On FOMO

Unpacking Mindy Kaling’s million dollar question

05.09.13
-19

FOMO, or fear of missing out, and its counterpart FOMD, or fear of missing documentation (aptly coined by MR’s own Mattie, while angling for Instagram shots when she decided not to miss out), are the more recent social diseases to plague this generation.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, duh. But don’t you ever wonder precisely what FOMO/FOMD is doing to us?

For my part, these afflictions too often get the deciding vote on how I spend my time.

Last September during Paris Fashion Week, I broke my phone. I saw Alber Elbaz sitting at a cafe and naturally, threw my hands in the air as a gesture to match my yelling, “I love you!” (Frankly, that was the most docile reaction I could have possibly offered.) This was a huge coup for me, if only because he reciprocated the burgeoning love with a wink and a nod. For my phone, however, which had fallen during that pathetic recital, the experience was far less gratifying. Though the screen hadn’t cracked, the phone was certifiably dead and no reboot, re-jump or recharge could remedy this death. The following fashion show was going to start in 15 minutes. I wondered whether it was even worth going.

The thought was alarming because I knew my apprehension wasn’t about the phone, it was about the ability to share my presence, via phone, at said show. That was ridiculous and so to offset the fact that I was clearly becoming a slave to my networks, I went to the show.

Once seated, as a function of habit, I took out my phone approximately six times in the twelve minutes of runway stomping only to remember–every single time–that it was irreparably dead. When the show was over and I’d left the venue, I had to ask myself if I’d ever even actually been there. I was convinced that if a tree falls in the forest, no one hears it and so according to the principles of that parable, and the more modern adaptation, ‘pics or it didn’t happen’, I was left to think: did this actually happen? And furthermore–was I really initiating such a dirty display of FOMO/FOMD?

Though “FOMO” was inducted into our lexicon (by way of Urban Dictionary) some time in 2006, records suggest it was not popularized until early 2010. If we’re playing the tech-history game, it’s notable that Twitter launched that year while just months earlier, Facebook removed the 30-pictures-per-album sanction on its photo feature and allowed for the uploading of up to 200 pictures in a single album. Coincidence? Probably not.

But why this conversation now?

In the aftermath of an influx of highbrow events that have been documented ad nauseaum via Instagram, and as a testament to all the other FOMO-igniting events (whether personal, or slightly further removed) that Instagram is so great at galvanizing, it’s important that we remind ourselves to take a step back. Maybe we should ask how and why we’ve become so hungry to participate in social activities that we would have felt complacent to missing out on if not for the totem pole equivalent of our favorite celebrity’s or best friend’s or co-worker’s or sibling’s feed.

Are the activities in question even as much fun as we make them out to be if they’re being ambitiously chronicled through social outlets? It makes me feel, as Kate put it, like social media has turned the entire world into New York City–there’s always something fresher around the corner and it almost always seems more lucrative.

On Monday morning a friend asked me when I feel happiest. Without having to give it much thought, I explained that it’s usually when I’m among my closest family members and friends. The people who command the rare moments which leave me entirely disinterested in what is going on in the world around me. She echoed with, “I was going to say my happiest moments occur when I forget there’s an outside world.” This either meant that she and I were wired similarly or that our parallel answers are a grander attestation to the sense of subjugation that might arise as a result of the apps and networks beguilingly defining who we are.

But I’m not suggesting we abandon the connections that occasionally make us feel like we’re missing the fun. Those connections are valuable in the their own right, and once in a while bring you along for The Best Night of Your Life. But it’s just as easy to miss out when you’re chasing the next best thing, too. As another friend put it: FOMO is a choice and the antidote is a sense of presence. It’s replacing the fear of missing events with an appreciation of what you are experiencing. Easier said than done, for sure, but certainly worth a try.

Take it from Mattie. When she and her friends are some place small enough that the risk of losing each other is minimal, they go “phones free.” As she put it, freedom from documentation (FFD) is really quite liberating.

What about FOMO’s cousin, FODO? Or FOMO Spending? Or maybe FOMTGS, fear of missing the group selfie?

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