem unable to generate their own thoughts and priorities. The online manipulation of eyeballs, thought patterns and wallets is massive.

That is why I am so delighted to see the rise of JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. I have been living the JOMO life for a long time, and I see books and memes with that theme are finally coming out now (for example, from Svend Brinkmann, one of my favourite authors). Many more people are refusing to live the lives of others.

FOMO is understandable and forgivable in the teenager. At that phase of life, we all need to figure out where we fit in the world; what our identity is; what part of our lives is collective and what matters to us individually. But to be doing this later in life means you have failed to assert yourself on your own life; you are still taking your cues from others about what is important.

Some realisations should arrive in our minds, sooner rather than later. For one thing: you can’t have hundreds, or even dozens, of friends. Acquaintances, colleagues, customers, group members, fellow hobbyists – yes. Friends? No. Try it and see. When you stumble in life and need people, see who actually rocks up. See who actually takes something out of their own lives in order to help you with yours. Those people you will probably count on one hand.

Similarly, you can’t be taken in by people who profess to feel ‘love’ for you, freely but superficially. I watch celebrities on stage saying how they love everyone in the audience; or to their multitudes of social-media followers. Do you believe this? Only if you regard love as the most shallow of platitudes. Then it’s fine. But the real love, the one that’s unconditional and outward? That’s not happening many times in your life.

Lastly, you can’t be attending every gathering you are invited to. To be available for everything means to truly be available for nothing. People create small get-togethers and large convocations for all sorts of reasons. Mostly to do with themselves – they are selling something or trying to gain something. Do you need to be there? If you feel FOMO every time, take a hard look at your life. How did you construct it to be perpetually in the thrall of others?

This is not to extol the life of the hermit. It is to choose actively what matters for you, rather then staying trapped in currents caused by others. So embrace JOMO. That stuff you might miss out on? Most of it is completely worth dodging.

(Sunday Nation, 26 May 2019)

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