Thursday, July 26, 2012

Missing Out

There are two articles I've been turning over in my head this morning.  Anil Dash wrote a great piece last week about what he calls JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out.  It's in response to a fantastic essay, written last year by Caterina Fake about the opposite phenomenon, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Caterina's piece deals with how social media intensifies the feelings of disappointment, jealousy, and insecurity brought about by seeing all the cool stuff our contacts are up to, especially prevalent at events like SxSW, where you're getting a real-time feed straight to your phone.
Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.
By monitoring these tweets, status updates, and check-ins, she posits, we are exacerbating the dual conundrum of disappointment that we're not doing the coolest thing, but also getting this fix as if we are. 

She goes on to say:
...Social software both creates and cures FOMO. If you didn’t know that party was going on, you’d be home contentedly reading your latest New Yorker. But since you do, you hungrily watch each new tweet. It’s an age-old problem, exacerbated by technology. To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave. There is true meaning in social media—real connections, real friendships, devotion, humor, sacrifice, joy, depth, love. And this is what we are looking for when we log on.
Anil's essay argues that we find the real connections when we log off.   After the birth of his son, he didn't check in to any social media for over a month, and found the experience incredibly joyful and fulfilling.  He hadn't realized how fantastic being free from FOMO was until he talked to a recent New York transplant.

See, in New York, there is always something going on.  That's one of the reasons I loved it so much—it's impossible to be bored.  The liability with all that constant activity is a humming stress, a "what if I miss out on something I really want to do."  And more often than not, as Anil points out, you do.

...Inevitably, I tell people: You're going to miss stuff. On any given day, in New York City, there's an event going on that would be the best event of the year back in your hometown. And most of the time, you're not going to be there.

You miss a wonderful event or a really special moment because you're too broke to go, or because you couldn't get tickets in time. You stay home because you weren't going to know anybody there, or because you were going to know everybody there. You stay home in case she calls, or in case he shows up. You get halfway to the party but turn around because you're underdressed or overdressed or still hung over or because you have to work in the morning.
 When I read this, I got a sucker punch to the gut.  I spent so much time gripped by the Fear of Missing Out in New York, poring over Time Out, reading blogs, even a brief stint with Daily Candy, just to make sure I knew what was going on.  And then I usually got too intimidated to go.  New York plays hard.  It's one of the toughest crowds.  It was fascinating, elusive, gritty, and I loved it, even as I was afraid of it.

In the Bay Area, I'm less crazy.  I know myself more.  I'm not scared to go out.  Something about the scope of San Francisco and Oakland feels more doable.  When I do explore, it's the right balance of exciting-with-an-edge-of-nervous, rather than the anxiety-riddled, insecure, and solipsistic cocktail of emotions I experienced on a night in Williamsburg, Nolita or the Lower East Side.

Also, I know how to say no now.  I've begun to understand that just because something is happening, it doesn't mean my life is any less rich for not being there.  That's the hook, the feeling that everyone is doing something awesome without you.  But, it's also possible that whatever you're doing is exactly what you're meant to be doing and you might even enjoy it more.
Sometimes, you don't go to that amazing event because you're just going to stay home and read a book or watch TV or flick away idly at your phone, only realizing you've missed the moment when it's already too late. And then, when you get old and wonderfully, contentedly boring like me, you stay home because you'd rather be there for bathtime and bedtime with the baby than, well, anywhere else in the world.
This is the Joy of Missing Out.
We can take charge of all of this by carefully editing what we actually want to do from what we think we should be doing, or what might make us feel better, or what will give us more social currency.

There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping.

...Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I'm willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That's a joyful thing.
Check out Caterina's article and then Anil's piece.  There's a lot there, and I have much to think about how I can be more mindful about what social pressures I agree to, how technology influences my feelings about how I spend my time, and what I can disengage from to be happier, joyful, and more engaged in the stuff I really want to be doing.

2 comments:

  1. Great points! I'm one of those people who worries that, if he doesn't stay logged on, he'll miss important things.

    But if I happen to go a few days without logging on, I find, upon my return, that I haven't missed much at all. Whereas in the meantime I've found life, and the world.

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  2. This is really great stuff! Both of these are huge human motivators, and are also connected to introvert / extrovert Meyers-Briggs personality types.

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