You might have heard about one of the undesirable side effects of our modern digital world: FOMO, which is the acronym for « the fear of missing out ».
Although this sounds very contemporary, and it is very easy to point fingers at the « nasty » technology, the fear of missing out is not a new phenomenon and it is inherent to our behaviors and as old as humanity itself. It all starts with a basic economics class. The one about the opportunity cost: the cost associated to the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
To put it into context, we all have that one friend who is always afraid of making the wrong decision on how to spend his/her time. For example, when you are on holidays he/she picks activity A and than regrets not being doing activity B. But if he/she had chosen B, than A would have sounded like a much sexier alternative. So what does social media have to do with anything? What social media is doing is actually to reveal the extent of how we are ALL impacted by the fear of missing out. Internet is offering us an array of choices we have never had before, multiplying the opportunities of a social life and drastically increasing the stressful process behind “choosing”. To avoid the opportunity cost, we try to engage in the maximum number of activities, to decrease the frustration that comes with taking a decision and its inherent opportunity cost. And as the frustration can be aggravated by the fact of viewing other people having such a good time following an event hashtag (#bestpartyever), it also means that people are engaging in activities that present no real interest to them apart from the fact that they are not taking the risk of missing it out.
A second important aspect to FOMO is the fear of missing out how the world is reacting to your digital deeds and the anxiety it can generate.
For example: you are on holidays and you want to tell the world how amazing your beach view looks like (#beachlife). You post a smiley selfie picture of you on Instagram (a braggie – the bragging version of the selfie) and before you can see how many likes you have, your phone runs out of battery and you cannot charge it before the next morning. These potential fun hours at the beach can become stressful as they become waiting hours to see how much one is beloved by the digital world. Nobody would be shocked by the statement that the growing psychological dependance towards Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, has a direct impact on people´s moods and that it can trigger negative social experiences like boredom, loneliness or even depression. A study held by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine with 1787 adults in the US, revealed that users checking the most their social media accounts had 2,7 more chances to be depressed versus those who checked their accounts the least. And according to mylife.com’s survey, 56% of social media users experience FOMO.
The irony is that the fear of missing out infinite possibilities of social activities on our screens, is actually making us missing out our own lives. It is also destroying those « empty » moments when so much can happen, like a train ride where you just see the scrolling landscapes and your mind wander, new ideas flourish, important life choices are questioned. All of this gets swiped out, as unfortunately, we always have something to check on a a smartphone.
From the FOMO to JOMO – the « joy of missing out » – a much healthier and happier alternative.
JOMO is a concept first presented by famous blogger Anil Dash and conceptualized by author Christina Crook and it is about the power of saying no. No to that super secret and selective party, no to enter the huge messaging thread of that Whatsapp group, no to posting your coconut-milk-dairy-free ice cream on Instagram, no to checking your e-mails during your holidays. It is saying no but knowing that you will not regret it. It is feeling you are in control of your life again. It is living the moment without feeling anxious or stressed. The joy of missing out is to stay at home knowing that you are missing that party with all of your friends, for the sake of spending an evening with someone you love sharing a meal and watching a movie with. It is about living the present moment at 100% without thinking of the inevitable opportunity cost linked to this moment. It is not about completely excluding technology from your life, but about using it wisely.
Christina Crook gives a few tips on how-to-JOMO:
- door drop: leaving your phone with your keys at the entrance when you get home.
- holy hours: protect the hours that are important for you from any smart device: waking up / breakfast / minutes before falling asleep and use those moments for things that make you feel good: read, meditate, breathe.
- the people prerogative: to put your phone on silent mode and put your phone away when you are talking to someone: they are the most important thing at that moment.
But JOMO comes with a price. This is why I am now working on my AOMO, the “Acceptance of missing out”.
The past year I have felt the need to unplug quite frequently. I came back from a trip around the world when for one year I was very disconnected from the world (both digitally and “analogally” ). I had the luck to live a real digital detox, where I had no constant 3G, I only got connected when I had wifi, I always ran out of battery and sometimes, I even forgot to recharge my phone for almost a week. I soon came to realize that not only I was living more when I was disconnected but that the world hadn’t changed that much when I was offline. When I came back, my relationship with my “smart” phone had changed. I called less, I wrote less, I posted less. This has had a few consequences in my relationships: people slowly downgraded me to a secondary circle of friends, some felt (wrongly) that I didn’t love them anymore, and others even got mad at me. As I stopped my Facebook activities, I also missed all the birthdays alerts and ended up missing a lot of happy birthdays (having people upset with me… again). Living a partial unplugged life has consequences with your social environment because if they are not acting the same way as you do, they do not understand why you are not digitally – which is now associated to “socially” – active. And as often, when people do not understand, they get upset and reject different views and alternative models. This is why I am now into the “Acceptance of missing out” phase. The phase where the consequences of the Joy Of Missing Out appear and you have to decide what to do with them.
I would like to end this article with some figures from the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford and University College London). According to him, one individual can maintain an average of 148 human relations (and these include casual relations – including work ones). This limit would be set up by our brain abilities. Above 148 the trust and communication necessary to keep a good functioning of the social group would not be able would not be enough to maintain the good functioning of the social group. The number goes down to 50 when we analyze the number of close friends and 5 for the close support group. His latest research shows that social media has not increased our ability to expand the numbers of these groups, only to redirect it to other relationships online. So which relationship do we want to foster? What do we want to miss out on?
That fear of missing out on things makes you miss out on everything.– Etty Hillesum
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